Press Box

The Giffords Shooting

Rolling thoughts about the press, the Web, and political assassination.

See Slate’s complete coverage of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting and arrest of Jared Lee Loughner.

Gabrielle Giffords

The Wisdom of Twitter
If my Twitter stream is smarter than yours, it’s only because I follow @walterkirn. Here are the sharpest tweets I read this afternoon. By custom, retweets aren’t supposed to be taken as endorsements, but I endorse these.

@jaketapper anyone can be first with wrong information. —Jan. 8, 7:20 p.m.@radleybalko What a weird criticism. RT @joanwalsh John McCain, don’t stand in front of beautiful beach to express condolences to dead, wounded in Tucson. —Jan. 8, 6:52 p.m.@DaviSusan If you want to read a good eye witness account of what happened at the Giffords shooting, WaPo has a good one: —Jan. 8, 6:26 p.m.@joshtpm FLASHBACK: Vid of interview w/Giffords from last year on her being on Sarah Palin’s ‘crosshairs’ list —Jan. 8, 6:25 p.m.@chashomans Thought experiment: Imagine the US media’s treatment of the Giffords shooting applied to the Salman Taseer assassination, and vice versa. —Jan. 8, 6:20 p.m.@benpolitico RT @RAMansour: We never removed this Facebook post: “Take Back the 20” website is no longer relevant now tht elex is over —Jan. 8, 6:32@CraigSilverman I collected the notable tweets related to the false death reports of Rep. Giffords: —Jan 8, 5:49 p.m.@walterkirn People looking for a moral in the shooting are finding the one they went in with. The more things change… —Jan. 8, 5:37 p.m.@Dahlialithwick looks like in 1994 Judge Roll found that background check provisions of Brady Law were unconstititonal —Jan. 8, 5:37 p.m.@walterkirn Why are partisan types so disappointed when an evildoer turns out not to be a political enemy? it denies them their own violent thoughts. —Jan. 8, 6:20 p.m.@walterkirn Intense, personalized ideological passion and excitement, regardless of content, seems to be the illness. —Jan. 8, 5:31 p.m.@benpolitico Krauthammer wrote about the analyzing lone gunmen, nuts by definition, in a very different context in ‘09 —Jan. 8, 5:11 p.m.@billgifford And this: “No! I won’t pay debts in a currency that’s not backed by gold and silver!” (an actual Tea Party plank) —Jan. 8, 4:59 p.m.@maddow There is nothing to be gained from speculating on the motives and affiliations of AZ shooter w/o facts. Retweeted by @pmjim —Jan. 8, 4:56 p.m.@walterkirn stoned. lonely. excitable. half-literate. politically incoherent. on the the thin side. these lone gunmen are one brain sharing bodies. —Jan. 8, 4:46 p.m.@weareyourfek * Today, John Boehner, is when you cry. —Jan. 8, 4:45 p.m.

—Posted Jan. 8, 7:42 p.m.

The Tucson Memory Hole
The rush to delete embarrassing, incriminating, or inconvenient Web pages in the wake of breaking news—such as the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in Tucson, Ariz., today—makes no sense.

Already, the alleged shooter’s MySpace page has disappeared, and SarahPAC has removed the controversial page that put “crosshairs” on congressional districts held by Democratic Party incumbents that the PAC was targeting. [Correction: I relied on an erroneous and now retracted report that SarahPAC took down the crosshairs map. I am responsible for the mistake in my copy. Instead of rewriting the piece, I’m leaving it stand. You are free to chuckle at the irony.]As I write, the YouTube pages attributed to the alleged shooter are still up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they get grounded. 

But as the links above show, practically anything posted on the Web can be retrieved and reposted by resourceful Web monkeys. So what is served by tossing images and words into the memory hole? In the case of SarahPAC, [See correction above.]its proprietors appear to be making some sort of backhanded confession of guilt by dumping the page. That confession is unwarranted in my view: Anyone who can be persuaded by a political metaphor to actually put a bullet into somebody’s brain can’t have much of a tether to reality, so why delete?

The MySpace deletion is even weirder. Is being an alleged shooter a violation of MySpace’s terms of service? By taking the page down, is MySpace implying that until the shooting spree started, it endorsed the poster’s views? Of course not. MySpace, Facebook, and all other social media pages are in the business of supplying paper and pen to those who wish to publish. The fact that they provide the publishing tools to people who end up shooting people doesn’t make them contributors to murder if the writer wasn’t publishing violent threats. And the alleged shooter doesn’t appear to have threatened mayhem on his pages. So what’s MySpace afraid of here?

Similarly, after white supremacist James von Brunn * opened fire on security guards at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in 2009, killing one, numerous Web sites scrambled to delete his online scribblings. Quickly, many of the erased pages were salvaged and republished.

The rush to delete reveals a kind of magical thinking at work, standing as a gesture toward the time when our paper-based publishing culture made it possible to stamp out information. But the modern bell can not be unrung. I understand the urge to distance oneself from a horror, but the frantic expunging of Web content we’re witnessing today only binds the erasers closer to the crime.

—Posted Jan. 8, 5:50 p.m.

Correction, Jan. 8, 2011: This article originally misspelled the Twitter alias @weareyourfek. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Correction, Jan. 9, 2011: This article originally misspelled James von Brunn’s name. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

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