Updated at 10:37 a.m. on January 12.
Hours before President Obama was scheduled to speak in Arizona at a service for victims of last weekend's shooting spree, Sarah Palin released her first lengthy response to the incident and the widespread criticism that her political and rhetorical tactics created an incendiary political climate.
Palin's nearly eight-minute video to the shootings that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., gravely wounded and six others dead called for "healing" and condemned the violence, but she also accused the media of "blood libel" for suggesting links between the harsh rhetoric of the last campaign and outburst of violence in Tucson.
"Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn," Palin said. "That is reprehensible."
The video's pointed tone came in sharp contrast to that struck at a morning session of Congress in which Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress delivered conciliatory and non-political remarks, and it raises a question about whether the strong pushback from Palin and other conservatives to concerns about the tone of the nation's political discourse will resonate with voters.
A CBS poll released Tuesday found that 57 percent of Americans do not believe that the harsh tone of recent campaigns played a role in the weekend shootings, but 49 percent of those responding said they believe the level of civility has declined in political discourse.
Police say Giffords was the target of Saturday’s shootings in Tucson. She was among 20 candidates Palin singled out for election challenges with a map that depicted cross-hairs over their districts, a fact liberal and media commentators brought up shortly after the rampage, though it’s not clear whether it influenced alleged shooter Jared Loughner. After days of mounting criticism of the map from liberals -- and substantial pushback from conservatives -- Palin responded in trademark fashion: with posts on Twitter and Facebook.
Palin's previous comments on the tragedy were confined to short electronic messages. She used her Facebook page, in contrast to the uninterrupted videotaped response. She posted a brief expression of condolences just hours after Saturday's shooting. Then a staffer gave an interview to a radio talk show host arguing that the targets on the map were actually surveyor's symbols, not gun sights. Palin also delivered a short message through conservative pundit Glenn Beck that he read on his radio show. It said: "I hate violence. I hate war. Our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this to succeed in portraying anyone as inciting terror and violence. Thanks for all you do to send the message of truth and love and God as the answer."
With the video, Palin is effectively mounting a no-holds-barred defense of her incendiary brand of politics.
“Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own,’’ Palin says. “They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election.”
Palin's use of the term "blood libel" could further enflame the rhetorical war, particularly since Giffords is Jewish. Historically, "blood libel" has been used to describe the false accusation that Jews use the blood of Christians in their religious rituals; Jews used the term to describe how anti-Semites twisted the charge that their forebears had killed Jesus to justify centuries of anti-Jewish persecution and pogroms. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon leveled the term at Western journalists, saying he was falsely accused of complicity in the mass killings of Palestinian refugees by Lebanese Christian militias in 1982.
Read the full statement here or watch the video:
Lindsey Boerma contributed.