COLUMBIA — U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in Congress, said Sunday the deadly shooting in Arizona should get the country thinking about what's acceptable to say publicly and when people should keep their mouths shut.
Clyburn said he thinks vitriol in public discourse led to a 22-year-old suspect opening fire Saturday at an event Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords held for her constituents in Tucson, Ariz. Six people were killed and 14 others were injured, including Giffords.
The shooting is cause for the country to rethink parameters on free speech, Clyburn said from his office, just blocks from the South Carolina Statehouse. He wants standards put in place to guarantee balanced media coverage with a reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, in addition to calling on elected officials and media pundits to use 'better judgment.'
'Free speech is as free speech does,' he said. 'You cannot yell ‘fire' in a crowded theater and call it free speech and some of what I hear, and is being called free speech, is worse than that.'
Clyburn used as an example a comment made by Sharron Angle, an unsuccessful U.S. senatorial candidate in Nevada, who said the frustrated public may consider turning to 'Second Amendment remedies' for political disputes unless Congress changed course.
Clyburn said the man accused of shooting Giffords did just that.
'He saw a Second Amendment remedy and that's what occurred here and there is no way not to make that connection,' Clyburn said.
Despite Clyburn's position, law enforcement has not yet revealed any motives in the shooting.
Clyburn has been the most outspoken of the state's congressional delegation on the shooting.
U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, the 1st District Republican, said the Fairness Doctrine would stifle free speech and be harmful to the public, but he would say little on the matter beyond that. Engaging in a partisan conversation is not appropriate now, Scott said, because the focus of Saturday's shooting should remain on prayer for the victims.
'A 9-year-old little girl is gone and the Fairness Doctrine is not going to bring her back,' Scott said.
The Fairness Doctrine has been a controversial subject during the Obama administration. The Federal Communications Commission in 1987 stopped enforcing the policy that required the media to present both sides of an issue. Now, with the popularity of partisan cable news, some want the FCC to use the policy to inject balance into heated media discussions.
Clyburn's daughter Mignon Clyburn is an FCC commissioner. She took a stand on the matter during her confirmation hearings, saying she opposed such a policy in 'any way shape or form.'
Scott published an opinion piece in a October 2009 edition of The Post and Courier, writing that he, too, opposed the Fairness Doctrine, calling it is a 'clever way to regulate speech.'
Republican U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint did not weigh in on whether Saturday's shooting could be tied to political rhetoric. The state's senators both called the shooting senseless and said they were thinking about and praying for the victims and their families.
Meanwhile, Newsweek contributing editor Eleanor Clift disclosed comments Giffords made in late December about the political climate while the two women were in Charleston for Renaissance Weekend. Clift, in a column for The Daily Beast, wrote that Giffords and her astronaut husband, Capt. Mark Kelly, have regularly attended the off-the-record event, that features 'polite, political reflection.'
Renaissance Weekend, headquartered at Charleston Place Hotel, drew more than 1,000 participants to the city. It featured 500 lectures, seminars, discussions and performances. Besides Giffords, participants included outed former CIA agent Valerie Plame and Obama administration 'Drug Czar' Gil Kerlikowski. Giffords' husband also was a featured guest.
Clift recalls that Giffords 'talked about how ugly her last campaign was with ads that said, ‘Her husband won't even vote for her — why should we?' '
The ads referred the fact that Giffords' husband, an active duty Navy pilot, is assigned to the Johnson Space Center in Houston and as such has a legal address that is not in his wife's district. His children from a former marriage also require his residency where they live, Clift said.
In recounting the ads, Clift said Giffords 'seemed stung by the unfairness of the attack and its personal nature, considering the supposed reverence of her opponent for the military.'
Giffords, Clift continued, 'lamented how lawmakers with high profiles today get attention, pointing to Michele Bachmann, Alan Grayson, and Joe ‘You Lie' Wilson, who earned their place in the spotlight through ‘outlandish and mean behavior … You get no reward for being the normal, reasonable person.' '
Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855.