If you listen to the vast majority of Congress members from both sides of the aisle following yesterday’s attack on Republicans, there is a simple message of unity in the face of violence.
But over on Fox News in the past 24 hours or so since the shooting occurred, a different narrative has taken hold: It’s all the left’s fault. You don’t need to go back too far, however, to see how differently that network’s hosts reacted when an avowed white supremacist targeted African-American members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina almost two years ago to the day.
This time, Fox hosts have been quick to blame “left-wing hate,” as Sean Hannity put it for inspiring the Bernie Sanders-supporting gunman to attempt to mow down Republican members of Congress while they practiced for a charity baseball game.
“When Democrats continue to dehumanize Republicans and paint them as monsters day in and day out, year in and year out,” Hannity said Wednesday night, apparently forgetting the words of Eric Trump on his own show one week earlier, “well the climate around the country, it becomes more than toxic, and the tragic results, of course, follow.”
Earlier in the night, The Five’s Jesse Watters made an equally harsh assessment of the situation. Linking the attack to anti-Trump protests, he said, “This violence is only coming from one side recently. People need to think, ‘What’s the common denominator here?’ If this were Republicans and Trump supporters going out there rioting and burning things and shooting Democrats, it’d be a whole other story.”
While he stopped short of blaming Sanders, who forcefully condemned the attack, Watters added that his supporters are on “quite a crime spree recently,” citing the anti-Muslim Portland attacker and alleged NSA leaker Reality Winner as two other examples.
And despite his co-host’s “controversial” assertion that the shooter was solely to blame for yesterday’s shooting, Fox’s Eric Bolling managed to lay blame on not just Snoop Dogg, Kathy Griffin, and Shakespeare, but also former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who held up as role models those who “marched,” “bled,” and “died” for justice.
Lynch was of course referring to those who fought non-violently for civil rights, but that’s not how Bolling saw it. “Think before you utter those blind, hateful words next time, liberals,” he said, “because there are crazy people out there taking your metaphors literally.”
Now compare all of that to the way Fox News hosts reacted to the suggestion that racist hate speech from the Right helped inspire the Charleston shooter. In their reality, it was an attack on Christians, not African-Americans, despite the fact that the gunman reportedly told his victims, “I want to shoot black people.”
Hannity accused those on the Left of “racing to politicize a massacre" before the victims' "bodies are even cold,” adding of President Obama, “It was not a surprise today when the president was among the first to use the incident not to unite Americans in a moment of grief, but to divide Americans over a hot button issue like gun control.”
Ousted host Bill O’Reilly forcefully pushed back on the idea that the Charleston shooter was inspired by “hate speech” that he heard on Fox News, as a friend of Pastor Clementa Pinckney suggested. “I don’t know anyone on this network that does that,” O’Reilly responded, without irony.
Perhaps the best summation of Fox’s hypocrisy came from former Comedy Central host Larry Wilmore, who said at the time, “I know you guys don’t want to admit that racial stuff isn’t going on, but how can there be any doubt when it came out of the gunman’s mouth? He told his victims, ‘I want to shoot black people.’ I think when he says black people, he means black people—and not Christians.”
Fox News cannot simply deny the motivations of an assailant when they are inconvenient and highlight them when they fit the network’s narrative. If it was a stretch to say to two years ago that Fox News hosts inspired Dylann Roof to walk into a historically black church and kill nine people, it is equally absurd to argue that liberal rhetoric is solely to blame for this week’s attack on Republicans.
Even President Trump—so far, at least—has resisted the urge to blame his political opponents for this most recent act of brazen violence. For once, Fox News hosts should take a page from him instead of the other way around.