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As portrait of Jared Loughner sharpens, 'vitriol' blame fades

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Indeed, one piece of evidence collected so far is a 2007 letter from Giffords's office to Mr. Loughner, thanking him for attending a meet-and-greet event. On it is scrawled a death threat to Giffords. In 2007, Sarah Palin was a little-known Alaska governor and the tea party movement did not exist.

At this point, then, the left's initial eagerness to link the shooting to political anger on the right could backfire, says Charles Franklin, a pollster and political scientist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

"It was the immediate connection from the left of this shooting to political rhetoric from the right that polarized this, and here we have a case where there's a rush to blame Palin [and other conservatives] with no direct connection to her at all," he says. "And the more we learn about this guy, it seems there isn't any political motivation in a broader sense."

To be sure, Sheriff Dupnik put the issue on the national plate with his comments, and given that that the shooting appears to be a political assassination attempt in a politically rancorous border district, the debate on political tone was, in many ways, inevitable.

But critics point out that the nation largely refrained from linking Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan – the suspect in the 2009 Fort Hood shootings – with terrorism.

In Loughner's case, no reported evidence so far suggests any connection to the ideology or ideologues of the right. A Loughner friend, Zach Osler, told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Wednesday that Loughner "did not watch TV. He disliked the news. He didn’t listen to political radio. He didn’t take sides. He wasn’t on the left. He wasn’t on the right."

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