By Tom Switzer
It wasn't long after the Arizona shooting rampage that the airwaves and blogosphere began filling with conjecture about who might be responsible and why.
The answer embraced by much of the media, both in America and abroad, is that the weekend carnage, which left six people dead and 14 wounded, is somehow linked to what leading US left-wing columnist Paul Krugman says is a "climate of hate" peddled by "right-wing extremism".
Is this really true? Was 22-year-old Jared Loughner inspired to violence by the likes of Republican firebrand Sarah Palin and the low-tax, low-spending Tea Party movement, which has tapped into the economic anxiety of voters?
In fact, all the available evidence indicates the Arizona atrocity was the act of a psychologically unhinged young man whose bizarre internet ravings put him beyond any ideological pigeon hole.
Democratic partisans and media commentators insist American politics might well benefit by trying to restore civility to public discourse.
They have a point: some right-wing radio hosts all too often exploit divisive issues, pitting one group against another.
But left-wing pundits can also be vile and vicious in their denunciations of ideological opponents. Who can forget the many hateful things said about George W. Bush? Now, the focus of liberal ire is Sarah Palin.
A year ago, the former Alaskan governor posted a map online with crosshair targets representing many Democratic lawmakers, including critically injured congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, whom she singled out for defeat after they voted for President Barack Obama's healthcare plan.
Palin has also used shooting metaphors such as "lock and load" on the campaign trail.
All true. But, again, the charge goes both ways: at least one left-wing site also put Giffords on a "target" list for primary challenges because her conservative voting record, most notably on border protection, went against the Democratic Party line.
Even Barack Obama is far from immune from this form of politics. In 2008, he told a Democratic rally: "If they (the Republicans) bring a knife to the fight, we (Democrats) bring a gun."
Clearly, both sides of politics have invoked a weapons metaphor on the campaign trail. It may be provocative and it may be temperamentally unsuitable for Australian tastes. But it is hardly evidence of incitement to violence.
Ironically, whereas much of the media have rushed to judgment in the Arizona shooting, the Fourth Estate was far more restrained a year ago in identifying the motivations behind another lone mass murderer.
Recall Major Nidal Hasan, who massacred 13 fellow Americans at a troop training centre in Fort Hood, Texas. Much of the media cautioned that the public not jump to conclusions about his motivations.
Never mind the ample evidence that showed his shootings were an act of Islamic extremism.
The media obsession with blaming Palin and the US "culture of hate" for last weekend's bloodshed has overshadowed the widespread sympathy for the victims of this heinous crime.
Tom Switzer is a research associate at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and editor of Spectator Australia.