This jump to a national debate on rhetoric while the target victim still fights for her life in hospital and the killer’s motives remain unclear has led some media critics to push back. Howard Kurtz at the Daily Beast reminded readers that violent political rhetoric is a mainstay of American political debate and Slate’s Jack Shafer yesterday published an eyeball-grabbing, impassioned retort to Sherrif Dupnik’s calls to temper the tone of national political debate.

when it comes to political debates. Such “inflammatory” words as targeting, attacking, destroying, blasting, crushing, burying, knee-capping, and others have similarly guided political thought and action. Not once have the use of these images or words tempted me or anybody else I know to kill. I’ve listened to, read—and even written!—vicious attacks on government without reaching for my gun. I’ve even gotten angry, for goodness’ sake, without coming close to assassinating a politician or a judge.

…Our spirited political discourse, complete with name-calling, vilification—and, yes, violent imagery—is a good thing. Better that angry people unload their fury in public than let it fester and turn septic in private. The wicked direction the American debate often takes is not a sign of danger but of freedom. And I’ll punch out the lights of anybody who tries to take it away from me.

Shafer has a point. But in responding so feverishly and in so fully dismissing Dupnik, it feels he too may be rushing to judgment. No connection between the current climate of political rhetoric and Loughner’s actions have yet to surface. And yet they still might. And then, there will be legitimate cause for this debate to resurface as well. Then, the claim that simply because I am not tempted to violence by the siren call of a politician’s rhetorical flourishes may not seem strong enough.

Even if no connection is found, Packer may be right: a serious debate about political language, something beyond a few thoughts shared across a Morning Joe or Meet the Press roundtable, could be in order. But it should not necessarily be tied to the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Giffords. And it should not come before the facts of her case have been fully dug out.

Update: It’s hard to keep track of the unfolding story of Congresswoman Giffords and her accused shooter, Jared Lee Loughner. There is just so much being thrown out there. So much good work. So much spec. Perhaps the biggest scoop on the Loughner front today goes to Mother Jones’s Nick Baumann, who nabbed an “exclusive” interview with Loughner’s close friend since middle school, Bryce Tierney. The lede, as many have been in this unfolding story, is chilling.

At 2:00 a.m. on Saturday—about eight hours before he allegedly killed six people and wounded 14, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), in Tucson—Jared Lee Loughner phoned an old and close friend with whom he had gone to high school and college. The friend, Bryce Tierney, was up late watching TV, but he didn’t answer the call. When he later checked his voice mail, he heard a simple message from Loughner: “Hey man, it’s Jared. Me and you had good times. Peace out. Later.”
Tierney’s revelations are pretty fascinating. Adding to a confusing pile of background info on where Loughner might stand politically, ideologically, and even mentally, Tierney says that the twenty-two-year-old believed in “lucid dreaming,” the idea he could control his dreams, that he had recently given up pot and made strides towards a healthier lifestyle, and then speculates that his friend wanted to “promote chaos,” and that he “wanted the media to freak out about this whole thing.”

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.