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Blame the media for the violence plaguing this election

Sunday's news of a firebombing attack at a GOP headquarters in North Carolina, complete with graffiti including the term "Nazi Republicans get out or else!" shocked many. The sad truth is that no one should be surprised. Based on the rhetoric and emotions connected to this presidential election, America should expect more of this kind of violence over the remaining 22 days until Election Day and perhaps beyond. And this is partly because of a news media that's become just as partisan, sensational, and downright hysterical as the most irresponsible people spewing out hyperbole on social media.

Let's start with the highest levels of the supposedly responsible media where comparisons of Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler appear almost daily on the pages of the Washington Post and New York Times. Those papers and many of their peers have also taken an almost National Enquirer approach to each and every one of Trump's statements, depicting them in the most incendiary light and repetitively so. With Trump's bombastic speaking style readily apparent, it's not clear why anyone working in the news media would see the need to sensationalize them even more, but they do it anyway.

Perhaps the best example of this worst kind of journalism came in August when Trump uttered the following three sentences: "Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks... though the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know."

After those comments, several major media outlets chose to depict and report those comments as Trump encouraging gun owners to assassinate Hillary Clinton. That was the most sensational way to interpret those comments, rather than entertaining the possibility that Trump meant those folks should get out and vote. It bordered on the news media inciting violence itself. This is a pattern that has repeated itself several times in this election.

Clinton has been victimized in a slightly different way by her political opponents in the right wing press and by her foes on social media. The Democratic nominee for president has been depicted daily as nothing less than a traitor; selling out America's security against terrorism and its economic well being in return for campaign donations or support for the Clinton Foundation. The mainstream media has also repeatedly parroted Trump's threat to "lock her up" that has become a rallying cry for his supporters. Enough Americans believe this worst picture of Clinton and her campaign to eliminate any legitimate surprise if a similar attack were ever carried out against one of her campaign headquarters.

"The news media has become just as partisan, sensational, and downright hysterical as the most irresponsible people spewing out hyperbole on social media."

To be clear, not all of the hyperbole is the fault of the established mainstream news media or has been directed at Republicans. Much of Donald Trump's rhetoric and tone has been sharper and highly provocative even without reporters and pundits having to kick it up a notch. Trump needs to be more clear about what he means about the election being "rigged." Trump also needs to quiet the "lock her up!" shouts and make a more peaceful call for an inquiry into whether the FBI decision not to pursue charges against Clinton in the email scandal was above board. He should be calling for a better prosecution, not jumping to conviction.

Other politicians need to exercise restraint as well. Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin must know that when he talked about how, "the roots of the Tree of Liberty are watered by the blood of tyrants and patriots," like he did in a speech back in September that those comments would be depicted and framed in the worst way possible in the papers an online.

There's a lot of culpability to go around here, especially if assigning blame is your top priority as opposed to catching those who actually committed the violence and cutting down on the chances of more of it in the future.

After the 9/11 attacks, all kinds of public figures, politicians and even reporters cut down on the war-like and violent terminology in the ensuing weeks out of respect for the victims and in hopes of calming the atmosphere for everyone else. We could use a return to that kind of caution and mutual responsibility now.

The major newspapers and cable news stations are grasping for ratings and clicks, instead of presenting the news in a responsible and sober manner. Viewers and readers need information, not content that appeals to the lowest common denominator. The media must ask themselves every day how they can better serve their audience, not just their own bottom lines. And the most committed partisans on both sides of this election need to ask themselves if they really believe violence is warranted in response to hearing or seeing political rhetoric they disagree with.

And everyone, including the growing number of smug "experts" who are convinced Trump cannot win, needs to start thinking hard about the best way to react if it turns out their side loses on November 8th. Right now, we're not seeing a lot of that kind of responsible behavior from the watchdogs in our society entrusted with cutting through the political rhetoric to determine the truth. Until they step it up, we shouldn't expect everyone else to remain restrained for very long.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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