It is unclear to what extent Jared Lee Loughner, the gunman who attempted to assassinate Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was influenced by the epidemic of hostile, fear-mongering rhetoric that dominates public discourse on critical issues such as health care, immigration, and Islam.

Regardless of whether Loughner’s motivation was induced by the media or mental illness, the incident compels us to take a serious look at the violent overtones of political speeches, and the ways in which misinformation and exaggerations about hot button issues strike fear and trigger aggression in the minds of listeners.

In a country that spent the last several months exploring the problem of bullying in our schools, it is time to have a public conversation about the raging, manipulative demagogues who use untruths and scare tactics for their own personal and political gain.

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