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Clarence Page: After the shootings, partisan media offer dubious comfort

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Remember Bill O’Reilly? He hosted the top-rated show on cable news until Fox News forced him out amid sexual harassment allegations — and settlements — in 2017.

He occasionally invited me on his show, especially when he needed a foil for his endless populist-conservative complaints, particularly about the “Democrat-run Chicago” when President Barack Obama was president.

But, as Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks used to sing, “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?”

Bill only went as far away as his own pundit purgatory, a podcast at, to continue his bloviations.

I found him there while searching online for reactions to the unspeakable horrors of the shooting that killed seven and wounded dozens at a July Fourth parade in the usually peaceful Chicago suburb of Highland Park.

From his new perch, presumably far from Chicago, O’Reilly claimed to uncover the real problem: the state’s Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

“You won’t stop crime — drug crime, drug gangs — because they are minority gangs!” he shouted, jabbing his finger at the camera like a restaurant customer whose coffee was served cold. “That’s why you won’t stop ’em, you phony! You aid and abet this murder in Chicago every blinking day. You! Don’t be sanctimonious with me!”

Ah, O’Reilly hasn’t changed much, except maybe becoming louder and angrier, if that’s possible. Passionate anger works well to build an audience, especially among conservatives looking for any explanation for rampant gun violence except the most obvious, which is the high number of guns on the street and in the wrong hands.

In conservative media, such as O’Reilly’s old haunt at Fox News, the pundits couldn’t ignore the horror as casually as they have avoided much coverage of the special congressional committee probing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

So the network’s pundits pumped up the volume on just about every possible long-distance diagnosis for the Highland Park horror and its suspect, 21-year-old Robert Crimo III from nearby Highwood, no matter how far-fetched.

For example, Tucker Carlson, who has taken O’Reilly’s place as the ratings leader on prime-time cable TV, managed to blame women, “government-endorsed weed” and therapeutic drugs “handed out at every school in the country by crackpots posing as counselors.”

“And of course, they are angry,” he said, voicing a parade of pathologies that may or may not be relevant to the actual accused. “They know that their lives will not be better than their parents’, they’ll be worse. ... And yet the authorities in their lives — mostly women — never stop lecturing them about their so-called privilege. ‘You’re male! You’re privileged.’ ”

Fox star Laura Ingraham picked up the weed theme and sounded like the script from “Reefer Madness” as she connected “mounting scientific evidence” to violent behavior among young people to “sustained cannabis use.”

In fact, pick your favorite social pathology — or least favorite political view — and there’s a good chance that someone will pin it on Crimo.

That happens on both political sides. As liberals labeled Crimo a right-winger on Twitter based on photos that showed him at a Donald Trump rally, tweeters on the right tried to paint him as a lefty.

Fox News host Greg Gutfeld, for example, speculated that photos showing Crimo dressed as a woman, apparently to evade police, connected him to the radical antifa movement, because “if you look at antifa, that’s how they look!”

That’s as much of a stretch as the geographic expertise of commentators who try mightily to paint the shootings as a “Chicago” problem, even though Google Maps shows Chicago to be almost 28 miles away.

As someone who lived in Chicago for many years, I didn’t need Google Maps. Nor do I need people to deflect from the real roots of troubled young people and surges in violent crimes, very serious and complex problems that are hardly limited to Chicago.

There were more mass shootings in the past five years than in any other half-decade going back to 1966, according to an analysis by The Marshall Project of data from another nonprofit, The Violence Project, which uses the same narrow definition of mass shootings as the Congressional Research Service, which advises federal lawmakers.

One-size-fits-all diagnoses, stereotypes and presumptions don’t serve us well, especially when they steer us away from the obvious: We still have too many guns getting into the wrong hands.

Page’s column is provided by Tribune Content Agency.

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