The power of the preferred narrative
The ink had barely dried, so to speak, on last month’s column before events offered a textbook example illustrating the power of the “preferred narratives” about which I had written. On Saturday, January 8, just a couple of days after I had submitted the column for publication, a young man walked into a crowd at a shopping center in Tucson and opened fire—shooting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in the head, wounding many others, and killing six.
Immediately, the air was filled with speculation: Who was the shooter? Was he a right-wing gun maniac, bent on assassinating a Democratic legislator? Was he an Islamic terrorist staging a suicide mission? Was he an undocumented Mexican criminal? Or was he a left-wing loony, going after a conservative Blue Dog? Or in other words: whose preferred narrative would gain credibility from this incident? The identity of the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was soon revealed, and the “paper trail” that he had left behind was scoured for clues about his motivations. It quickly became obvious that Loughner was mentally disturbed, deeply so, in fact—but that didn’t stop folks from trying to shoehorn his action, and his personality, into the parameters of their own favorite narratives.
A leftist blogger posted the following: “Jared Loughner is of course being painted by the media as an apolitical, off-his-beam individual with serious anger issues. Of course it’s perfectly understandable that the corporate-owned media would want to distance its pro-capitalist, anti-regulation support base on the right from the homicidal likes of Mr. Loughner. That perhaps his main source of news was Fox News and that he was a Glenn Beck fan is not exactly good PR for the conservative movement in America!” (www.debate.org/forums/politics/topic/9648/).
Video blogger Cenk Uygur of “The Young Turks” cited Loughner’s anti-government positions to maintain that he was more in line with conservatives (www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjmGyjeRrOs). For their part, conservative commentators soon latched onto the mention of “The Communist Manifesto” among Loughner’s favorite books, as well as reports that Loughner had smoked marijuana, as evidence that, in fact, the assassin was a leftist radical.