Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Propaganda Versus Evidence

“Are we going to have a moment of silence at eleven o’clock?” asked a student first thing Monday morning before classes started.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“President Obama wants to have a moment of silence because of the shooting in Arizona,” he said.

“Oh. I didn’t know that,” I answered. Later, the principal came over the loudspeaker to announce that the entire school would observe a moment of silence at eleven. The Arizona shooting clearly dominated everyone’s attention and, being responsible for teaching current events, I postponed my planned Monday lesson plan and used the story to reinforce some earlier lessons on the Bill of Rights, propaganda, and the political spectrum.

“Open your books to page 885,” I said when class started, “and look at Amendment 6 at the top. It reads: ‘In all criminal prosecutions, the accused’ - and that would be Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter in this case - ‘shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law . . .’”

“The ‘state and district’ mentioned would be Tucson, Arizona, which is in Pima County. The sheriff of Pima County is Democrat Charles Dupnik, and he made some controversial statements about why he thinks Loughner did what he did.”

“Sheriff Dupnik blamed former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and others for stirring up the shooter,” I explained. “Dupnik accused Palin of saying ‘We have people like Gabby Giffords in the crosshairs.’ Actually, Palin didn’t say that, but had published a map of the US showing congressional districts where Democrats like Gifford were targeted for defeat at the polls on election day. After Sheriff Dupnik said that, other Democrats made statements that it was right-wing conservatives in the Tea Party who provoked Loughner to shoot Congresswoman Gifford and the others.”

We had studied the political spectrum in class, so students knew what was meant by left-wing and right-wing. “Some people on the right have accused Sheriff Dupnik of using the shooting as propaganda to damage right-wing politicians,” I said. “I hope you remember what propaganda is.”

“Spreading information to help a cause or hurt an opposing cause,” said a girl.

“Yes,” I said. “We’ll look online for evidence that Jared Loughner was influenced by either right-wingers or by left-wingers. It’s only been 48 hours, but we’ll see if there’s any actual evidence out there to back up these claims, okay?”

They took out their laptops and started searching. On the blackboard, I wrote “Left Wing” on the left and “Right Wing” on the right. Some students read opinions like those expressed by Dupnik and I explained that opinions were not evidence. Then a student said, “Loughner wrote on Youtube that one of his favorite books was ‘The Communist Manifesto’ by Karl Marx. That’s left-wing,” the boy said.

“Right,” I answered. We had studied Marx as the founder of communism and I listed that as evidence on the left.

“Another favorite book was ‘We The Living,’” he added.

“The author of that book would be Ayn Rand, who was Libertarian. That’s conservative, and some might say right-wing,” I explained as I listed it on the right.

“Another book was ‘Mein Kampf’ by Hitler,” said a girl.

“I’ll put that on the right,” I said, “but some think Nazis were leftist. I guess they could go on either end.”

“Loughner could have been reading those books to study both sides,” said another boy.

“Good point,” I said. “I have books by both Marx and Rand in my own library. That Loughner had them is evidence that he may have been influenced politically one way or the other. A piece of evidence is a clue. It’s not proof.”

“One of Loughner’s classmates sald he was a left-wing pothead,” said a girl.

“Okay. That’s a first-hand account and it’s evidence,” I said as I listed it on the left.

“Another classmate said he had serious mental problems and she was afraid of him,” said the girl.

“That’s not left-wing or right-wing,” I said. “There are nutcases on both sides of the political spectrum, so let’s add another column in the middle called “Nutcase.” I did, and listed that description.

“Has anyone found more evidence that Loughner was influenced by left-wing or right-wing politics?” I asked.

There were no hands.

“Okay. How about evidence that he was a nutcase?”

Lots of hands went up.

“His math professor said he was dangerous,” said a boy.

“His parents said he was mentally ill,” said a girl.

“His neighbor said he was disturbed,” said another girl.

The middle column got longer and longer. “Looks like there’s far more evidence that Loughner acted because he was mentally disturbed than because he was motivated politically,” I said. “It appears Sheriff Dupnik was shooting from the hip with his opinions when he should have been looking for evidence.”


Anonymous said...

Well done Tom.

Thank you

I can agree with you on a lot of things. Even when you call me touchy.

Nathan said...

I agree with you for a change. Though both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of using incendiary language to create an "us vs. them" mentality, drastic and violent actions like this shooting are a result of a mentally ill individual who misinterprets the messages.

Gerald Weinand said...

Did you provide the transcript of Sheriff Dupnik's remarks to your students and then allow a discussion of them and the Constitution, political discourse, etc.?

Anonymous said...

A very timely, if somewhat hypocritical, topic since you were just called out, and were unable to defend, your anti-SEIU propaganda in the face of the evidence.

Anonymous said...

Claiming that Palin did not literally say the exact words "We have people like Gabby Giffords in the crosshairs." is pure semantics. She DID tweet:

“Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!”

and also referred to "bullseyes" while tweeting about her stupid map with crosshairs on it.

I know you are a Palin apologist, but c'mon.

Tom McLaughlin said...


No. I didn't provide a transcript. I had one student in each class read the sheriff's remarks out loud. The class is only an hour long, so I'm limited as to what can be discussed. We discussed what his job was as sheriff in the district "wherein the crime shall have been committed," and determined that gathering evidence, not speculating about political motivations.

We also cited where Dupnik's office had numerous warnings about Loughner and that the sheriff might have been trying to blame others to protect himself from accusations that he didn't do something when he could have.

Greg said...

Just ignore anything you can't defend, huh?

What else is a coward to do?

Say anthing, facts be damned, throw it out there and hide.

All hat, no cattle.

Anonymous said...

Tom giving lectures on Propagand Vs Evidence!!!!!!!!


That is like Mike Tyson giving lessons about fighting fairly...

Bill Clinton giving lessons on fidelity...

Sarah Palin giving lectures...

Anonymous said...

I find this link to be very interesting in the "I wonder" department with relation to this tragedy. I also heard that he was heavily into an herbal plant that produces hallucinogenic effects and is banned in 15 states in the U.S.
On another note,
Nathan said: "Though both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of using incendiary language to create an "us vs. them" mentality"
I find, Nathan, that the pundits on the right have no problems admitting that they have a Right leaning bias, whereas the pundits on the Left claim to be mainstream and unbiased. Notice that most of the seminar posters that attack Toms personally and his views are "Anonymous". Tom freely admits that he is a conservative whereas they just claim to be right and him, an ASS.
Alot of times you not only have to read both sides of the story but read both and then notice what each side leaves out. Cause there is really three sides to the story; yours, mine and the truth.


Anonymous said...

Thought you would like this article as well to go along with my other post.


Brian said...

Good point about noticing what is left out of the story, Paul.

Like mentioning that Palin did not say:

"We have people like Gabby Giffords in the crosshairs"

but leaving out that she DID say:

“Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!”

and also referring to "bullseyes" while tweeting.

As to your comment that "pundits on the right have no problems admitting that they have a Right leaning bias"....hmmm, like Fox News calling themselves Fair & Balanced?

Kevin said...

It is quite obvious that Loughner is a radical far right nut job. This is not to say that reflects upon ALL right wingers, but his writings online about “currency that’s not backed by gold and silver” (ala Glen Beck) and a “second constitution” (more right wing jargon) certainly point to his political leanings.

What was especially sick about the whole thing is the flurry of activity immediately after the shootings on blogs filled with comments celebrating his action, posted by other deranged right-wing individuals who recognized a co-thinker.
The Los Angeles Times referred to these comments in an editorial, but there has been virtually no media coverage of these postings, which expressed sympathy for the gunman’s targeting of a prominent Democrat.

Congratulations, Palin, take one down from your “bullseyes” list.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Wow Kevin. Looks like you've drunk the Kool-aid, or should I say the libelous blood.

Kevin said...

Oh, so he DIDN'T post that right wing wretoric on the internet?

What exactly are you disagreeing with?

Is it the Palin comment you have issues with? Can't say she didn't ask for it with her "reloading" and "bullseye" comments.

Funny you should come slithering out of your hiding place to make that insiped remark but continue to avoid the facts about your SEIU propaganda or your semantics games involving Palin.

Grow a pair.

Kevin said...

Ooops, I said wretoric instead of rhetoric. Some people own up to their mistakes.

Anonymous said...

Michael Graham recently wrote an article about closing down all Target stores -- after all, if Palin's use of the word "bullseye" is enough to influence Loughner to murder innocent people, then what is this national chain of Target stores going to influence?!

Anonymous said...

Michael Graham gives a great example of leaving important details out of a story.

For example, the fact that the "bullseyes" were presented with a list of names....that it was just one of many examples of violent rhetoric coming out of Palin's mouth, inluding "Don't Retreat - Reload".

Just imagine if the nut-case had posted LIBERAL rantings on a blog and Michael Moore had been putting out posters of nooses and republican names attached, and the nutcase goes and hangs a republican politician.

Nah, you wouldn't be maky ANY connection. You would write it off as an unrelated wacko with nothing political about it at all....right?

Brian said...

Tom, tell me again why you wrote about the Fort Hood shootings as being related to terrorism.

Was it because the shooter supposedly shouted "God is Great" in arabic?

Perhaps Michael Graham can write an article about banning those words since they influence people to murder innocent victims.

Keep in mind that I am just toying with you. Certainly I agree that the Fort Hood shooter could be labeled a terrorist. The fact that you will not admit to a political angle in this recent shooting speaks to your character. Really, who do you think you are fooling? Like the asinine statements out of the Palin camp that the crosshairs were surveyor signs!!!!! Do they, and you, really think that people are THAT dumb?

How about trying less spin and more integrity.

Mike G said...


The idea that this heinous act was influenced by political rhetoric has been pretty much put to bed over the past few days.

Assigning this murder to political speech is an effort by the state and corporate media to stifle dissent. The same types of assaults to free speech and our freedoms has been accomplished by tyrants throughout history.

Another good article Tom

Anonymous said...

Keep preaching the antiquated dualistic view of politics and the world. We all know that there are ever only two sides to a story--everything's black and white, right?
Let the children learn that to truly participate in government is to subscribe to the ideology of one of two teams and blindly defend that team's point of view. Let them get caught up in useless arguments centered on anachronistic stereotypes. Let their imaginations stagnate and go numb. Call it progress--tell em' the founding fathers wanted it that way...And while they are embroiled in such pertinent issues as to whether or not a gay person should serve in the military--staunchly defending their unoriginal and spoon fed point of view--the largest corporations on earth rake in billions of dollars exploiting the very system they created. The system that keeps the "Liberals" and "Conservatives" arguing endlessly over nothing while those in control benefit. Teach them that endless pointless wars are good. Tell the kids that health care shouldn't be the right of every sentient being on the planet but controlled by large corporations...Please keep it up because we need more unimaginative sheep to lead into the dualistic paradigm I call a prison and you call life.