Roger Ailes, the conservative who heads the Fox News Channel, has told his traditionally outspoken hosts to "shut up, tone it down" in the wake of the massacre in Tucson that is putting overheated right-wing rhetoric under intense scrutiny.
"I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually," Ailes said in an interview
with Russell Simmons, the global hip-hop impresario, that was posted at Simmons news site, GlobalGrind.com. "You don't have to do it with bombast."
Investigators have made no direct connection between the alleged shooter, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, and any extremist organizations. Loughner shot and killed 6 people on Saturday at a Tucson mall while wounding a dozen others, including his main target, Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
But the shooting has raised questions about the often violent language and imagery associated with many populist activists and politicians, from Tea Party members to Sarah Palin.
Those questions are creating yet another rift between right and left. In his comments, the combative Ailes wasn't about to throw in the towel, but instead argued that the left was as guilty as the right in the war of words, and in fact was exploiting the memory of victims like 9-year-old Christina Green, who was killed by Loughner's bullets.
"It's just a bullshit way to use the death of a little girl to get Fox News in an argument," Ailes told Simmons.
"The education system knew about this guy... they kicked him out of school and told him until he gets a letter saying he's not going to kill anybody, he can't come back to school," Ailes said. "The police department picked him up five times and let him go and nobody screened him for getting a weapon... So, by the time he decided to go to a mall and and wanting to kill somebody, he was attached to nobody. He was a flag burner. He just was not attached to the Tea Party."
Ailes also cited various examples of violent left-wing imagery targeting conservatives, including a picture of himself with a bull's-eye on his head -- much has been made of a Palin ad showing Gifford's district with a target on it -- as well as a picture of a Palin doll hanging by a rope.
"This goes on," Ailes said. "Both sides are wrong, but they both do it."