The media's short "attention span" has given Gun Owners of America executive director Larry Pratt access to a mainstream television audience despite his "long, multi-decade history of radicalism and extremism," according to journalist Alexander Zaitchik, who recently profiled Pratt for RollingStone.com.
Zaitchik discussed his investigation in a three-part series of videos chronicling the state of the pro-gun movement produced by The American Independent Institute (TAII), which funded Zaitchik's profile, and the gun safety group Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV).
In part one, released on November 12, Zaitchik and CSGV executive director Josh Horwitz discussed how media turned to Pratt for analysis during the gun debate following the Sandy Hook mass shooting in 2012, often while ignoring Pratt's history of extremism. Part two is a conversation about the gun rights movement's embrace of insurrectionist ideology, while part three covers the role of money in gun rights groups and the National Rifle Association's efforts to reach out to a younger and more diverse audience while retaining inflammatory figures like board member Ted Nugent.
Watch part one here:
In his July profile for RollingStone.com, Zaitchik documented Pratt's past association with anti-Semitic and white supremacist groups and his longstanding engagement with violent rhetoric and anti-government conspiracy theories while also noting that Pratt was regularly called upon by mainstream media outlets for gun commentary. (Indeed, a Media Matters analysis found that between December 2012 and July 2014 Pratt made 13 cable news appearances, including a Sunday show appearance to discuss the Sandy Hook one year anniversary, and was quoted by several major newspapers.)
In the TAII-CSGV video, Zaitchik singled out an April 2013 New York Times profile of Pratt and Gun Owners of America which he describes as "a complete whitewash of [Pratt's] radicalism. I mean this is a guy who is instrumental in the creation of the militia movement in the 90s, who had, you know, all sorts of connections to the Neo-Nazi [movement] and the extreme right."
Notably the 2013 Times profile failed to mention that Pratt was forced to leave Republican Pat Buchanan's 1996 presidential campaign after reporting by the Times and other major media outlets brought widespread attention to Pratt's prior association with white supremacist groups.
Instead, according to Zaitchik, major outlets that have talked to Pratt in recent years "seemed to think he was, you know, springing up out of the ground and didn't have this long, multi-decade history of radicalism and extremism." Asked by CSGV's Horwitz why Pratt is booked by major media, Zaitchik said, "I think a big part of it is just attention span, and time, and, you know, historical memory is getting shorter and shorter. You've got these bookers and producers who are in their mid-twenties, they don't do a lot of research before they book a guest, they don't really know their history and there is not a lot that has been written recently for them to even look at."
Zaitchik also described how Pratt tailors his messaging when appearing in national media compared to the fringe right-wing radio shows he often appears on:
ZAITCHIK: Well when he goes on these smaller, right-wing radio shows he'll drop bombs that he would never drop on C-SPAN for instance. Talking about how African-Americans need to learn lessons from happy Americans, talking about how representatives in Congress who have been threatened by his members should be lauded for standing up for constitutional principles, stuff that's gotten him in some hot water when it's come to light, but that he would never -- he is smart enough to know these are not things you should be saying when you are on national television. But he goes on these little radio shows and he is much more honest about who he is.
Indeed while Pratt will spread misinformation about gun violence on national television, his more extremist statements are often found on far right radio shows. In an instance recently flagged by Right Wing Watch, Pratt can be heard expressing agreement with conspiracy radio host Stan Solomon's claim that "we need to have guns" in order to possibly shoot and kill politicians:
PRATT: The thugs in government have the pretense of what they're doing is lawful, legitimate, and therefore their bounds are much wider, at least a thug knows that he is being bad and he wants to do what he does and get out of sight as quickly as possible, but it's hard to get rid of these politicians, they don't want to get out --
SOLOMON: That's why we need to have guns. You know what, more than one politician has been dispatched while doing a dance, trying to avoid certain, shall-we-say, metal jackets.
PRATT: Well, may their number increase.
In a 2013 interview with Media Matters, Pratt explained that he would continue to make media appearances with "[a]nyone that will let us have their microphone" -- even shows with extremist or conspiracy theorist hosts -- in order to spread the message of Gun Owners of America as far as possible.
The American Independent Institute is headed by Media Matters founder David Brock.