The sharpest moment I saw in the TV coverage of the Tucson tragedy over the weekend was Megyn Kelly on Fox News jamming the chief local cop and new national discourse advocate, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.
Never mind that he's a Dem -- Politico calls him a "liberal" -- and she's a Fox commentator who appeared scantily clad in GQ. Ms. Kelly is also a lawyer and expertly grilled the instant hero of reasonableness about being a key law enforcement official ascribing motives to a suspect and engaging in political commentary at the beginning of a very important criminal investigation. "Why are you putting a political spin on this?" she asked.
"Is it really the place of a sheriff to stir the pot on either side of the political aisle?"
Those were the right questions and took a little nerve given how impressively and resonantly the Sheriff had spoken his mind and not just his fact sheet the day of the shootings.
But rational thinking "is so unsatisfying" when shocking things happen, said a New York Times story on theories about all those dead fish and blackbirds. "Mundane and probably correct explanations leave us emotionally unconvinced and yearning for something more."
Lone gunman? Too simple. Enter the sheriff. The straight-talking and cranky Dupnik became the inspirational thrust for people on both sides of the political divide to say that we should tone it down. Robert Duvall will play Dupnik in the movie.
"Let the listeners decide" if he stepped over the line, the sheriff told Kelly. Sticking to his guns.
Fair enough, as Kelly said. (She also got him to confirm the identity of one heroine at the scene.) But Kelly's questions go exactly to what reporters are supposed to do: challenge assumptions. And a broad and prevailing assumption for the first 48 hours after the shooting was that violent rhetoric from the right had motivated the accused killer.
This theory left liberals, looking for a foothold after last November's electoral rout and some Obama skinbacks, gleeful at the opportunity to strike back. Conservatives were caught a little double-jointed on this one and felt some obligation themselves to call for rhetorical calm. But the actual situation turns out to be about something else. It often does.
Even Sheriff Dupnik was forced to admit to Kelly that "I don't have that information yet about any evidence" related to political rhetoric. His views were based on "my belief...my opinion, period."
You might not know that listening to Keith Olberman's extrapolation -- his pedantic, solemn mixture of apology, confession, broad assault and accusation, which of course took the whole thing to a deeper level. But not as deep as the wacky Fred Phelps and his Westborough Baptist Church thanking god for the violent shooter. Now that is some crazy speech that could use a cap on it. Can we agree on that?
I'm all for polite tones, but this moralizing over language won't fix health care or social security or the deficit, and it seemed to have little to do with the deranged violence in Tucson. Megyn Kelly called it when Sheriff Dupnik was waxing nostalgic about the old, presumably saner America he remembered.
"There were mad men then," Kelly said, "and there are madmen now." That's a fact.
Causes Phil Bronstein Supports
Good Ones; anything involving the possibility of redemption.