Media are citing the large sum of money the National Rifle Association spent during the 2012 election as evidence of its power, and ignoring the fact that nearly all of that money went to support candidates who lost.
These reports, which come as the NRA prepares to respond to public demands for new gun laws in light of the Newtown massacre, further a years-old media mythexaggerating the NRA's influence on electoral politics.
For example, in a December 19 article, The Wall Street Journal reported that "The NRA spent $18 million to help elect candidates of both parties to Congress in the 2012 elections, placing it among the top 20 in interest-group election spending, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics." CNN offered a similar report the same day.
In a December 20 New York Times op-ed, former Bush administration ethics lawyer Richard Painter urged Republicans to "free themselves from the NRA protection racket," writing that "the NRA spent almost $19 million in the last federal election cycle. This money is not just spent to beat Democrats but also to beat Republicans who don't toe the line."
None of these reports noted that of the more than $18 million the NRA spent on independent expenditures during the 2012 election season, 95 percent of those dollars were spent on races in which their preferred candidate lost, according to data compiled by the Sunlight Foundation. Indeed, roughly two thirds of the group's total election spending came in support of their failed "all-in" campaign to defeat President Obama.
According to the logic of these media reports, Restore Our Future, the super PAC established to support Mitt Romney's presidential run, is one of the most powerful organizations in politics. The group spent more than $150 million during the 2012 election cycle - all of it in support of a losing candidate.
In a National Review Online post, author Charlotte Allen followed the lead of other right-wing media figures by suggesting that the deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut were the result of a "feminized setting" in which "helpless passivity is the norm."
Similarly, Newsweek and Daily Beast special correspondent Megan McArdle wrote that people, even children, should be trained to "gang rush" active shooters, in contradiction to expert opinion on how best to handle such situations.
And Washington Times columnist Ted Nugent wrote that the allegedly "embarrassing, politically correct culture" of the U.S. that "mocks traditional societal values" helped lead to the shooting. Nugent also told Newsmax that "political correctness and the sheep like behavior that goes with it" could be cured by arming teachers.
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:
As major media outlets report on gun violence prevention strategies in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, they have ignored a controversial law that shields the firearms industry from being held accountable.
In 2005, former President George W. Bush signed into law the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act - the "No. 1 legislative priority of the National Rifle Association" - which immunized gun makers and dealers from civil lawsuits for the crimes committed with the products they sell, a significant barrier to a comprehensive gun violence prevention strategy. Despite recent reporting on proposed efforts to prevent another tragedy like the one in Newtown, a Media Matters search of Nexis revealed major newspapers and evening television news have not explained this significant legal immunity.
Faced with an increasing number of successful lawsuits over reckless business practices that funneled guns into the hands of criminals, the 2005 immunity law was a victory for the NRA, which "lobbied lawmakers intensely" to shield gun makers and dealers from personal injury law. As described by Erwin Chemerinsky, a leading constitutional scholar and the Dean of the University of California-Irvine School of Law, by eliminating this route for victims to hold the gun industry accountable in court, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was a complete deviation from basic "principles of products liability":
The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act is also commonly referred to as the "Gun Protection Act." The law dismissed all current claims against gun manufacturers in both federal and state courts and pre-empted future claims. The law could not be clearer in stating its purpose: "To prohibit causes of action against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers of firearms or ammunition products, and their trade associations, for the harm caused solely by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products or ammunition products by others when the product functioned as designed and intended." There are some narrow exceptions for which liability is allowed, such as actions against transferors of firearms who knew the firearm would be used in drug trafficking or a violent crime by a party directly harmed by that conduct.
It is outrageous that a product that exists for no purpose other than to kill has an exemption from state tort liability. Allowing tort liability would force gun manufacturers to pay some of the costs imposed by their products, increase the prices for assault weapons and maybe even cause some manufacturers to stop making them.
The NRA successfully cloaked this special treatment for the gun industry as part of "tort reform" - the right-wing's general attack on access to justice for victims of corporate wrongdoing - by claiming the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was needed to stop "politically motivated" and "frivolous" lawsuits "intended to bankrupt the gun industry." Yet the Brady Center's Legal Action Project has successfully utilized the law's narrow exception for litigation based on gun industry criminality, proving that lawsuits against the current system that provides firearms for crimes are hardly without merit.
The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act favors an industry that, at best, turns a blind eye to business practices that place profit over victims. As Forbes admits, the result is that "gun manufacturers have won double-barreled protection from Congress against the type of lawsuits that bedevil the makers of everything from toys to tractor-trailers." Although legal experts like Andrew Cohen, posting in The Atlantic, are starting to highlight this unnecessary and unprecedented immunity for the gun industry, further attention would better inform current calls to hold gun companies accountable in court. As leaders of Congress state that "every idea should be on the table" in attempting to prevent another tragedy like the Newtown massacre, major news outlets should investigate why the gun industry remains shielded by law from the consequences of its irresponsible business practices in a way that other industries are not.
For example, the same type of gun used in the Newtown shooting was used by the 2002 Washington, D.C., snipers to shoot more than a dozen people. But if it had been in effect at the time, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act would have blocked the lawsuit filed by the victims against the gun maker and dealer, and prevented the settlement they received. On this point, the questions of Denise Johnson, the widow of one of the snipers' victims, are still relevant:
I'm confident that the criminal justice system will work to punish the people who killed my husband. But the civil justice system must also be allowed to work. Those who share responsibility for my husband's death must also be held accountable.
I and families of other sniper victims have sued these gun sellers. I hope that by holding them accountable, we can cause others to behave more responsibly, and that future tragedies such as mine will be prevented. I understood when I filed the case that I was not guaranteed victory, but that's OK. All I wanted was my day in court. But if [the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act] is enacted, the courthouse door will be slammed in my face.
No other industry enjoys the protections that the gun industry is seeking. Gun sellers and manufacturers shouldn't be above the law. If any other product injured my husband and irresponsible sellers played a part, I would be able to bring a case in court. But because Conrad was shot with a gun, my lawsuit would not be allowed. Those who sell guns that are sought by criminals need to be more careful than sellers of other products, not less careful.
I call on Congress to protect my rights and the rights of other victims of gun violence. There's nothing frivolous about how bad gun dealers behave. And there's nothing frivolous about my case.
Days after 20 children and six adults were killed in a school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Rush Limbaugh used the tragedy in invoking a debunked conspiracy theory alleging the Obama administration launched Operation Fast and Furious in order to pass stricter gun-control legislation.
On Tuesday, Limbaugh rehashed the theory that Fast and Furious, a gun-running operation intended to track drug traffickers, was a nefarious plot to get criminals guns in the hope that the resulting violence would lead to public support for stronger gun-control laws. Limbaugh claimed that the "plan" behind Fast and Furious was to "create a bunch of gun violence with American guns, bought legally and therefore easily, and outrage the American people." He then said, "Let me be blunt. The objective of Fast and Furious was to create the very emotional pitch people experienced after what happened in Newtown on Friday. That is exactly what Fast and Furious was intended to do, was to create that kind of reaction all over the country."
Fast and Furious was a botched operation run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that "allowed a gun trafficking ring to buy hundreds of weapons and send them to Mexico as part of an investigative tactic," as The New York Times reported. Unfortunately, officials "eventually lost track of hundreds of weapons," including two that were found near the site where a Border Patrol agent was killed.
Although conservative media pushed the conspiracy theory that the operation was part of an Obama administration plot to push gun control, an independent investigation into Fast and Furious soundly debunked such claims. The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General found "no evidence that the agents responsible for the cases had improper motives or were trying to accomplish anything other than dismantling a dangerous firearms trafficking organization." The OIG report specifically noted there was no link between the operation and plans to regulate firearms, stating they found "no evidence that ATF Phoenix initiated the investigation in order to facilitate efforts to obtain long gun legislation."
From the December 18 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Following the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, the cable network Discovery told Fox News that it has canceled its reality series American Guns. In October, Discovery aired a one-hour special called Ted Nugent's Gun Country starring NRA board member and Washington Times columnist Ted Nugent, despite his history of inflammatory rhetoric.
While Discovery has described Ted Nugent's Gun Country as a "one-hour special," Nugent claimed that Discovery "want[s] to do it as a regular feature." Nugent has also said the show would help him advance his view in the "culture war."
The episode of Ted Nugent's Gun Country that aired in October showed Nugent shooting a scimitar-horned oryx, an animal extinct in the wild, and using a .50-caliber Browning armor-piercing machine gun to blow holes in a steel door used by a team of "preppers" to protect their armory.
Discovery Channel's popular reality show about a family of gun makers, "American Guns," came under intense scrutiny in the wake of Friday's mass shooting at a Connecticut grade school, with people flooding the show's Facebook page calling for its cancelation.
"I know you all have to make money but would Discovery Channel PLEASE consider ceasing to broadcast the show in the U.K.? Sadly your program makes buying/owning guns seem fun, glamorous, even normal," wrote one. Another tweeted, "Dear Discovery Channel: it's not appropriate showing the program American Guns now!" Another weighed in: "With Discovery shows like 'Sons of Guns', 'American Guns', 'Ted Nugent's Gun Country' etc it's not surprising how guns r seen as acceptable."
It seems the critics may have been heard.
A Discovery rep told FOX411 that "American Guns" - which is out of production and not currently broadcasting new episodes - has been canceled and will not return for a third season. This comes as something of a surprise given its growing popularity. The show had a 50 percent ratings increase for its second season premiere, and one of its stars, Renee Wyatt, recently said she would "definitely" be interested in returning for season three. The rep, however, would not link the show's cancelation to the Connecticut school massacre.
According to the Discovery website, another of the network's gun-oriented programs, Sons of Guns, has no scheduled upcoming episodes.
From the December 18 edition of CNN Newsroom:
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A Fox News contributor who network CEO Roger Ailes reportedly uses to communicate his views on-air suggested that he might support new gun laws in the wake of the Newtown massacre.
Peter Johnson, Jr., a Fox News legal analyst, said that "the government has the right to register and regulate... firearms" and suggested that we should consider restricting ownership of assault weapons in light of recent events during a monologue on the December 18 edition of Fox & Friends.
JOHNSON: People have the right under the Second Amendment to own firearms. The government has the right to register and regulate those firearms. At the same time we need to be thinking about where should we be allocating law enforcement resources. How can we better register?
Let's look at AK-47s and AR-15s. The numbers show that it's a small portion of the deaths and violence in America. But it's a high portion, it's a high proportion of these mass violence episodes. Let's look at everything in a dispassionate, smart, objective way that protects Americans and protects the Constitution both.
During the same segment, Johnson suggested that Americans should also examine the "entertainment industry" because of their support for "videos." The Washington Post has noted that data show no correlation between video game spending per capita and gun-related homicides.
Johnson's role at Fox is reportedly much greater than a typical contributor. In addition to his regular appearances on Fox & Friends, Johnson serves as Ailes' personal attorney, confers regularly with the Fox chief and is reportedly the outlet Ailes uses to channel his views on the network.
In an attempt to distract from an emerging debate over how much to strengthen gun laws, Newsweek and Daily Beast special correspondent Megan McArdle called for people, even children, to be trained to "gang rush" active shooters. The Department of Homeland Security, however, recommends that people evacuate or hide in response to an active shooter, and to take direct action only as a last resort and when your life is in "imminent" danger.
McArdle's essay on how to prevent mass shootings in the wake of the tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, begins with a libertarian defense of congressional inaction on gun issues, even sneering that it is "easy and satisfying to be for 'gun control' in the abstract, but we cannot pass gun control, in the abstract." You might well have seen most of this essay after any mass shooting in recent decades.
McArdle is so resigned to any gun laws failing to prevent gun violence that she concludes that people should be encouraged to "gang rush" shooters rather than hide:
I'd also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once. Would it work? Would people do it? I have no idea; all I can say is that both these things would be more effective than banning rifles with pistol grips.
So, in sum: the chances of achieving anything with any gun legislation are so low that in these circumstances, people should resign themselves to probable death by running at the person firing a gun in the hope that enough people will follow that their likely death will not be in vain.
As Jonathan Chait points out at NY Magazine, this is an absurd proposition:
Are you kidding me? You think gun control is impractical, so your plan is to turn the entire national population, including young children, into a standby suicide squad? Through private initiative, of course. It's way more feasible than gun control!
Unless I am missing a very subtle parody of libertarianism, McArdle's plan to teach children to launch banzai charges against mass murderers is the single worst solution to any problem I have ever seen offered in a major publication. Newsweek, I award this essay no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
Moreover, the Department of Homeland Security has specific guidelines on how to act when one's life is threatened in a shooting situation. Objective 1 is to evacuate, and if you cannot evacuate, objective 2 is find a hiding place: "If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you." DHS recommends that people take action against an active shooter only as a last resort and when your life is in imminent danger.
From the December 17 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation:
In a New York magazine post, Gabriel Sherman pointed out that while Fox News resisted calls to discuss gun policy in the wake of the shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, Rupert Murdoch, the head of Fox's parent company, News Corp., was expressing support for more restrictive gun laws. Sherman noted that the difference between Fox's pro-gun history and Murdoch's call for action on gun control "highlights the growing chasm between Rupert Murdoch and [Fox News CEO Roger] Ailes":
Certainly Fox's decision to avoid widespread policy talk could be seen as an editorial impulse to keep the focus trained on the tragedy's human dimension. But Fox's coverage also highlights the growing chasm between Rupert Murdoch and Ailes. Gun culture is alive and well at Fox News. Roger Ailes and Sean Hannity are reportedly licensed to carry concealed handguns in New York City. Fox personality Eric Bolling is a vocal Second Amendment proponent on air. "Not only do they carry guns, they don't allow an honest debate on TV," a Fox News insider said. In the past, when Ailes has clashed with Murdoch on politics, Fox News's outsize profits have helped Ailes prevail. Earlier this fall, Ailes signed a new four-year contract, and he retains complete editorial control over the network.
A Fox News spokesperson declined to comment on Ailes's Second Amendment views.
While Ailes's network said it wasn't the right time to talk about legislation, Murdoch had no hesitation. Within hours of the attack, he took to Twitter to call for an automatic-weapons ban. "Terrible news today. When will politicians find courage to ban automatic weapons? As in Oz after similar tragedy," he wrote, referring to Australia's move to ban assault weapons in 1996 after a man used two semiautomatic rifles to kill 35 people and wound 21. That massacre came six weeks after the horrific mass school shooting in Dunblane, Scotland, in which sixteen children and one adult were murdered. (Despite Murdoch's plea, automatic weapons are already illegal in the United States; Adam Lanza used semiautomatics.)
Sherman further reported that the lack of gun policy coverage on Fox stemmed from an order from David Clark, executive vice president of Fox's weekend coverage, who reportedly instructed producers to avoid the subject. According to Sherman's sources within Fox, the decision not to address gun policy "created a rift inside the network."
Fox has a history of top-down orders to affect how news is reported on the network. Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon has attempted to slant Fox's coverage on everything from climate change to health care reform and influenced Fox's coverage of President Obama's 2009 Cairo speech on America's relationship to the Muslim world.
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.
News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch's call for politicians to find the "courage" to ban automatic weapons in the aftermath of the tragic mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school is sharply at odds with the extreme rhetoric often heard on Fox News. Indeed, Fox voices routinely demonize any calls to strengthen gun laws.
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.