As members of the news media, the anchors at MSNBC would have you believe that they are but dispassionate observers in all things political. Whether or not they themselves believe this self-styled characterization, their coverage of the anti-gun student protests in Florida has been especially replete with just such disingenuous posturing.
MSNBC Live host Katy Tur epitomized the news media’s facade of neutrality on Wednesday alongside guest panelist Kimberly Atkins. During the A-block of Tur's show, the pair fawned over a group of teenagers in Colorado who had staged a walkout for gun control during school hours. Atkins lamented that any measure not supported by the NRA would be difficult for Congress to pass, even with what she referred to as a “remarkable grassroots, really civil rights campaign being put on by these young people.”
Rather than point out the irony of referring to legislation that would restrict Americans’ rights as a “civil rights campaign,” Tur elected to launch into a monologue about the logistics of banning bump stocks. “Is this sort of pressure we’re seeing on TV enough?” she asked hopefully, continuing:
[Is it] enough to not only convince Donald Trump, but convince lawmakers that something needs to be done? And not just something little or incremental, but something substantial?
Atkins seemed convinced that the student protests might indeed “change the culture” of firearms in America. “You might see some sort of movement akin to the smoking movement,” she speculated, referencing the informational campaigns that helped warn teenagers about the dangers of tobacco products. “Or the LGBTQ community,” she added.
After equating firearms with cigarettes and same-sex marriage, both Atkins and Tur heaped praise on the student activists for being “media savvy,” and noted that they were keeping the issue of gun control “in the forefront.” Tur seized on this assessment: “We’re a week away from this tragedy, and not to be cynical, but the news hasn’t moved away from this.”
Throughout the segment, both Tur and Atkins repeatedly referred to “the media” as though it were some independent body, rather than the very cultural institution to which they themselves belonged. The panelists marveled disingenuously that the debate over firearm legislation – which was revived following the horrific shooting in Florida that left 17 dead – had not yet disappeared from the headlines.
Frequent watchers of network news will occasionally notice talking heads attempting to distance themselves from the media establishment by discussing it as an entity distinct from themselves. This framing is a tactic intended to create the impression that the stories dominating the news cycle have not been deliberately selected. But of course, when a member of the media like Tur remarks that “the news hasn’t moved away from this,” that claim is self-fulfilling prophecy. The implied message is: ‘This must be important, because we’re still talking about it.’
In reality, the media choose what to cover, and they can and do ignore whatever they wish to. Thus, when Tur ponders whether the pressure on TV is "enough to convince" lawmakers, she is effectively asking whether she and her compatriots have pushed the issue enough to effect policy change.