How, then, should reporters approach their jobs in such a hostile atmosphere? Some, like Jay Rosen, have suggested a strategy of disengagement, but I would contend that disengagement just ends up validating the huddled conspiracists’ us-versus-them framing. Instead, stay tough. Report well. Talk to as many people as possible. Record everything that happens at these rallies, and use that reporting as evidence with which to shame those people who insist on hijacking our national discourse with base, deceitful populism and intellectual thuggery.

Because it is hypocritical for the McCain campaign to disclaim responsibility when its followers violently act on the messages that they have been receiving. A man who incites a crowd to riot is just as liable for the ensuing destruction as the man who throws the first kick.

Justin Peters is editor-at-large of the Columbia Journalism Review.