Looking back at the Senate's failure last week to pass gun safety legislation in the wake of the school massacre in Newtown, CT., Slate's John Dickerson writes that the bill fell victim to "the structure of the Senate, its partisan makeup, and pressure from gun rights advocates."
I guess that's one way of putting it. Another way of putting it is that Republicans continued to adhere to their unprecedented, four-year campaign of obstructionism and blocked a bill, whose central proposal, expanded background checks, enjoyed a stunning 90 percent support from the American public. But that's not the story Beltway pundits and reporters want to tell.
Instead, with the political postmortems continuing to come in, it's clear the press remains committed to blaming Obama and Democrats for the failure of gun legislation. It's clear the press will not budget from its preferred storyline that as long as Republicans obstruct Obama's agenda, the president will be faulted for not changing the GOP's unprecedented behavior.
And yes, in recent days the level of purposeful obtuseness has reached astonishing heights. In the wake of the bitter gun bill defeat, the DC press wants to tell one story, and one story only: Obama blew it. And they're so committed to the crooked narrative that they're now willing to completely write Republicans out of the story.
How committed? Slate's Dickerson wrote a 1,000-word piece about the gun bill and never once typed the word "Republican." (Or "GOP.") For Dickerson, Republicans weren't players in the gun bill saga, and they certainly weren't the reason it failed to pass. Instead, it failed because of the "president's limitations as a negotiator." And why was that? Because Obama "couldn't master the art of politics," Dickerson wrote.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd agreed, claiming the bill's defeat represented a "glaring example" of Obama's weakness. She ridiculed the president for not having "learned how to govern."
And an April 23 front-page New York Times report offered the similar refrain:
If he cannot translate the support of 90 percent of the public for background checks into a victory on Capitol Hill, what can he expect to accomplish legislatively for his remaining three and a half years in office.
The fact is that a majority of Republicans blocked the bill, and blocked even allowing debate on the gun safety bill. But that is now deemed to be irrelevant. Obama's supposed personal and professional shortcomings last week are the real story.
Is the president fair game for criticism and second-guessing in the wake of the gun bill's failure? Of course. Is Obama the only reason the gun bill didn't pass? He is not. But boy, the pundit class and elite reporters sure like to pretend he is.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's April 21 column on President Obama and the blocking of gun safety legislation is drawing no shortage of criticism for its determined obliviousness of how DC politics actually work. Per Dowd, the votes for the Manchin-Toomey expansion of the background check system were there, Obama just needed to take a page from Aaron Sorkin's "The American President" and go on an arm-twisting charm offensive with recalcitrant Republicans and Democrats. Just a few months ago, however, Dowd wrote that Republicans would spend Obama's second term blowing off the White House and reflexively opposing his policy initiatives (including gun safety measures) in order to isolate him politically. She also mocked Obama for saying he would employ the same political tactics she now decries him for not effectively using.
Here's how Dowd saw the Manchin-Toomey debate arriving at a successful conclusion:
It's unbelievable that with 90 percent of Americans on his side, he could get only 54 votes in the Senate. It was a glaring example of his weakness in using leverage to get what he wants. No one on Capitol Hill is scared of him.
Even House Republicans who had no intention of voting for the gun bill marveled privately that the president could not muster 60 votes in a Senate that his party controls.
The White House should have created a war room full of charts with the names of pols they had to capture, like they had in "The American President." Soaring speeches have their place, but this was about blocking and tackling.
Instead of the pit-bull legislative aides in Aaron Sorkin's movie, Obama has Miguel Rodriguez, an arm-twister so genteel that The Washington Post's Philip Rucker wrote recently that no one in Congress even knows who he is.
Dowd even singled out some blue-state Republican senators whom she thought might have been vulnerable to the Sorkin-esque strategy: "He should have gone out to Ohio, New Hampshire and Nevada and had big rallies to get the public riled up to put pressure on Rob Portman, Kelly Ayotte and Dean Heller, giving notice that they would pay a price if they spurned him on this." She also picked out Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) as someone who could have been swayed by a sweet-talking from Obama. But Dowd herself previously derided the idea that such tactics would be effective.
Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto questioned the authenticity of a New York Times op-ed authored by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by claiming that the op-ed appeared online too quickly to have been written by someone "who has severe impairments of her motor and speech functions."
Giffords' April 18 op-ed was written in response to the failure of expanded background checks legislation. On January 8, 2011, Giffords was shot in the head during a constituent meeting in an attack that killed six and left 13 wounded.
Taranto's comments occurred on the April 19 edition of the National Rifle Association's news show, Cam & Company, where he said it was "odd" that the Times op-ed, which Taranto described as "Giffords' personal reaction as somebody who's been wounded by gun violence," was published approximately five hours after the Senate voted on background checks. Taranto cast doubt on the idea that Giffords had authored the piece, commenting, "So we are supposed to believe that somehow in less than five hours a woman who has severe impairments of her motor and speech functions was able to produce 900 publishable words and put in an appearance in the White House in the course of it."
From Cam & Company:
TARANTO: One fascinating thing about this is this piece was published no later than 9:03 PM on Wednesday evening, because that's when it first appears on the New York Times' Twitter feed. The last Senate vote on amendments to the gun bill was a bit after 6 [PM]. Giffords appeared at the White House at 5:35 [PM] when we saw that enraged rant by the president. The Manchin-Toomey [background check] provision was the first vote. That was at 4:04 PM. So if you read this piece it's presented as a cry from the heart, as Giffords' personal reaction as somebody who's been wounded by gun violence to the betrayal of these Senators. So we are supposed to believe that somehow in less than five hours a woman who has severe impairments of her motor and speech functions was able to produce 900 publishable words and put in an appearance in the White House in the course of it. So I think that's a little bit odd.
Taranto offers no evidence for his offensive insinuation that Giffords would not have been capable of authoring the piece herself. He also ignores the possibility that Giffords could have authored the op-ed ahead of time in expectation of the widely-predicted outcome - hardly an unusual practice.
Even legendary journalists can fail to recognize the overwhelming popularity of expanding the background check system for firearms purchases. While it is now a well-known fact that the policy enjoys overwhelming support from the American public at large, some pundits remain unaware that it is also very popular in states that typically support conservative politicians.
NBC's Tom Brokaw is apparently one of those pundits. On the April 21 edition of NBC's Meet The Press, responding to the statement that the structure of the Senate explains why expanding background checks did not pass (an amendment had the support of 55 senators but needed 60 votes), Brokaw said that the proposal likely had very little support in the home states of Democrats who voted against the measure:
BROKAW: But in those states in which the senators voted against the background check, it's not even close to 90 percent in terms of wanting it, it's probably down in single digits in Montana and Arkansas and Alaska and North Dakota, the states that block it as Democrats. So you have to take that into consideration.
In fact, state polls in three of those four states found that at least 79 percent of respondents supported requiring a background check on every gun purchase (a broader measure than the one actually under debate).
According to a series of state polls commissioned by Mayors Against Illegals Guns, which supports the policy:
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan attacked President Obama for "having a problem with the levers of power" after the Senate failed to pass background checks for gun sales despite the legislation receiving majority support -- the final vote was 54-46, with 41 Republicans voting against the measure. Previously Noonan has dismissed concerns about historic Republican obstruction in Congress with a sarcastic "boo hoo."
Appearing on Meet The Press, Noonan responded to the Senate's inability to pass background checks by referring to "a problem" when "90% of the American people" supported it but President Obama "can't make anything move."
Noonan neglected to mention that the measure required 60 votes in response to a Republican-led filibuster, so even though the vote was 54 to 46 in favor, the legislation failed.
The argument by conservative media that former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other survivors of gun violence who supported a failed Senate compromise to expand background checks on firearms sales are "props" of the Obama administration is both hypocritically partisan and logically flawed.
Right-wing media are unable to acknowledge that President Obama's gun violence prevention agenda mirrors the priorities of gun violence survivors, who are not mere "props," to pass stronger gun laws. As Greg Sargent of The Washington Post notes, "the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want":
All of this aside, the "props" line is actually an insult to the families, posing as a defense of them. It implies that the families, in lobbying on these issues, are not thinking for themselves. In reality, the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want. Indeed, one of the family members, Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the shooting, voluntarily stood with the president at the White House yesterday as Obama reacted to news of the Senate vote, and thanked Obama for his leadership. Needless to say, if Barden felt like he was being exploited or used as a prop, he wouldn't be thanking the president. [emphasis in original]
Logical flaws aside, those who would call Newtown families and other gun violence survivors "props" fail to acknowledge that presidents routinely evoke the experiences of victims in advocating for policies that would prevent future tragedies.
In 1991, former President Ronald Reagan evoked his own experience of being shot by a would-be assassin, as well as the experiences of others wounded in the 1981 attack in order to advocate for background checks on gun sales. In a New York Times op-ed Reagan wrote about his press secretary, Jim Brady, who was grievously wounded in the attack by a man who acquired a gun despite a lengthy history of serious mental illness. Brady would go on to lend his name to the legislation -- the Brady bill -- that mandated a background check for gun sales conducted by licensed dealers:
The National Review Online took a swipe at former Rep. Gabby Giffords, calling her criticism of Senate inaction on gun legislation "childish."
In an NRO post, Kevin D. Williamson attacked Giffords for criticizing the Senate after it failed to pass gun-safety legislation. Williamson called Giffords' New York Times op-ed "childish" and argued that being "shot in the head by a lunatic" does not mean that her policy positions on the recently defeated Toomey-Manchin gun control legislation should receive special consideration. From the National Review's blog, the Corner:
While Ms. Giffords certainly has my sympathy for the violence she suffered, it should be noted that being shot in the head by a lunatic does not give one any special grace to pronounce upon public-policy questions, nor does it give one moral license to call people "cowards" for holding public-policy views at variance with one's own. Her childish display in the New York Times is an embarrassment.
In her op-ed, Giffords criticized Congress for cowering to the gun lobby interests, saying the fear imposed on the Senate by the National Rifle Association could not compare to the fear of the school children of Sandy Hook Elementary and the victims and survivors when gunman Jared L. Loughner shot Giffords, killed six people and wounded 13 others. Since then, Giffords has undergone physical therapy and lobbied for stronger gun control measures, including more rigid background checks. On Wednesday, the proposed Toomey-Manchin legislation failed to gain enough support in the Senate and was voted down 54-46.
Williamson's blog was posted next to an advertisement for the National Rifle Association:
Right-wing media used a straw man argument to defend the Republican-led filibuster of a gun violence prevention bill, claiming that the legislation wouldn't have stopped the massacre at a school in Newtown, Connecticut, and ignoring that there are approximately 30,000 gun deaths in the U.S. each year.
On April 17, the U.S. Senate rejected gun violence prevention legislation that included a compromise amendment to expand background checks crafted by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin (WV) and Republican Senator Pat Toomey (PA).
An April 17 Wall Street Journal editorial dismissed the defeated bill as "a liberal wish-list that wouldn't have stopped the next mass murder." Likewise, Breitbart.com featured two blog posts that claimed that gun violence prevention legislation would not have stopped the school shooting in Newtown. In one of these posts, Breitbart.com went so far as to accuse President Obama of throwing a "tantrum" after the vote, saying that "he used the Newtown disaster--or, in the eyes of many critics, exploited it--to make an argument about the urgent need for new laws, even if such laws would not have prevented the Newtown atrocity itself."
Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer made similar comments on the April 17 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, saying that the proposal was "irrelevant" and "would not have" stopped the Newtown shooting:
KRAUTHAMMER: The question is, would it have had any effect on Newtown? If you're going to make all of these emotional appeals -- you saying you're betraying the families, you've got to show how if this had been law it would have stopped Newtown. It would not have. It is irrelevant.
Fox contributor Laura Ingraham went even further on the April 18 edition of her radio show, dismissing the bill by claiming that "criminals will be criminals":
INGRAHAM: The real things we can do to stop violent crime, we can actually have an economy that spins off jobs, have policies that don't encourage more lawlessness in our inner cities. Encourage families to stay together, fathers to stay with their, you know, the mothers of their children. All of these things. I mean we have a cultural and moral collapse in our society. You see it in many ways and many iterations of it. But we're supposed to believe that if only these background checks were in place, all -- Newtown wouldn't have happened, Aurora wouldn't have happened, Gabby Giffords wouldn't have been shot, none of this would have happened.
As Newtown parent Mark Barden explained in his April 17 statement at a White House press event, the argument that background checks would not have prevented the Newtown shooting is irrelevant, because the legislation's purpose was to save lives in the future:
Expanded background checks wouldn't have saved our loved ones, but still we came to support the bipartisan proposal from two senators, both with "A" ratings from the NRA -- a common-sense proposal supported by 90 percent of Americans. It's a proposal that will save lives without interfering with the rights of responsible, law-abiding gun owners.
Conservatives in media gloated and launched political attacks in reaction to a coalition of largely Senate Republicans blocking a package of stronger gun laws, including compromise legislation on expanded background checks for gun sales -- a legislative proposal supported by roughly 90 percent of Americans.
Before, during, and after President Obama delivered a speech from the Rose Garden on April 17 vowing to continue the dialogue on gun laws, conservatives in media offered triumphal comments and launched vicious attacks on advocates for gun violence prevention, including family members of Newtown victims and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona.
As Politico noted, conservative bloggers "claimed victory ... saying that their ideology and principles were the keys to their success." The right-wing reaction, however, went beyond basic policy arguments:
In an op-ed for The Washington Times, Jeffrey Scott Shapiro opined that family members of Newtown victims -- many of whom advocated for the passage of stronger gun laws -- did not deserve to be heard because of his apparent belief that background checks infringe on the Second Amendment. Shapiro previously accused Obama of attempting to implement socialism in a piece for The New American, the magazine publication of the far-right John Birch Society. From Shapiro's April 18 op-ed:
I don't believe the families of the victims from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., deserve a vote.
It may sound harsh and uncaring, but even the greatest tragedies are not a valid reason to disregard the Supreme Court and the Constitution of the United States. If they were, our free speech and our rights against unreasonable search and seizure and against self-incrimination would have all been abolished long ago amid every crime wave in American history.
Five years ago, the Supreme Court settled the issue of the Second Amendment in District of Columbia v. Heller, making it clear that guns in "common use" were constitutionally protected. Nevertheless, President Obama recently flew several family members of Sandy Hook victims to Washington on Air Force One to pressure congressional legislators to enact new gun laws.
From the April 18 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
Loading the player ...
When confronted with the fact that a majority of the nation's gun owners support expanded background checks for gun purchases, Fox anchor Bret Baier hid behind the National Rifle Association (NRA) to allege that such support does not exist.
The NRA has lobbied aggressively against a bipartisan proposal in the Senate that would have expanded background checks on gun show and online gun purchases. Among other efforts, they spent $500,00 in one day -- the day the Senate voted on the bill -- on ads calling the proposal "Obama's gun ban," according to the New York Times.
The background check proposal failed to pass the Senate, a result Fox contributor Juan Williams lamented on Special Report, stressing how even "gun owners say, 'Yes, it's a good thing' ":
WILLIAMS: It's like a tragedy ... the U.S. Senate can't take action on simple background checks that overwhelmingly the American people, in poll after poll, say that it's a good idea, it would be a good thing. Gun owners say, 'Yes, it's a good thing.' But again, the power of big money, the NRA, and the gun manufacturers has carried the day. So let's look at the record then--
BAIER: Well, hold on. Gun owners overall don't say that. You mentioned the NRA. They say this. (emphasis added)
Baier then read the NRA's statement opposing the Senate bill, which asserts that "[e]xpanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in schools."
Despite Baier's claim, the NRA's view are contrary to that of the majority of gun owners on this issue. In February 2013, the Pew Research Center determined that gun owners overwhelmingly support expanded background checks. Pew found the number to be:
The vast majority of gun owners have repeatedly expressed their approval of more background checks. At the beginning of the year, a Quinnipiac University poll showed 91 percent of gun owners were in support; in March, they found that number to be little changed, with 85 percent of gun owners in favor of universal background checks.
From the April 17 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
Loading the player ...
From the April 17 edition of Fox News' The Five:
Loading the player ...
From the April 17 edition of Fox News' The Five:
Loading the player ...
The National Rifle Association is distorting a survey that experts say already uses questionable methodology to claim that the vast majority of police don't believe background checks will reduce violent crime.
The Washington Post's website is currently displaying an NRA ad which states, "80% of police say background checks will have no effect on violent crime."
But the poll in question, conducted by the law enforcement news portal PoliceOne, does not ask respondents whether they believe background checks will have an effect on violent crime. As Slate's William Saletan has noted, the only question in the survey that produced results similar to the ones the NRA cited was the question, "Do you think that a federal law prohibiting private, non-dealer transfers of firearms between individuals would reduce violent crime?" The bipartisan background check amendment currently under discussion in the Senate would not impact private, non-dealer transfers; it would only require background checks for commercial sales.
Moreover, the survey's methodology raises questions about its results. It is not a random sample, but rather a survey completed by the 3 percent of registered current and former law enforcement officers who are members of PoliceOne and chose to respond.
Academic polling experts who Media Matters contacted said this approach is questionable, because the self-selection of respondents can bias the sample. University of Michigan Professor Michael Traugott, for example, told Media Matters that "one issue that would be of particular concern is that the survey was completed by self-selected respondents," which the Public Opinion Quarterly editor said could have skewed the results.
Other experts highlighted that the survey examines only members of PoliceOne. "How representative of all police officers are PoliceOne's members to begin with?" said Columbia University professor Robert Shapiro, a co-author of award-winning books on public opinion research. "And how does the sample compare with all police officers demographically?" Temple University's Christopher Wlezian, another editor at Public Opinion Quarterly, likewise commented that the problem with the survey is "the fact that we don't know whether the sample of respondents is representative of the population of police officers."