It’s now a familiar knee-jerk reaction: The tea party movement is blamed in the immediate aftermath of a horrific tragedy.
The end result is also familiar: Those suggesting the tea party is responsible are proven wrong.
Brian Ross of ABC News became the latest person to end up with egg on his face after news of the Batman shooting massacre in Colorado broke Friday. On ABC’s “Good Morning America” Friday morning, Ross rushed to report that someone with the same name as 24-year-old suspect James Holmes was listed as a member of the Colorado Tea Party Patriots.
“There’s a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colo., page on the Colorado Tea Party site as well, talking about him joining the tea party last year,” Ross told host George Stephanopoulos. “Now, we don’t know if this is the same Jim Holmes. But it’s Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colo.”
“The mainstream media’s handling of this situation is reckless, bordering on journalistic malpractice,” Colorado Tea Party spokesman Jason Worley said Friday. “I can’t help but wonder if the very common name had been listed somewhere on an Occupy [Wall Street] website if the media would have been as quick to beg the question.”
ABC News apologized shortly after Ross’ report, realizing the tea party member wasn’t the suspect. The James Holmes they referenced is actually a 52-year-old man unconnected to the shootings.
And yet, this is hardly the first time media speculation has incorrectly linked the tea party movement to a massacre.
Attempted assassination of Gabby Giffords
In 2011, after a crazed gunman shot Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 other people, it was immediately suggested that tea party and conservatives, such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, were responsible because their rhetoric could have influenced the shooter to target a Democrat.
“Even before the name of the shooter was known, a fierce debate spilled out across blogs and social media, with liberal commentators blaming the attack on the violent imagery evoked by some ‘tea party’ candidates and conservatives during the recent midterm elections,” the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.
It was later revealed that Jared Loughner, the suspect, was not politically active and had no connection to the tea party movement.
The attempted Times Square bombing
After an attempted car-bombing in New York City’s Time Square was thwarted in 2010, it was suggested — including by the city’s mayor — that a tea partier could have been behind it.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wondered if the attempted bomber was “a mentally deranged person or somebody with a political agenda that doesn’t like the health care bill or something.”
Speculating on the event, a writer at the liberal Nation magazine wrote that “it seems far more likely to me that the perpetrator of the bungled Times Square bomb plot was either a lone nut job or a member of some squirrely branch of the Tea Party, anti-government far right.”
But authorities didn’t end up blaming a tea partier. Instead, they arrested the Pakistan-born American citizen Faisal Shahzad as he tried to board a flight to Dubai.
Man flies plane into IRS office in Texas
When Joseph Stack intentionally killed himself by crashing his small plane into a Texas office building — killing another person and injuring others — a New York Times opinion writer questioned whether Stack was “The First Tea-Party Terrorist?”
Robert Write wrote that, “given the apparent momentum of the Tea Party movement, it would be nice to know if Stack’s kamikaze mission was a not-all-that-shocking emanation from it — whether, as some claim, more than a few Tea Partiers are unhinged.”
He didn’t appear to have any tea party connections, and actually wrote favorably of communism.
Census worker hanged in 2009
When Census worker Bill Sparkman was found dead in Kentucky — apparently hanged naked — with the words “Fed” scrawled across chest, it was questioned whether tea partiers had been responsible.
A Time magazine article noted that, “Speculation has run rampant that the Sparkman case may be related to the vitriol” of the tea partiers, calling it “a time when talk media, tea parties and white-hot town-hall meetings have fanned antigovernment sentiment.”
Authorities ruled that he hanged himself, likely staging his death so his family could collect life insurance.