Down the rabbit hole: Paul Krugman’s role in the Sarah Palin libel trial (and mine)

I spent some time this afternoon going back over how the initial coverage of the Tucson shooting turned into a story about Sarah Palin’s district targeting map. There were a lot of people who instantly made that connection after the shooting happened but probably the single person with the biggest megaphone who made the connection was NY Times columnist Paul Krugman. What follows is a brief history of Krugman’s role in this story and, to a lesser degree, my own.

The Tucson shooting took place on January 8, 2011 a little after 10 in the morning. Within hours, Krugman published a blog post about it which mentioned Palin’s map.

A Democratic Congresswoman has been shot in the head; another dozen were also shot.

We don’t have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was. She’s been the target of violence before. And for those wondering why a Blue Dog Democrat, the kind Republicans might be able to work with, might be a target, the answer is that she’s a Democrat who survived what was otherwise a GOP sweep in Arizona, precisely because the Republicans nominated a Tea Party activist. (Her father says that “the whole Tea Party” was her enemy.) And yes, she was on Sarah Palin’s infamous “crosshairs” list.

Of course we now know Krugman was wrong. There was no clear political motivation behind Loughner’s attack. His politics, to the degree he had any, were not conservative or Republican and as far as anyone knows he had no interest in Sarah Palin and had never seen her map.

But Krugman had made a point of criticizing Palin’s map before. In a column he wrote before the shooting back in March of 2010 he included it in a rundown of eliminationist rhetoric and assured readers that nothing of its kind could be found on the Democratic side of the aisle.

What has been really striking has been the eliminationist rhetoric of the G.O.P., coming not from some radical fringe but from the party’s leaders. John Boehner, the House minority leader, declared that the passage of health reform was “Armageddon.” The Republican National Committee put out a fund-raising appeal that included a picture of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, surrounded by flames, while the committee’s chairman declared that it was time to put Ms. Pelosi on “the firing line.” And Sarah Palin put out a map literally putting Democratic lawmakers in the cross hairs of a rifle sight.

All of this goes far beyond politics as usual. Democrats had a lot of harsh things to say about former President George W. Bush but you’ll search in vain for anything comparably menacing, anything that even hinted at an appeal to violence, from members of Congress, let alone senior party officials.

So one of the reasons so many people on the left jumped on Palin’s targeting map after the Tucson shooting is that they’d already been primed by Krugman and others to believe it was an example of dangerous, eliminationist rhetoric. It was easy to jump to conclusions on January 8, 2011 because the shooting fit a narrative that Krugman and others had already created.

At the time Krugman wrote that 2010 column about extremist rhetoric, I was an independent blogger and I took issue with it in two separate blog posts. The first one argued that the language Krugman was pointing out was in fact not as extreme as he was suggesting. The comment about putting Pelosi on “the firing line” for instance was part of a common slogan at the time to “fire Nancy Pelosi.” Speaking of firing people, Krugman also overlooked what Palin said about her targeting map at the time:

We’re going to reclaim the power of the people from those who disregarded the will of the people. We’re going to fire them and send them back to the private sector, which has been shrinking thanks to their destructive government-growing policies. Maybe when they join the millions of unemployed, they’ll understand why Americans wanted them to focus on job creation and an invigorated private sector. Come November, we’re going to print pink slips for members of Congress as fast as they’ve been printing money.

So this wasn’t “eliminationist rhetoric” it was pretty normal political speech about going after the other party. In a second blog post I responded directly to Krugman’s claim that you would “search in vain” for anything similar coming from party officials on the left.

Really, Paul? I’ll search in vain?

The map appears on this page of the Democratic Leadership Committee website (dated 2004 during the Bush years). I guess we could argue over whether the DLC counts as “senior party officials” but they’re certainly as much a part of the party as Palin who, after all, currently holds no elected office.

Granted these are bulls-eyes instead of gun-sights, and the targets are states not individual congressmen. But we’re really splitting hairs at this point. This map and the language it uses (Behind enemy lines!) are, if anything, more militant than what Palin used in her Facebook posting.

But wait, there’s more!

When Palin’s map became an issue, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, leader of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), rushed on MSNBC to denounce it, telling Chris Matthews:

I really think that that is crossing a line…In this particular environment I think it’s really dangerous to try and make your point in that particular way because there are people who are taking that kind of thing seriously.

Really, Chris? So what do you think about this map?

Each one of those red targets represents a “Targeted Republican” like this one:

…You’ll never guess where I found this map. That’s right, it’s on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) website.

That blog post went up on March 31, 2010, more than 9 months before the Tucson shooting. At the time I don’t think anyone cared about it but me. But after the shooting, with Krugman and many others connecting the violence to Palin’s map, people suddenly started finding my old blog post. Within days it became one of the most viewed posts that had ever appeared on my blog. Tens of thousands of people viewed it and I had incoming links from all over America as other bloggers linked to it. 

I’m not suggesting no one else could have found this stuff. It was all out there in the open at the time, but because I’d already done it months earlier, most people just linked to my site once it became a topic of discussion. In fact, that’s how I found the post url today. It was linked in another blogger’s story about the map.

Anyway, I bring all of this up because I noticed today that the message about the maps seems to have gotten through to Ross Douthat who wrote an email to James Bennet after his very bad editorial about Sarah Palin went up in 2017. Douthat pointed out that Palin’s map wasn’t unusual (2nd tweet below).

Here it is blown up a bit. “Democrats had used bullseyes on a map of R’s who voted against the stimulus, and so on down the rabbit hole.”

I’m not sure what Douthat was reading in 2017 but the “rabbit hole” about the other, similar maps probably traces back to me and that 2010 blog post above. The specific map he’s referring to is the DCCC map above.

In any case, Douthat was correct that the main takeaway here is that there never was a connection between Palin and the shooting. Krugman’s efforts to create one were nevertheless “vivid” for a lot of people on the left. One of those people, it seems, was James Bennet who must have had some memory of Krugman, or someone echoing him, pointing to the map as an incitement before the facts showed otherwise. Somehow, Bennet, and his colleagues who reviewed his draft, never got the message that Krugman was wrong.

View Original Source Source