Talk radio hosts reject blame in shooting

Talk radio hosts reject blame in shooting
Tucson: During Tucson's first rush hour since a weekend shooting left six people dead and 14 wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, talk radio hosts pushed back against arguments that their heated political rhetoric had played a role in the tragedy.

Phone calls poured in to stations across the dial to denounce Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik of Pima County, who said at a news conference over the weekend that Arizona had become "the mecca for prejudice and bigotry" and that local TV and radio hosts should do some "soul-searching."

The radio hosts struck a defensive, even embattled tone at times on Monday. They said Saturday's shooting had nothing to do with either their broadcasts or the state's tense political environment; they read e-mails over the air that were critical of their political stances, and some spoke about death threats they had received.

All agreed that Sheriff Dupnik had embarrassed Arizona and unfairly denigrated talk radio by linking it with the shooting.

"There isn't any correlation," said Jon Justice, who hosts a highly rated program on KQTH (104.1-FM) in Tucson. "It's like blaming Jodie Foster for the individual who shot Ronald Reagan."

Garret Lewis, host of "The Morning Ritual" on KNST (790-AM) in Tucson, said Sherriff Dupnik's comments had "incited stupidity around the world."

"People have the image now that we're a bunch of racist bigots and there are shootouts in the streets," Mr. Lewis said. "Again, he has absolutely no proof that any of this is true."

Steve, a caller on Mr. Justice's show, said Mr. Dupnik's statements "showed him for the buffoon he is."

Later, a caller named Lee said the sheriff was "a blithering idiot." Caller after caller came up with their own colorful descriptions.

In the incredulous language of talk radio, Mr. Justice defended his show and dismissed the notion that Arizona's political culture had served as the backdrop to the shooting or an inspiration for the suspect, Jared L. Loughner.

"This is a crazy person!" he said. "Politics is out the window -- you're a nutbag! No amount of controlling talk radio is going to change that!"

"People need to go and point fingers," he said. "It's unfortunate, but some people do. They have to find somebody to demonize."

Mr. Justice, who has made issues like his opposition to Tucson's ethnic studies programs for Latinos, his concerns about illegal immigration from Mexico and his disapproval of the Obama administration's health care law a staple of his program, did not discuss those issues Monday.

Barry Young, the host of a morning show on KFYI (550-AM) in Phoenix, said: "They are telling us that we have to make sure our words and phrases don't incite crazy people. I have one problem with that: They're crazy."

Some callers, however, made it clear that they believed that the state's conservative-leaning radio hosts bore some responsibility.

"You ought to be ashamed," Dale said on Mr. Justice's program. "You are part of the problem."

Mr. Justice, his voice cracking, responded, "There's nothing I have said on this radio station that could have inspired" Mr. Loughner.

A caller who identified himself as Rick told the host Mike Gallagher of KKNT (960-AM) in Phoenix that "individuals like yourself instill fear" in people.

"Was Jared Loughner a Mike Gallagher listener?" the host asked. "You're dishonest, Rick."

On "Wake Up Tucson" on KVOI (1030-AM), the hosts said their political conversations were more reasoned than inflammatory.

"When we take an issue on, we really, really understand where we're going," said Joe Higgins.

"Ninety-nine percent of the stuff that we've ever talked about, we're dead on," said his partner, Chris DeSimone. "We're constantly doing our homework."

On "The Morning Ritual," it was barely light outside when Mr. Lewis began knocking down arguments that gun control laws should be tightened in response to the shooting. "We can't always depend on the police, the sheriff's department or anyone else to protect us," he said. "At some point, we have to do it ourselves."

Among the sponsors on several programs Monday were gun shops and gun shows, including the Crossroads of the West Gun Show, which is scheduled for the Pima County Fairgrounds in Tucson this weekend.

Most callers to the shows Monday morning agreed with the hosts and defended their right to speak.

"I don't know what you did wrong," said a caller to Mr. Justice's show named John. "Keep the freedom of speech going."

But while most radio hosts sought to stay clear of political partisanship, Rush Limbaugh said Monday afternoon on his show that seeking to connect the shooting with radio talk shows -- which are dominated by conservatives -- was part of a Democratic strategy.

"It is our right and our duty to criticize the people who have put the fate of our country in peril," Mr. Limbaugh said.