CNN's John King is attracting a lot of notice -- and some ridicule -- in the blogosphere for his on-air apology after a guest used the word "crosshairs" during a report on Chicago politics Tuesday. (The guest, a former Chicago reporter, referred to two rivals of mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel, saying Emanuel is "in both of their crosshairs.") "We were just having a discussion about the Chicago mayoral race," King told viewers. "My friend Andy Shaw…used the term 'in the crosshairs' in talking about the candidates out there. We're trying, we're trying to get away from that language. Andy is a good friend, he's covered politics for a long time, but we're trying to get away from using that kind of language. We won't always be perfect, so hold us accountable when we don't meet your standards."
King's statement comes after widespread discussion of whether Sarah Palin's now-infamous "crosshairs" map targeting vulnerable Democratic candidates in last November's elections somehow caused the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson January 8. There has been plenty of that kind of speculation on CNN, including on Tuesday, the day of John King's statement, when one brief discussion of Palin used the word "crosshairs" five times.
Now, King says, CNN is "trying to get away" from such terms, suggesting that in the wake of the Tucson shootings, such language should no longer be part of the public conversation. But if Palin is to blame for using crosshairs in her much-discussed map, CNN, by its own use of the allegedly inflammatory term "crosshairs," might also share some blame for creating the atmosphere that led to the violence in Arizona. A look at transcripts of CNN programs in the month leading up to the shootings shows that the network was filled with references to "crosshairs" -- and once even used the term to suggest the targeting of Palin herself. Some examples:
"Palin's moose-hunting episode on her reality show enraged People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and now, she's square in the crosshairs of big time Hollywood producer, Aaron Sorkin," reported A.J. Hammer of CNN's Headline News on December 8.
"Companies like MasterCard are in the crosshairs for cutting ties with WikiLeaks," said CNN Kiran Chetry in a December 9 report.
"Thousands of people living in areas that are in the crosshairs have been told to evacuate," Chetry said in a December 21 report on flooding in California.
"He's in their crosshairs," said a guest in a December 21 CNN discussion of suspects in a missing-person case.
"This will be the first time your food will be actually in the crosshairs of the FDA," business reporter Christine Romans said on December 22.
"The U.S. commander in the East has Haqqani in his crosshairs," CNN's Barbara Starr reported on December 28, referring to an Afghan warlord.
"We know that health care reform is in the crosshairs again," CNN's Joe Johns reported on January 3.
Seven uses of "crosshairs" in just the month before the Tucson attacks, and just one of them referring to an actual wartime situation. And one reference to Sarah Palin herself as being in "crosshairs."
And not just Palin. On September 14, Mark Preston, CNN's senior political editor, referred to another controversial politician, Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, as being "in the crosshairs." "Michelle Bachmann is raising lots of money, raising her national profile," Preston said on September 14. "She is in the crosshairs of Democrats as well."
It turns out Preston was back on CNN's air on Tuesday, discussing Palin's recent interview on Fox News. "We saw her on Fox News last night where she is a paid contributor," Preston said. "A kind of a friendly setting, but she defended herself from all the criticism that's been directed at her regarding a Web site that she had put out where she had used crosshairs over 20 Democratic candidates. Now a lot of people said that her rhetoric is inciting violence. She said that that is not true…"
"Crosshairs" again. Just for the record, CNN anchors, reporters and guests did absolutely nothing wrong with their use of the word in the last month and before. It would be impossible, at least for any reasonable person, to argue that the network's use of "crosshairs" in any of the various contexts it was used, was an incitement to violence by anyone, anywhere. But by announcing that "we're trying to get away" from "crosshairs" and other allegedly incendiary language, CNN is aligning itself with those who blame "rhetoric" for the killings. And by doing that -- plus inviting the public to "hold us accountable" -- CNN could open itself up to an examination of its own uses of the word and accusations that it helped create an environment that led to violence. Does that make any sense at all?