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The first casualty is not partisanship

POSTED January 11, 2011 11:14 p.m.

How do we react to the horrific murders of Christina Green, 9; John Roll, 63; Gabe Zimmerman, 30; Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Schneck, 79; and the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and 13 others?

For one thing, we can refuse to engage in political opportunism. There's been too much of that.

Before any relevant facts about the alleged shooter were in, New York Times' columnist Paul Krugman posted a blog in which he admitted that he had no proof that the right was involved, but blamed Sarah Palin anyway for targeting the Democratic congresswoman's district in "crosshairs." MSNBC host Keith Olbermann did likewise.

Slate's Jack Shafer put that trick to rest when he wrote, "For as long as I've been alive, crosshairs and bull's-eyes have been an accepted part of the graphical lexicon when it comes to political debates. Such 'inflammatory' words as targeting, attacking, destroying, blasting, crushing, burying, knee-capping, and others have similarly guided political thought and action. Not once have the use of these images or words tempted me or anybody else I know to kill."

There's been opportunism on the right as well. Before the blood was even dry, some conservatives leaped at the opportunity to wallow in their beloved role as victim. On CNN's "Reliable Sources," radio talk-show host Steve Malzberg said that after he got a CNN alert about the shooting, he turned to his son and remarked, "Wait — five minutes, they're going to blame talk radio."

Malzberg offered up tit-for-tat quotes from the left — including President Obama's remark, "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." Proving what? We know that Palin's "crosshairs" is a phony excuse to dish out blame.

So why show that Republicans can be equally as craven?

I've decided not to use the accused shooter's name because that's what he wants.

As of this writing, there is nothing tying this loser to the tea party movement or the GOP — and he wasn't shy about airing his views. Yes, he listed "Mein Kampf" as one of his favorite books. He also listed "The Communist Manifesto." From what we know now, he appears to have no partisan leanings, only a sick desire for infamy.

Longtime friend Bryce Tierney told Mother Jones that the accused shooter became obsessed with Giffords after he attended a 2007 "Congress on Your Corner" event and she failed to answer his bizarre question, "What is government if words have no meaning?"

Tierney, who described the alleged shooter as nonideological, thinks his friend's motive was "mainly to just promote chaos. He wanted the media to freak out about this whole thing."

So how do the media react? Lacking any solid evidence tying conservative speech to the suspect, CNN reporters and media scolds pronounced that Arizona's political "climate" was a factor. "Climate" in this story is a code word for: no proof.

With a precious 9-year-old girl and five others dead, and an energetic congresswoman and other shooting victims recovering, this country has suffered a tremendous loss. On the left and the right, some partisans are determined to use this tragedy to defame their political enemies.

It seems that as a country, we have forgotten how to mourn.

E-mail Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.

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