Fox News is providing cover for the National Rifle Association as the organization attempts to shift the debate away from implementing stronger gun laws.
In a speech and an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press following last month's school shooting in Newtown, CT, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said that his group would oppose any new gun laws and instead called for Congress to "act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation." His comments were widely panned.
Fox & Friends Sunday host Dave Briggs responded to the criticism by defending LaPierre, claiming that "the mainstream media [is] mocking" the NRA leader. Briggs then suggested that media criticism of the NRA's position was unwarranted because "when you are talking about the mainstream media, it's all in this tiny little bubble up here in the Northeast, [it] has very little representation of most of the people in this country that do make up groups like the NRA."
Beyond Briggs' suggestion that the media should be more representative of the special interest groups it covers, the position of NRA leadership is not largely representative of American views on firearm ownership, or even the views of the majority of gun owners. During a December 23 appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, LaPierre stated that the NRA would oppose any new firearms regulations. Meanwhile, public support for bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as mandatory background checks on all gun sales, is strong.
One week after a mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead, the National Rifle Association broke its silence with a question-free "press conference" that featured a number of inaccurate claims about school safety and the role of entertainment in violence.
The media has a responsibility to evaluate the truthfulness of the claims made the NRA and should not merely pass along statements made in the press conference as fact.
During the press conference, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre claimed that gun free school policies make students less safe, misled about the Obama administration's position on school safety funding, and suggested that increasing armed security at schools is a comprehensive policy to stop violent attacks. LaPierre also falsely suggested there exists a link between violent video games and actual acts of violence while ignoring the documented link between gun availability and violence.
In yet another year plagued by horrific instances of gun violence, the media was quick to react to tragedies by labeling gun violence prevention efforts futile on the basis of the alleged ability of the National Rifle Association to ruin the political careers of anyone who dared to stand in the way of its anti-gun regulation agenda.
Earlier this year, Slate's Brian Palmer typified this narrative with an article titled "Why Is The NRA So Powerful?" that suggested that the pro-gun organization "considered by many the most powerful lobbying group in the country" can "reliably deliver votes." In the wake of the Newtown school massacre, Slate republished the article verbatim. Also following the Newtown massacre, NBC's David Gregory and Fox News' Chris Wallace both suggested that politicians who favored gun violence prevention measures would face serious reprisals.
In making these claims, the media simply advanced a years old narrative suggesting the NRA wields unlimited political power without citing any actual evidence for that position. In fact, 2012 was a year full of indicators that the extent of NRA influence has been wildly exaggerated. The media should keep this in mind as they prepare to cover the NRA's press conference this morning responding to the Newtown massacre.
During the past year, the National Rifle Association was abandoned by political and business allies and spent nearly $18 million in a failed attempt to keep supporters of gun violence prevention out of Congress and the White House.
Even as the NRA's brand was deemed toxic by the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative "model legislation" group, and faced withering criticism in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, the media myth has persisted that the NRA has the capability to punish politicians who oppose its extreme agenda.
CNN is previewing the National Rifle Association's response to the Newtown school massacre by suggesting that the NRA will "leverage" money spent during the 2012 elections during the forthcoming debate over stronger gun restrictions without noting that the vast majority of money spent by the NRA on the elections went to races where its preferred candidate lost.
CNN's citation of the NRA's unsuccessful election spending as evidence of its political influence fits within a years old narrative in media exaggerating the NRA's clout.
In a December 19 article, CNN's Halimah Abdullah credulously reported a claim by unnamed "policy experts" that the National Rifle Association will "leverage the $17 million it spent in federal races this year helping elect candidates who it considers supporters of the NRA's mission" during a potential congressional fight over new gun regulations. However, CNN failed to mention that of the nearly $18 million the NRA poured into the 2012 elections, over 95 percent was spent on races where the NRA-backed candidate lost.* Furthermore, in six of seven Senate races where the NRA spent more than $100,000, the NRA-approved candidate was defeated. CNN's reporting is typical of a myth in media that the NRA possesses the ability to remove from office politicians who favor gun violence prevention measures. From the article:
Gun researcher John Lott has made numerous media appearances in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. to argue against the enactment of gun violence prevention measures. While Lott uses his media platform to push a multitude of statistics -- often from his own research -- he has been thoroughly discredited as a serious academic researcher.
Members of the media have been quick to push the myth that the National Rifle Association can remove politicians from office who support new gun violence prevention measures in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The influence wielded by the NRA has been overblown by the media for years, a fact further evidenced by the organization's poor showing during the 2012 elections.
The hosts of Fox News Sunday and Meet The Press pushed the myth that Democratic support for gun violence prevention measures was a significant factor in their 1994 and 2000 electoral defeats.
These claims echo a false media narrative that the National Rifle Association is able to influence electoral outcomes and punish politicians who refuse to line up with the pro-gun organization. This narrative is faltering following the 2012 elections where the NRA spent tens of millions of dollars in a largely unsuccessful attempt to defeat candidates in favor of gun violence prevention policies. Furthermore, there is strong public support for specific gun violence prevention measures and claims that Democrats paid a price for supporting gun violence prevention in 1994 and 2000 are overblown.
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace claimed during an interview with Al Gore's 2000 running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who advocated for universal background checks on gun sales and renewal of the assault weapons ban on the show, that support for such policies contributed to his 2000 defeat:
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Back in the 90's you supported the Brady law which called for a five day waiting period.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN: Right.
WALLACE: You supported the assault weapons ban. Then in 2000 you and Al Gore campaigned around the country and you lost, and a lot of people took as a lesson, part of it was in states like Tennessee and West Virginia, the fact that you were pro-gun control. And quite frankly ever since Democrats have been scared of touching that issue.
Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller falsely claimed that guns are used to prevent crimes about 2 million times a year, a defensive gun use statistic that has been repeatedly debunked.
Miller's claim comes in response to a statement by NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, who noted that "bad things happen" as a result of firearm use. Miller compared the defensive gun use statistic, which comes from the discredited research of criminologist Gary Kleck, to the 30,000 gun deaths that occur on average annually in the United States to conclude that firearm use is actually a net social benefit.
Mr. Costas expanded on his theme by saying, "Far more often, bad things happen -- including unintentional things -- than things where the presence of a gun diminishes or averts danger." He's only telling half the story. About 30,000 people are killed by firearms, but guns are are [sic] also used to prevent crimes approximately 2 million times a year.
Fox News is reporting that gun owners are rushing to buy firearms in light of President Obama's reelection at the same time it promotes the very conspiracies about the president's gun policies triggering those sales.
A December 6 FoxNews.com article on the firearms "buying spree" reports that to gun owners, "Obama's re-election, and the apocalypse -- amount to the same thing" while also credulously quoting the unfounded claim of NRA president David Keene that, "Obama is coming right at us" and his second term will be "an all-out assault on the Second Amendment."
The simultaneous reporting of an uptick in gun sales and promotion of wild-eyed conspiracy theories about Obama's gun policies is commonplace at Fox News, despite the fact that President Obama expanded, rather than restricted, where a gun can be carried during his first term.
On the December 3 edition of Hannity on Fox News, WorldNetDaily columnist Erik Rush discussed the murder-suicide involving NFL player Jovan Belcher, alleging, "Whenever there is a high-profile gun crime the fearmongering begins, the histrionics begin, and all of this stuff really has its genesis in the political left, and particularly the big government political leftists, who want to disarm the public."
Since NBC sportscaster Bob Costas commented on the murder-suicide involving NFL player Jovan Belcher during Sunday Night Football, he has received a torrent of criticism from conservatives in media and the National Rifle Association. On the December 5 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, Costas called for all gun sales to be conducted with a background check, a proposal that host Bill O'Reilly, the American public, and even NRA members largely support.
Costas drew the ire of right-wing media after favorably quoting a FoxSports.com column that noted, "If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and [his victim] Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today." The National Rifle Association accused Costas of being involved in a "media conglomerate" conspiracy to ban all firearms. Although Costas did not mention any specific gun violence prevention proposals in his commentary, Fox News accused Costas of "lecturing America on gun control." Fox Nation and the Drudge Report claimed that Costas went on a "gun control rant."
Now Costas has gotten specific, and his proposal - to conduct background checks on all gun sales - is wildly popular.