Good Question: How Does Violent Talk Lead To Violence?

By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Candidates shooting at the health care bill, comparing their opponents to terrorists and putting congressional districts in the crosshairs. It’s a volatile political dialogue in America, and with the shooting attack in Tucson, Ariz., targeted at a Representative, many are asking about the violent rhetoric. How does violent talk lead to violent action?

“Metaphors matter,” said Edward Schiappa, professor and chair of the Communications Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

Not that someone’s going to buy a mug with a crosshairs over a Democratic donkey and that triggers the idea to go shoot a Democrat, he said.

“This participates in a climate of political rhetoric right now that’s really volatile,” said Schiappa.

Because of the rarity that politicians are murdered in this country, Schiappa said that’s not really an easy thing to research.

“There’s a lot of research that has been done on the smaller steps that lead you there,” he said. “The disruption of town hall meetings, the breaking of windows over the vote on the health care bill last year, we see a pattern emerging of opposition so strong it’s led to violence,” he said

So what happens to someone who takes this kind of talk and turns it into violent behavior?

“We call it literalizing a metaphor,” said Schiappa.

Most of us never have problems with literalizing a metaphor; we get that the imagery of a call to arms is a call to political action.

But during the 2008 election, as the anti-Barack Obama rhetoric ratcheted up, so did the number of death threats.

“We do know ratcheting does provoke stronger emotions, stronger attitudes and we do know attitudes lead to actions,” said Schiappa.

While we’ve always had angry talk and violent imagery, things are different today, according to Schiappa. The internet allows people to spread their thoughts and publish them quickly.

National leaders and political talk show hosts are echoing this imagery, as well.

“There are a number of commentators, almost all on the right wing, who are declaring the situation as tantamount to a rebellion situation,” said Schiappa.

It’s highly unlikely that Sarah Palin’s crosshair graphic, which appeared in March of last year, had something to do with an attack over the weekend. You can’t blame the level of political discourse for murder. You blame the killer.

But, the number of right-wing hate groups is at a historic high, as the same time the imagery is getting increasingly violent, according to Schiappa.

As the Pima County, Arizona Sheriff said, “I think it’s time we do the soul searching.”

WCCO-TV’s Jason DeRusha Reports

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Cindy Jackson Erickson

    Here is my good question. I heard someone say that we needed more guns in wake of the Tuson shooting. If some private citizen in the crowd was armed and returned fire and killed the shooter, what would the legal remifacation be?

  • Larry Kutzler

    Your piece on right wing hate groups is very disturbing. How did we go from a sick crazy person to right wing politics??? It seems to me you crossed the line. This man was sick, just like all the other assassins who have killed our political leaders in the past. This kind of reporting is just as bad as what you are accusing the right wing groups of doing.

    • Denise G

      Mr. Kutzler, the concern with over the top rhetoric is not that it will inspire the sane.

    • Mike

      I too am disturbed by this piece. But not surprised. One only needs to be a reasonable thinker, left or right, to see that WCCO, and they’re by no means alone, has an agenda. It’s not enough for them to simply report the news, “just the facts, please.” They must give us their “informed” opinion as well. They believe we are all automatons, unable to think for ourselves, let alone to understand what motivates them. What’s more disturbing? They don’t admit they’re biased. Rather, they operate under the guise of “fair and balanced.” Regarding whether this is a “good question?” It’s debatable. Mr. DeRusha should have also interviewed an “expert” who is right of center. That way the automatons could make a really informed judgment.

  • Phid

    DeRusha, what in the world kind of reporting is this? This kind of “analysis” done by Schiappa merely confirms the idea that both academia and the media are politically-biased institutions (leftwing, that is). The shooter has been described as being “anti-religion”, “quite liberal”, and a “pothead” – all of which would more likely place him on the left of American politics, NOT the right. Meanwhile, there’s an utter lack of evidence that the shooter listened to talk radio, liked conservative politicians, and so forth. The insinuations in this article are therefore little more than smear.

    Now why in the world did the editors at WCCO give the green light to reporting such as this?

    • Victim Du Jour

      They skipped right over the College Radicals making bombs at the Repulican National Convention in St Paul.

      I bet you can link more violence to our University systems than anyone, especially during the 60’s and 70’s.

      Hoax hate crimes are also popular among college radicals.

  • Kathy Kuder

    Thats it jason…RIGHT WING!!!!!!Perhaps the LEFT WING should Peace Out! You know that is not going to happen. Pictures of George Bush hanging, or burning is not violent..shooting at the Health Care Bill by a Democrat who won’t vote for it is not violent, death threats to Sarah Palin, Bill Oreilly, Rush,and Glenn Beck are not violent…All the Mud slinging from the Left, and the utter lies by the Left are not insighting violence…..just the Right. ……Jason..this kind of crap is why I don’t watch WCCO any more. You and the rest of the crew are as bad and as Left as those on MSNBC. A loon is a LOON. And a LOON is what murdered all those people.

    • Molly L

      Ms. Kuder, there is a difference between the actions of people in a crowd, on a blog etc. and political leaders. Leaders are supposed to be aware that they might inspire loons with violent rhetoric.

  • TomK

    The incessant psychological modification processes used by the right wing “news” commentators on radio employ the same techniques that the army uses to change kids into killers. They have seen that with persistent vilification of the :enemy” that they can get shoot/kill rates up from 50% in WWI to over 90% now.

    • Molly L

      Well said Tom K.

  • Tweets that mention Good Question: How Does Violent Talk Lead To Violence? « CBS Minnesota – News, Sports, Weather, Traffic, and the Best of Minnesota --

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by University of MN and Minnesota Wild. Minnesota Wild said: WCCO >> Good Question: How Does Violent Talk Lead To Violence? […]

  • Hayward

    IF THE RIGHT DISAGREES WITH THE LEFT IT’S HATE. THE ST PAUL RNC TERRRORIST ACTS WAS CALLED FREE SPEECH. 1000s of metaphors used by the Dem party (including cross hairs in 2004) and you decide to attack Sarah Palin. WCCO can not let a tragedy go to waste.

    • Molly L

      Hayward, I don’t recall anyone defending the RNC protests. I also don’t recall any evidence that liberals were those protesting.

      • Rich

        Molly, who else would protest the RNC but Commie/liberal/Socialists??? They weren’t anything else!!! John Kennedy was more conservative than John MaCain. We have slid so far to the left our country has almost destroyed it self

      • Molly L

        I heard Ron Paul supporters were involved? Libertarian anarchists?

  • Marcia and Matt

    Channel 4 is following the blogs and left wing media in blaming conservatives for the tragic shootings in AZ, making the inference that violent rhetoric from the right and Sarah Palin are the cause. Why don’t you report the real facts? For example, instead of blaming this horrible act on a lone mentally ill male with atheistic and delusional thoughts who probably fell through the cracks of the justice system, you want to build a case against the right wing broadcasting. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik and his department have more to answer for than anyone. Could you have found a more left leaning liberal professor to interview than Edward Schiappa? Why don’t you stick to the facts instead of propagandizing news stories to support your political agenda. Thank goodness we get the facts from other news sources than WCCO. If it wasn’t for your WCCO’s weather report, we wouldn’t be watching at all.

    • Mike S

      We agree: Chris Shaffer is the best. We love him. After his report, I listen to music or read a book. I’m tired of WCCO’s manipulative reporting. Television news, in general, is a wasteland of misinformation. It behooves us, as concerned citizens, to consult many sources to arrive at the truth. Thank God we live in this great country where we are FREE to consult those many sources.

    • Jason DeRusha

      At tne end of the story I said this: “This is such a challenging topic to talk about — because it’s absurd to think Sarah Palin’s crosshair graphic which appeared in March of last year… had something to do with an attack over the weekend. You can’t blame the level of political discourse for murder. You blame the killer.”

  • Kate

    This was obnoxious journalism, Jason. A blatant agenda and your credibility suffers.

  • Marv Cole

    Think it was hilarious, at the beginning of the story, Amelia Santaniello said, even though we don’t know what caused this person to do this, the story goes into attacking the right, WCCO doesn’t let you down, still think at the beginning of the news, should say, WCCO your daily left leaning news, but in fairness, they did show the ad, of the Democrat shooting, but wonder how many people really knew that it was a Democrat ad. Because WCCO never once in the whole story stated, that left is guily of the same issues, also, ironic the story was labled, the rhetoric, and then the whole story is based on rhetoric.

    • Jason DeRusha

      I never labeled anyone as being from the right either. The professor made one remark about the people from the right using the rhetoric of revolution and tyranny. Which is simply a true fact. The people on the left are not using that language. And left wing hate groups aren’t on the rise, according to Homeland Security. IT’s right-wing hate groups..

      • Rich

        Jason, that was the most dishonest, one-sided reporting reporting I’ve ever seen!!! HAVE YOU NO SHAME??? Right wing hate groups is an oxymoron. Imagine my shock to find out that the commie/liberal/socialists were calling the catholic church a hate group. The kkk was started by democrats and was led by democrats from the civil war till now but commie/liberal/scoialists call it a right wing hate group. The nazi’s ( NATIONAL SOCIALISTS) are somehow listed as a right wing group. I never knew that the left was so intellectually dishonest.

      • Molly L

        Rich, when one starts to sound like Archie Bunker, a bit of self examination is likely in order?

      • rich

        Molly, you couldn’t argue one little thing about my post so you insult me by calling me Archie Bunker. That must be what one does when they have completely lost an argument and have no rebuttal what so ever!

      • Jason DeRusha

        Rich, I guess you’ll have to take it up with the Department of Homeland Security:

        I ask again: What kind of reporting would make you happy? Do you want me to say the left uses violent imagery too? OK – the left uses violent imagery too. Does the left use imagery of tyranny, revolution, revolt, tea party? No.

      • Rich

        Jason, how about stating that Loughners friends describe him as a “liberal pot-head” how about reporting that his friend said he never listened to talk radio and didn’t even watch the news. how about reporting that he never bothered to vote in 2010. Perhaps you could have noticed that his targets were more or less conservative so if this was politically motivated it would be another liberal attacking a group of conservatives.
        Instead you use some liberal prof and a liberal sheriff who possibly could have prevented this by doing his job properly for quotes that are all slanted against conservatives. Cross hairs on a donkey, town hall meetings, broken windows anger over the oboma care bill and some guy shooting some paper……. everything implies that it’s the conservatives bringing the violence. Everyone on the left seems to be trying to use this to attack conservative talk radio or Sarah Palin

        I learned quiet a bit about how liberals twist things to their liking. I really didn’t know that the left had managed to label the kkk and national socialists as far right and make it stick…. Did you ever read 1984???

        Having been born and raised Democrat, I’m shocked how far this country has slid to the left. John Kennedy was more conservative than John MaCain. JFK would be shocked and dismayed over what has become of his country after he was killed by commie/liberal/socialists. Now our country is being run by commie/liberal/socialists and we are screwed………

      • Wes

        All right Rich, let’s talk about your incompetent banter. First of all, you use the phrase commie/liberal/socialist a lot. This is a great example demonstrating your lack of knowledge, for communism, liberalism, and socialism are all different political ideologies. It’s common to see people using these words interchangeably nowadays, but unfortunately that is incorrect. Could you please elaborate on how a right wing hate group is an oxymoron. The KKK may have been started by democrats, but the democratic party was split over the civil war, and the democrats who began the KKK were the ones who sided with the confederacy. The KKK is a right wing group by definition, just look to their slogan, “Bringing a message of hope and deliverance to a white CHRISTIAN America.” Fascism, Nazism, ultra-nationalist, and religiously extreme ideologies are classified as far right ideologies. Therefore making the KKK a right wing group. Either you know nothing about history, or you are just ignorant to the fact that such a horrendous organization can have ties to your religion. Next time you want to discredit someone’s reporting do some reading.

  • Sam C

    Jason DeRusha and the editors of last nights WCCO News should be ashamed! I was embarrassed simply by watching the Pavlov’s dog style of reporting. What a loud-mouthed, mentally challenged sheriff in Tucson, Az drools out of his mouth should not become national news. I had hoped that WCCO was above that, but obviously you are just like most of the rest of the media — severely biased!

  • Janna

    I am outraged at this and will not watch WCCO anymore because of it. I want an apology for this misleading, damaging and biased reporting. This is just the absolute worst. You definately crossed the line on this one. There is tons of evidence that this man was sick. Why didn’t you report on that…the FACTS? Twisting and turning this tradgedy into a politically-biased ageda is sick, damaging and dispicable. You are absolutely guilty of what you are accusing the right-wingers of. Hopefully our President will do the right thing and address this by repremending those that are typing desperately to turn this into a polital issue at the Memorial service tomorrow putting an end to this type of sick and bogus reporting. The question should be…HOW DO THE LIES OF THE MEDIA LEAD TO VIOLENCE

    • Jason DeRusha

      Janna, we did report that in the first segement of the news. This story was crystal clear, if you watch the video at the end I said this: “This is such a challenging topic to talk about — because it’s absurd to think Sarah Palin’s crosshair graphic which appeared in March of last year… had something to do with an attack over the weekend. You can’t blame the level of political discourse for murder. You blame the killer.”

      • Rich

        There was no need to even give this any time on the air. your people were all very liberal and this whole piece was very dishonest.

  • William

    I am truly shocked at the attacks on the reporter. What specific claims made here by Jason or Schiappa are false? Jason makes it perfectly clear that he does NOT believe there is a link between Palin and the Tucson shooter’s attack, yet these foaming-at-the-mouth, I’ll-never-watch-WCCO-again reactions act as if he did. This shows just how frantic conservatives are to defend extremism. Forget the Tucson loony, the threat of extremist rightwing rhetoric is real. See:

    • Jason DeRusha

      Thanks William. I tried to be as clear as possible, while still discussing a couple interesting issues. 1) Do people actually flip from angry rhetoric (which this country was founded on) to violence? 2) How does that happen?

      • Molly L


        I’m not William of course, but I think vulnerable people do flip and this kind of rhetoric provides inspiration followed by permission. Psychologists have noted as much.

      • Jason DeRusha

        the stats on the inrease in death threats to then-candidate Obama are interesting, as are some stats I’ve seen on increases on death threats to Congresspeople. It’s pretty clear that violent rhetoric can create a climate at least – that affects people’s behavior. Does it drive them to kill? There are so many factors that go into that choice — it’s unlikely you can blame rhetoric for that.

      • Molly L

        I think “drive” is a loaded word. No pun intended. I don’t think one can ever suggest someone was directly driven to an act of violence due to political climate. But there is good reason to believe it’s a factor.

        “Would Loughner have become violent in any event? We don’t know what, if any, psychiatric problems Loughner has and whether they are organic, drug-fueled or both or neither. But let’s say he is just a “nut”. That doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant that he was exposed to violent political rhetoric. On the contrary, precisely because environment is related to violence in psychotics the fact that his web postings include rantings about the constitution, currency and other hot political topics that have been tinged with violent rhetoric legitimately raises the possibility that his target was chosen in part because of the political environment. Put more simply, if you are a violent paranoiac and someone tells you someone else is a threat to you, you may believe them and act on it.

        Does that mean Sarah Palin’s targets caused Loughner to shoot Gabrielle Giffords? No. But it does mean he could have been influenced in the choice of his targets by those and many other politically violent messages combined with paranoid ideation.”

        Read more:

  • Molly L

    I’m planning to tune into WCCO more often as a result of this coverage. It seems far too many fear discussing the proverbial elephant in the living room. We can’t heal if we pretend there is no wound.

  • Sandy

    The right wing did not say anything about a call to arms. They said they came unarmed… this time. And isn’t it ironic, in a sad pathetic way, that Republican Peter King sees the wisdom in preventing guns within 1,000 ft of an elected official. Hmmm. Gun Control is the answer for politicians — but not the people who elect the politicians to pass laws to keep the people safe. A LOT of soul searching to do and I don’t think half the country is yet ready to do it.

    • William

      Of the various Twin Cities news channels, this was the most thoughtful discussion of the issue I saw. Channel 5 had Jason Lewis commenting, for heaven’s sake! I rewatched the video and the facts are there–when hateful rhetoric toward Obama went up during the election, so did death threats. Remember the disruptions of town hall meetings? The broken windows during the Health Care debate last year? The Tea Party lady in Florida saying if ballots don’t work, we have bullets? The point of the story seems pretty true to me: We need to tone it down and treat each other as fellow citizens, not enemies to be attacked.

  • Victim Du Jour

    The Hippie movement was so Peaceful, nothing violent ever happened during the 60’s and 70’s.

    Beatles singing about LSD had nothing to do with Charles Manson and Katherine Soliah didn’t kick a pregnant woman in the stomach during a bank robbery.

  • Erik

    Strange how the News is bringing up everything about Jared Loughner except Marijuana.

    When I was young, I remember an extremely hopeless feeling smoking pot and watching “Pink Floyd” the Wall.

    Now days young people are getting high and watching depressing 911 Internet movies like “Loose Change”.

    Marijuana is much more potent, and it is well known to have paranoid schizoprenia side effects.

  • Rich

    Jason, last night I wrote what seemed to be a great response to your questions and it never posted. I’m not sure why. I’ll rewrite it when I have time.

  • Not A Tea Party Patriot

    Loughner’s ex-girlfriend describes him as anti-government. Not exactly liberal philosophy. Libertarian, perhaps? But not liberal.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Thursday Night Football

Listen Live