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A tragedy in Tucson, and more arguing on talk TV

- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 11, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - In the wake of the Arizona shootings, conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck issued a challenge to all Americans to reject violence.

Liberal talk-show host Keith Olbermann voiced his own call for repudiating violence.

Has Saturday's rampage inspired a measure of consensus and a softening of rhetoric among cable TV's more confrontational hosts?

Not that you could tell from Monday's clash of TV pundits, even as they reacted to accusations that the polarized environment in which they operate may have helped spark the tragedy.

From program to program, as conservative and liberal hosts dwelled on the horrible event, they found little if any common ground. Just as any other night, they found much to dispute. And, as usual, they seized on opportunities to slam one another.

"I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually. You don't have to do it with bombast," said Roger Ailes, president of Fox News, in an exchange with music mogul Russell Simmons, posted Monday on Simmons' website.

"I hope the other side does that," Ailes said.

Monday night, it all seemed pretty hopeless.

Shortly before Beck's show aired on Fox News Channel, Jared Lee Loughner made his first court appearance in a packed federal courtroom in Phoenix. He has been accused in the weekend attack outside a Tucson supermarket that killed six people and injured or wounded 14 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

"The media and politicians are trying to sell you the idea that this guy is a right-wing nut job moved to action by Fox News or me or Sarah Palin," said Beck, adding that most coverage of the tragedy "would quite frankly embarrass the worst basement blogger in his underpants."

Palin has been criticized by some for using crosshairs on a website graphic to indicate congressional districts, including Giffords', where she wanted Republicans to win in last fall's election.

"Everybody's playing politics with a national tragedy," Beck said.

Declaring that everyone should "stand against violence," he declared himself the leader in this movement he was launching.

As it happened, "Countdown" host Olbermann had already made his own such challenge, mostly aimed at conservative politicians and commentators, on his MSNBC program Saturday night. He repeated that challenge Monday, along with his own apology for anything he may have said in the past that "could be construed as advocating violence."

But Olbermann added that, two days after the shootings in Tucson, the effect of the tragedy in "uniting this country in a commitment to abandon the rhetoric of violence" was "almost negligible."

Ed Schulz, the liberal host of MSNBC's "The Ed Show," seemed to agree.

"The ideological divide is so great in America, I don't think anything is going to change in the conversation," Schulz said on his show.

The geographical divide between MSNBC and Fox News Channel is only a few blocks along Manhattan's Sixth Avenue, and Schulz expressed the need to be honest on his show, "because there's a lot of stuff, especially across the street, that is not the truth, that is embellished to the point where it might make somebody think that doing something radical is the right thing to do."

On Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor," conservative host Bill O'Reilly decried "the far-left MSNBC line. The hatred spewed on that cable network is unprecedented in the media."

But overall, the liberal media "are furious that their far-left vision is falling apart," he said, "so they are using a terrible tragedy to attack their perceived political enemies." These, he said, include conservatives, Palin, Fox News and himself, the target of "far-left loons" for years. "I have to have security around the clock," he said.

No one on the networks seemed to question that the 22-year-old suspect is the responsible party in Saturday's assault. But the MSNBC hosts broadened the discussion to address other factors.

Schulz cited "a crisis among the under-treated mentally ill who can't get the help they need."

Lax gun-control laws was a common theme among the MSNBC hosts.

Rachel Maddow began her show with an excruciating list of more than a dozen firearm massacres in the United States in the past 20 years. As more facts emerge about the Tucson shootings, she said, "What is consuming the national debate is whether the heated political rhetoric in our country was a contributing factor to it."

Then she posed a larger question whose answer remains elusive: "Do we have any tools to stop the next American gun massacre?

Comedy Central's Jon Stewart, meanwhile, discarded his satiric approach to news Monday night and turned serious.

"As I watched the political pundit world," he said, "many are reflecting and grieving and trying to figure things out. But it's definitely true that others are working feverishly to find the tidbit or two that will exonerate their side from blame or implicate the other.

"Watching that is as predictable, I think, as it is dispiriting," Stewart said.

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AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle contributed to this report.

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