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In debate over political rhetoric and the Arizona shooting, echoes of controvery over rap lyrics

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  January 19, 2011 03:43 PM

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Is there a double standard for rap music and talk radio?

In the wake of the Arizona shooting, many on the right have reacted indignantly to the suggestion that the bellicose tone of talk radio has fostered a toxic political climate that could have influenced the alleged shooter.

One of the most vehement to object to drawing any such linkage was conservative columnist George Will: "It would be merciful if, when tragedies such as Tucson's occur, there were a moratorium on sociology," he wrote three days later.

And in talk radio's defense, the profile that has emerged of the alleged shooter, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, is that of a disturbed individual with no coherent political beliefs.

But in a column yesterday in the Cape Cod Times, Sean Gonsalves criticized conservative pundits for dismissing the possibility that a venomous political climate could have pushed Loughner over the edge — and raised a provocative point about pundits' differing reactions to rap music and talk radio:

I wonder if any of the deniers think Gangsta rap has no influence on the criminal behavior of some of its mentally ill listeners. I can't wait for columnists George Will or Charles Krauthammer to start defending rap music on the grounds that there isn't a single thread between hip-hop and street violence.

Now, whether there's a direct link between this act of domestic terrorism and a toxic political atmosphere doesn't mean there's no value in having a national discussion about over-the-top demonization of political opponents, just as it's healthy to have "stop the violence" hip-hop summits.

Sure enough, a glance in the archives shows that Will's views on the possible relationship between words on the radio and violence on the streets has shifted — and so has his objection to instant sociology.

In a column Will wrote for Newsweek in 1990 (not available online), he explicitly linked 2 Live Crew lyrics to a highly publicized rape of a jogger in Central Park. "The coarsening of a community, the desensitizing of a society will have behavioral consequences," he wrote — sentiments that sound a lot like those of liberal critics of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin now.

Globe photo: Ice-T, whose 1992 song "Cop Killer" provoked widespread condemnation from national political leaders.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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