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.
Fox News' Roger Ailes Pledges Civility in Dialogue
The biggest war of words that has erupted since Saturday's Arizona shooting spree is between conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh and Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who is leading the investigation.
The outspoken radio host said Dupnik made a "fool of himself" for rushing to judgment about the shooter's political motives.
Dupnik -- who railed against U.S. gun laws and the culture of hatred in his home state immediately following the incident -- blamed commentators like Limbaugh for encouraging animosity.
"The kind of rhetoric that flows from people like Rush Limbaugh, in my judgment he is irresponsible, uses partial information, sometimes wrong information," Dupnik told ABC News' Diane Sawyer. "[Limbaugh] attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials and that kind of behavior in my opinion is not without consequences."
Some Fox News commentators, including Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly, have also taken heat for their politically charged words.
Fox News commentators, echoing Ailes, said their message has always been one of nonviolence, and its the liberal media that needs to cut back on confrontational talk.
"Glenn has consistently preached nonviolence," a spokesperson for Beck told ABC News. "He didn't blame the left when the crazed shooter in Florida with apparent interests in left wing ideology shot people last month, and he wouldn't ever do that, and based on his nonviolent philosophy and his actions through 8/28 event [the Restoring Honor rally] and his challenge yesterday, I think everything pretty much speaks for itself."
Liberals argue that hasn't always been the case, pointing to Beck's words in May 2005, when he talked about killing leftist documentary maker Michael Moore.
"I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore," Beck said at the time. "I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. ... No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out. Is this wrong?"
Republicans call the criticism aimed at conservatives unfiar, and that both sides are to blame.
"I think there's more forms today, and there's more animosity and divisiveness in the public debate than there traditionally has been, and more things are said out loud than used to be said, but it's always kind of been there," said Rollins, who worked on President Ronald Reagan's campaigns and has advised many candidates since then. "The ships didn't arrive two weeks or three months ago, it's been there for 200 years."