Hardly an hour had passed after the first sketchy news broke on Saturday that there had been a horrific shooting attack in Tucson, Ariz., at a public event held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, when the liberal media began reporting the incident in a way that suggested it was somehow linked to modern American politics -- as practiced by conservatives.
At 1:53 p.m. Tucson time on Saturday, The Associated Press released a story reporting the identity of the suspected shooter but misspelling his last name. The story flatly said the shooter's motives were unknown.
"Little information is known immediately about Laughner such as his background or a possible motive in the attack," it said.
At 2:21 p.m. Tucson time, the AP was still digging out the rudimentary facts of the incident. It now knew how to spell Loughner's name and that he was 22 years old, but it reported nothing else about him. It did identify one of his victims as an unnamed "9-year-old boy." Later, it would report that this 9-year-old victim was, in fact, a girl, not a boy.
Yet, this same early story, which revealed no more about Loughner than his age and the correct spelling of his name, also offered readers a framework in which it suggested Loughner's murderous act could be understood.
"The shooting comes amid a highly charged political environment that has seen several dangerous threats against lawmakers but nothing that reached the point of actual violence," it said. Then a few paragraphs down, it added, "Giffords herself has drawn the ire of the right, especially for her support of the health care bill from politicians like Sarah Palin."
What did Sarah Palin and the "right" -- let alone "the health care bill" -- have to do with this 22-year-old killer whose name the AP had just learned to spell? Nothing.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, in whose county that attack took place, put a slightly different frame on the incident, linking it mysteriously to radio and television talk shows.
"And I think it's time as a country that we need to do a little soul-searching," Dupnik said in a Saturday press conference, "because I think the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business and what see on TV and how our youngsters are being raised, that this has not become the nice United States of America that most of us grew up in."
By Monday, ABC News was providing this sheriff with a national platform to gratuitously attack Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh, this sheriff claimed on ABC's evening news broadcast, "attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials, and that kind of behavior, in my opinion, is not without consequences.
"And I think he's irresponsible," said the sheriff.
No. The sheriff is irresponsible.
If there is no evidence that conservative politicians or talk shows influenced the life of Jared Loughner, is there any evidence of what might have?
"His Tucson neighbor, Grant Wiens, said Loughner used to speak critically about religion and also talked about how he liked to smoke pot," the AP eventually reported.
"Hidden within a camouflage tent behind Jared Lee Loughner's home sits an alarming altar with a skull sitting atop a pot filled with shriveled oranges," the New York Daily News reported on Monday.
"A row of ceremonial candles and a bag of potting soil lay nearby, photos reveal," the Daily News said. "Experts on Sunday said the elements are featured in the ceremonies of a number of occult groups."
"On YouTube, Loughner's profile listed Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' 'The Communist Manifesto' and Adolf Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' among his favorite books," The Washington Post reported on Sunday.
Would it be fair to at least entertain the hypothesis that Loughner's disdain for religion and admiration for the writings of Marx and Hitler had some connection with his manifest disregard for morality and the sanctity of human life?