When news came that an assailant opened fire on an event being held by Democratic Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords outside a grocery store in Tuscon, critically wounding the congresswoman and killing six others, the ConWeb sprung into action to figure out ways to prove the alleged shooter -- identified at Jared Loughner -- not only was not conservative but was somehow liberal.
One method of doing so quickly stuck out: a list of books Loughner had posted to his YouTube profile.
WorldNetDaily's Aaron Klein was the first to pounce, declaring in a Jan. 8 article that "'The Communist Manifesto' and Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' were among the favorite reading materials of Jared Lee Loughner, the suspected gunman in today's fatal shooting that reportedly left six dead and gravely injured a U.S. congresswoman." He followed up the next day in a "news analysis" by asking: "Are the news media deliberately disguising the reported liberal politics of Jared Lee Loughner, the suspected gunman in yesterday's fatal shooting that left six dead and gravely injured a U.S. congresswoman?" As evidence, Klein highlighted "the men actually listed by Loughner as among his favorite authors, Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler," linking to his article of the previous day.
WND colleague Drew Zahn, in a Jan. 10 article, reinforced the story by stating that "Loughner also listed on his YouTube channel among his favorite books Karl Marx's 'The Communist Manifesto' and Adolf Hitler's 'Mein Kampf,' casting further doubt on the notion that he was an angered tea-party type."
Much the same thing was happening over at Newsmax. A Jan. 9 article complained that "some Democrats and major media have moved to pin the blame for her attack on the tea party movement and conservatives like Sarah Palin, despite the fact that the shooter was both deranged and fascinated by leftwing politics." Newsmax went on to state that "Loughner had identified among his favorite books 'The Communist Manifesto' by Karl Marx, Adolf Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' and the fiction classic 'One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest' -- hardly the reading list of a Palin supporter."
David Patten and Kathleen Walter wrote in a Jan. 10 article that "Loughner's bizarre rants mention Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto and Hitler's Mein Kampf, but do not mention Palin, Fox News, the Tea Party, or other high profile conservatives such as host Glenn Beck or Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C." Another Jan. 10 article by Patten, inveighing against the "backlash mounted against media outlets who blamed the shooting on inflammatory right-wing rhetoric," similarly stated that "His online rants appeared to reflect a muddled, possibly left-wing viewpoint that embrace anarchy. Intellectually, his influences appeared to range from Karl Marx to Hitler's Mein Kampf."
Even the Media Research Center bought in. During a Jan. 10 interview highlighted in the Patten-Walter Newsmax article, MRC chief Brent Bozell said that Loughner "isn't even a conservative. We now know he's some kind of anarchist who liked the Communist Manifesto." Noel Sheppard wrote in a Jan. 8 NewsBusters post that Loughner "listed his favorite books including 'Mein Kampf' and 'The Communist Manifesto,'" adding that Hitler's "views were quite opposite of what conservatives in America currently stand for, especially Palin, Beck, and members of the Tea Party." CNSNews.com editor-in-chief Terry Jeffrey declared in his Jan. 12 column that Loughner had "admiration for the writings of Marx and Hitler." And CNS published a Jan. 13 syndicated column by Ben Shapiro calling Loughner "a fan of 'Mein Kampf' and 'The Communist Manifesto.'"
For all this ConWeb name-checking of Marx and Hitler, you would never know -- and they have no interest in telling you -- that there are 19 other books on Loughner's list, some of which dispel the notion that he was some sort of communist Nazi.
Among them: Ayn Rand's anti-communist novel "We The Living." Also present were anti-totalitarian tomes like George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and Ray Bradbury's "Farenheit 451."
Yet the ConWeb never claimed that Loughner had "admiration" for Ayn Rand, despite the fact that the presence "We The Living" and the other anti-totalitarian books that would seem to directly contradict the notion that Loughner was in any sort of thrall to Marx and/or Hitler.
Of course, as Salon.com's Laura Miller pointed out, the presence of such contradictory books -- not to mention two books by the Greek philosopher Plato, "Republic" and "Meno" -- on Loughner's reading list suggest that perhaps he's just a crazy person and people shouldn't be trying to divine significance where there is none:
But Loughner is almost certainly insane and, like the countless other mentally disturbed people who send similar ravings to media outlets around the world, his ideas would have been ignored as incoherent and irrelevant if he hadn't fired a gun into a crowd of people Saturday. The fact that he did fire that gun, however, doesn't make his delusions suddenly meaningful. It doesn't make his list of favorite books significant. Crazy people who make headlines and change history are still crazy.
By studying Loughner's book list for clues to the political leanings that somehow "drove" him to commit murder, commentators are behaving a lot like crazy people themselves.
The ConWeb simply shrugged off the truth. Wait, didn't Rand write a book about shrugging off something?
(A version of this article was published at ConWebWatch.)