Jared Lee Loughner allegedly tried to assassinate Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at a meeting with constituents in Tucson, Arizona, on Saturday. In the wake of the attack, the 22-year-old Loughner has been called everything from “crazed” to “unhinged.” What he’s not been called, however, at least by the media, is a terrorist.
According to the United States Law Code, terrorism is “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” New evidence alleges that Loughner possibly planned for years to assassinate Giffords, a prominent politician. Sounds a lot like terrorism to me. But a whole host of major media outlets seem to disagree.
The Wall Street Journal today says Loughner “raged against the government” and “discussed terrorism,” which, when you actually think about it, is a vague, nearly meaningless sentence (who hasn’t discussed terrorism in the past decade?). In the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the main story is that Loughner was denied entry into the military because he failed a drug test, while the only talk of terrorism comes in a confusing quote from a blog posting from Loughner himself: “If you call me a terrorist then the argument to call me a terrorist is ad hominem.” And, in the Los Angeles Times’ lead story on Loughner today, the word “terror” doesn’t appear once.
Compare this nebulous coverage to that on Nidal Hasan in November 2009. If you’ll remember, Hasan is the only suspect in the Fort Hood shooting in Texas that left 13 people dead and 30 more wounded. Hasan is also Muslim, a fact every news outlet won’t let you forget, while also speculating about his terrorist ties.
Four days after the attack on Fort Hood, the Wall Street Journal published two stories suggesting that Hasan was a terrorist, one of which included the assertion that it was a terrorist act because Hasan spoke Arabic while he shot. The Los Angeles Times spoke to counterterrorism experts for this piece on Hasan. And, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, blogger Kyle Wingfield actually gave credence to a Forbes argument claiming that Hasan “went Muslim.”
Some will argue that Hasan’s terrorist intentions were proved by communications he had with radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki, but, in fact, experts who reviewed the pair’s e-mail exchange deemed it totally innocuous.
It should be noted that the FBI Director Robert Mueller has said he’s not ruling out terrorism charges against Loughner, but nothing’s certain yet. And today in Dubai, Hillary Clinton called Loughner an “extremist,” though, like the media, she stopped short of calling him a terrorist. From the sidelines, the message this sends is pretty obvious and very insidious: When a white man executes a political attack, he’s likely crazy; when it’s a Muslim doing the shooting, he’s likely a terrorist.
This came up also with the guy who flew his plane into the IRS building, who was allowed the complexity of a guy whose patriotism had been disappointed. I was actually interested in how that was framed, because it was allowed in the media to be a little more complex than when things like this happen. And that’s important, because this is complex. And it just keeps happening with no resolutions, until we can start talking about things that are going on in ways that aren’t so two-dimensional.