The Media Sucks at Guns – Here’s Why
After pretty much doing everything but calling the movers, it turned out that Hillary Clinton didn’t make it to the White House. But that doesn’t mean concerns over “gun control” will go away anytime soon. Even with a Republican in the White House, even with a GOP controlled House of Representatives and Senate, as well as the majority of state legislatures and governorships, there is one thing that could still trample on the Second Amendment: the mainstream media.
Most of the media – from publishers to reporters – don’t like guns. Worse, they don’t understand guns. Consider how firearms are reported whenever there is a mass shooting, terrorist attack or even police shooting.
When there is “breaking news,” the details of an unfolding event can change. This is true during a natural disaster and other tragedy. On 9/11, for example, reports circulated that a bomb had gone off at the Pentagon and a car bomb exploded at the State Department. Neither turned out to be true. The false reporting is somewhat understandable if only because that Tuesday morning information was scattered, phone lines were overloaded, and it was very clear by 10am ET that America was indeed “under attack.”
Misinformation was reported when the Titanic sunk in April 1912, mainly because no one could easily confirm the reports. In November 1963 there were false reports about the condition of President John F. Kennedy, likely because many in the media simply didn’t want to believe the young charismatic president had been assassinated. In both cases subsequent reports clarified what was fact and what had only been rumors. In other words, the mainstream media did its best to make amends.
All this then begs the question why mainstream media reporting on firearms, especially when firearms are used in a tragedy such as a mass shooting or terrorist attack, is often so sloppy.
“It works because simple works,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. “One of the easiest ways to con people is give them a simple explanation they can understand that fits their world view.”
Not only is the media often quick to highlight that a firearm was used, but it actually runs story where much of the information is inaccurate or simply wrong and misleading at the very least. Thus it is simple as Enderle suggested.
For example, as the Washington Times reported earlier this year, Florida Rep. Alan Grayson suggested that the Sig Sauer MCX – what the media described repeatedly as an AR-15 style – semi-automatic rifle used in the tragic nightclub shooting in Orlando Florida could fire “700 rounds per minute.”
First of all, it can’t. It is in essence impossible for the Sig Sauer MCX to have that rate of fire. Second of all, several media outlets picked up the original commentary and ran with it, with no fact checking whether the Sig Sauer MCX could in fact have such a rate of fire. Why was Grayson simply accepted as an expert on this particular firearm?
Grayson, of course, simply knew his statement made for a good sound bite.
“These days (reporters) are typically writing what the audience wants to hear, readers just as typically are only critical when they disagree, and you can discount gun owners because they are likely not the demographic they are writing for,” Enderle explained.
Kudos to the Washington Times for following up on the erroneous reporting and actually calling out the Congressman. And shame on the other media outlets that quoted him about the rate of fire for a semi-automatic weapon!
Assault on Guns
Other media were quick to jump on the bandwagon following the Orlando terrorist attack in the usual other ways. The Washington Post, as one example, ran a blog post titled “Assault rifles are becoming mass shooters’ weapon of choice,” while The Big Story via The Associate Press ran a story titled “Rifle used in Orlando shooting was designed for military use.”
Fortunately there are outlets, such as Politicfact.com, which have become a watchdog of media reporting. It did highlight that the AP’s story failed to note that the Sig Sauer MCX was “semiautomatic, rather than fully automatic” and even highlighted some of the differences that standout from the military version.
Yet there continues to be a constant flow of misinformation in the mainstream media and little is done to correct the reporting.
“The amazing thing is that the same people have been involved in reporting these stories for a decade or more covering mass shootings,” said John R. Lott, Jr. of the Crime Prevention Research Center, and noted author on firearms. “They get the facts wrong in the initial story and do little if anything to correct it as the story is updated.”
This is common with reporting. While body counts and other facts unfold the media tends to double down, laying more blame on guns but also using unnecessary hyperbole in reporting.
The High Powered Debate
One excellent example, which is all too common, is “high powered assault rifle.” This makes firearms such as the AR-15 or AK-47 platforms seem all the more ominous, but it is factually wrong.
“Every rifle used in a shooting is potentially an assault weapon and high-powered adds color to make the piece more exciting,” added Enderle.
Yet, as readers of BreachBangClear should know, an assault rifle and its commercial/civilian counterparts fire an intermediate cartridge. The SKS and AK-47 were among the first such rifles to utilize such a round. While the main battle rifle of the era fired a 7.62x54R round, the pistol cartridge was 7.62x25mm – and was used in submachine guns such as the PPSh-41.
The Soviet designers came up with a round that was somewhere in between: the 7.62x39mm round. Thus it is hard to describe it as “high powered.”
“You mean these rounds are high powered,” lamented Lott?
His sarcasm is meant to be ironic, but Lott told BreachBangClear that a bigger problem is the continued confusion on semi-automatic – as the Honorable Gentleman from Florida, Alan Grayson, clearly didn’t understand.
“The media continues to get the facts wrong such as calling the AR-15 a weapon of war,” explained Lott. “There is no military in the world that would use a semi-automatic rifle like that. It is something that the media isn’t called out on and they should be.”
The point is a fair one, and perhaps the times are changing. Even Slate.com, which traditionally leans left and is no champion of gun rights, has noted sloppy reporting when it comes to firearms. Slate.com senior editor Rachael Larimore recently offered her thoughts in an editorial titled “The Media Keeps Misfiring When it Writes About Guns.” In it she recommended, “There are several ways the media can remedy this situation. For starters, treat guns like any other beat… Media outlets tend not to send sports writers to cover the Supreme Court or style writers to cover a murder. Ignorance undermines authority. If you want to report on guns, you need to understand the differences between various weapons and how they are used.”
That’s a very important point to make.
As a full-time freelance journalist, this reporter can attest that due diligence is required when working on a story, facts need to be checked and confirmed. If a source tells this reporter “the sky is green,” it is up to me as a reporter to confirm that as a fact as my observations differ greatly from what I was told. As a freelancer I cover a range of topics and I regularly reach out to sources who can explain the details.
“Part of this is that reporters are now asked to cover increasingly wide areas which means editing has to pick up the slack and editing isn’t exactly staffed heavy either,” explained Enderle, who is often quoted on a variety of subjects. “So a combination of low budgets for the reporters and editors, an easy-to-write formula that works, and presto, you get easy to read crap that maps to the publication’s demographic.”
Is There Bias?
The other part of this isn’t just overworked reporters. While Larimore is correct too that the media needs to be better informed and more willing to engage with the audience, another, even bigger problem is that too often there is an agenda. There are plenty in the media who simply don’t like firearms. This includes misinformation but in the case of documentary films it is about careful editing.
It has gotten so bad that even NPR, another outlet that can arguably be called no friend of the gun lobby, called out Katie Couric for careful editing of a documentary on gun violence so as to make a gun rights organization look bad. The documentary in question, Under the Gun, featured an edit that included a long pause after the question “If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?”
In truth the response was quick, but in the edited version Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens’ Defense League, looked unprepared. This media manipulation is common.
This is nothing new either. Michael Moore used creative editing for dramatic effect in his documentary Bowling for Columbine and included usual misinformation. The erroneous details of Moore’s films are too numerous to name, and fortunately David T. Hardy has already documented the key and even lesser points in great detail.
Then there is what the media doesn’t report, which remains the elephant in the room, said Lott.
“The easiest thing to report is what they never report,” he told BreachBangClear. “Did the shooting occur in a gun free zone, where citizens can’t have a gun? I understand if this isn’t reported in the first reporting on an event, as they have to get it (the story) in during the news cycle. But even in the follow up reporting this fact – of gun free zones – isn’t told.”
Lott argues that it is because it is considered too political and editors/producers want to avoid turning a tragedy into a political story. Yet, as we’ve seen in the way Couric and Moore are quick to politicize these events, that seems like a stretch, and Lott agrees.
“How is it too political to address a gun free zone and a shooting,” he pondered, “when it is OK to claim the cause of these shootings is because of assault weapons?”
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