Former Republican Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said Wednesday she is heartbroken over the shootings in Arizona in which Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was gravely wounded, but accused some in the news media and others of "blood libel" for saying heated political rhetoric from her and others are to blame.
"Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred they purport to condemn," she said in a roughly 8-minute speech posted on her Facebook page. "That is reprehensible."
It was the first extended comment from Mrs. Palin on the shooting, which has sparked a fierce, at times partisan debate over whether angry political rhetoric and imagery had somehow motivated Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old with a history of erratic behavior accused in the shooting.
“We are better than the mindless finger-pointing we endured in the wake of the tragedy,” she said. “We will come out of this stronger and more united in our desire to peacefully engage in the great debates of our time, to respectfully embrace our differences in a positive manner and to unite in the knowledge that, though our ideas may be different, we must all strive for a better future for our country.”
Mrs. Palin, a potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate, posted a map during the 2010 midterm campaign that marked — with crosshairs — Mrs. Gifford's and 19 other Democratic-held congressional districts vulnerable for a GOP victory.
In the carefully scripted speech released early Wednesday, Mrs. Palin said she has prayed for the victims and their families since Saturday, when Mr. Loughner purportedly shot six people to death and seriously injured 13 others during a community event held by Mrs. Gifford in a Tucson strip mall.
"My heart broke for the innocent victims," she said.
Mrs. Palin defended the map, saying Republicans and Democrats use such imagery during election seasons to mark swing districts. She appeared to direct her sharpest words toward her critics on the left and others who have said the would-be assassin was influenced by anti-government rhetoric from the right.
Mrs. Palin said she was saddened by people trying to "apportion the blame" and that "acts of such monstrous cruelty stand on their own."
But at least one top congressional Democrat criticized Mrs. Palin's video.
"Intellectually, [Mrs. Palin] seems not to understand what's going on here," said Rep. James Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat and a member of the party's leadership team in the chamber.
"She is an attractive person, she is articulate, but I think intellectually she seems not to understand what is going on here," he said in a radio interview.
Mrs. Palin's use of the phrase "blood libel," which has its origins in the false Medieval superstition that Jews used the blood of Christian children to make matzoh, also prompted criticism as outlandish and overdone. Mrs. Giffords is Jewish.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, cautioned that it was "inappropriate at the outset to blame Sarah Palin ... for being an accessory to murder" and that she "has every right to defend herself against these kinds of attacks."
"Still, we wish that Palin had not invoked the phrase 'blood-libel' in reference to the actions of journalists and pundits in placing blame for the shooting in Tucson on others," he said.
Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz defended Mrs. Palin's use of the term, noting that "the term 'blood libel' has taken on a broad metaphorical meaning in public discourse," despite its origins.
"There is nothing improper and certainly nothing anti-Semitic in Sarah Palin using the term to characterize what she reasonably believes are false accusations," Mr. Dershowitz said in a statement issued to the Andrew Breitbart Web site Big Government.
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