Liberal commentators and bloggers took aim at conservatives -- chiefly Sarah Palin -- for putting out a map last March that put the districts of 20 House Democrats in cross-hairs, including that of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head and remains in intensive care at Arizona University Hospital.
Conservatives, meanwhile, blasted the left for turning the tragic shooting into a political issue.
Now, the president of Fox News, Roger Ailes, has called for a cease-fire, vowing to tone down the political rhetoric, even though he dubbed his targeting by liberals "bullshit."
"We looked at the Internet, and the first thing we found in 2007, the Democrat party had a targeted map with targets on it for the Palin district. These maps have been used for years that I know of. I have two pictures of myself with a bull's-eye on my head. This is just bullshit," he said in an interview with Russell Simmons that was posted on the liberal entertainment mogul's website, globalgrind.com.
"Both sides are wrong, but they both do it," Ailes continued. "I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually. You don't have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that."
Tragic incidents tend to unite political foes in unusual ways. Republicans and Democrats in Washington have demonstrated a sense of bipartisanship that recalls the unity seen after the Oklahoma City bombing or the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
But there is little doubt among political players that the sense of calm in Washington is a phenomenon of the moment, and on the airwaves, it may be even harder to achieve.
Conservative and liberal commentators alike have called on Americans to denounce violence, but they continue to spar amongst each other despite a call for peace.
"I think to a certain extent obviously the tragedy on Saturday makes people reflect a little bit but I would argue that several months from now, or even a month from now, when you get back into heated debates on pretty divisive issues, the rhetoric may accelerate again," said Republican strategist Ed Rollins.
"I applaud what Roger [Ailes] suggested. I suppose other networks will start to follow suit for a short period of time, [but] when you get into the battles again -- whether it's repealing the health care bill or anything else -- people have very strong feelings. They express them in strong ways," he said.
Confrontational rhetoric isn't new to American politics, but it has intensified in recent years with the growth of cable media and blogs. The lack of personal dialogue and relationships among politicians on both the left and the right has also added to the divisiveness, Rollins said.
Most Americans do not see a political connection in Loughner's motives, according to a CBS poll released today. Fifty-seven percent of those polled said harsh political rhetoric didn't have anything to do with the shooting spree, while 32 percent said it did.