New York Times's Massacre Coverage Permeated With Aggressive Push for Gun Control

December 18th, 2012 3:53 PM

The New York Times continues to helpfully lay out a path for Obama to order up gun control legislation in the wake of the tragedy at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Tuesday's lead story by Jennifer Steinhauer and Charlie Savage wasted no time in politicizing things: "Pro-Gun Democrats Signaling Openness to Limits; Town Starts the Mournful task of Saying Goodbye."

Demonstrating rapidly shifting attitudes toward gun control in the aftermath of a massacre in a Connecticut school, many pro-gun Congressional Democrats -- including Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader and a longstanding gun rights supporter -- signaled an openness Monday to new restrictions on guns.


Democrats seemed to be hoping to seize on the momentum from the shooting, in which 20 first graders were killed, and the resulting outrage and despondency of millions of Americans, to gingerly build a coalition of lawmakers who might be able to create some form of compromise limits on gun sales or types.

Also on Tuesday, reporters Nicholas Confessore, Michael Cooper, and Michael Luo continued the paper's obsession over the public silence of the National Rifle Assocation: "Silent Since Shootings, N.R.A. Could Face Challenge to Political Power."

Even when the N.R.A. is silent -- as its Web site and Twitter feed remained Monday, after the second-deadliest school shooting in United States history -- it wields one of the biggest sticks in politics: A $300 million budget, millions of members around the country and virtually unmatched ferocity in advancing its political and legislative interests.

All three editorials on Tuesday were devoted to gun control, with the promise of more to come. The first compared anti-gun legislation to civil rights legislation, "Reason to Hope After the Newtown Rampage."

This is a country that has a history of facing tragedy and becoming better for it. It is a country that recoiled in horror at the Triangle shirtwaist factory and took steps to protect the lives of factory workers. It is a country able to rethink deeply seated beliefs -- as it did with discrimination against blacks and women and is now doing with antigay discrimination.

Calls for legislation also permeated the paper's weekend coverage of the tragedy. Saturday's front-page story by Mark Landler and Erica Goode tried to ignite the debate from paragraph one, "Obama’s Cautious Call for Action Sets Stage to Revive Gun Debate."

In the emotional statement on the Newtown shootings that President Obama delivered from the White House on Friday, it was a single line, spoken as much in anger as in grief, that stood out. The words were cautious and were immediately criticized for being too timid. But they may have signaled that the long-dormant debate over the nation’s gun laws is about to be re-engaged.

“We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” Mr. Obama said, listing the devastation wrought by other gun violence, from a recent attack in an Oregon shopping mall to the shootings in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., in July.

But Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York spoke for many gun-control advocates, who have been frustrated and disappointed by Mr. Obama’s failure to embrace the issue, when he said he wanted to hear much more.

The Times tipped its hand when it said the outlook was "bleak" for gun control legislation, as if the preferred outcome would likely be thwarted.

Gun control, however, played an incidental role in the presidential campaign. And the political prospects for federal gun legislation remain bleak, analysts said, even with the national outpouring of emotion that typically follows mass killings.

Legal reporter Charlie Savage used his Sunday front-page territory ("Justice Dept. Shelved Ideas to Improve Gun Background Checks") to again defend Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder from "false" charges by conservatives regarding the Fast and Furious scandal, which the Times and other media outlets did their best to ignore.

[Around March 2011,] congressional Republicans and conservative news media outlets were carrying out a withering campaign against Mr. Holder based on accusations -- found to be false by the department’s independent inspector general -- that he had sanctioned the reckless “gun walking” tactics, not moving swiftly to interdict illegal weapons, used in the Operation Fast and Furious gun trafficking case, including floating theories that it was all part of a conspiracy meant to crack down on gun rights.

Not even the Times's Mark Landler and Peter Baker could completely ignore President Obama's politicization of the tragedy at a memorial service for the victims of the school massacre in Newtown.

President Obama vowed on Sunday to “use whatever power this office holds” to stop massacres like the slaughter at the school here that shocked the nation, hinting at a fresh effort to curb the spread of guns as he declared that there was no “excuse for inaction.”

In a surprisingly assertive speech at a memorial service for the 27 victims, including 20 children, Mr. Obama said that the country had failed to protect its young and that its leaders could no longer sit by idly because “the politics are too hard.” While he did not elaborate on what action he would propose, he said that “these tragedies must end.”

The Times already foresees a political movement for gun control.

The president’s trip here came amid rising pressure to push for tighter regulation of guns in America. The president offered no specific proposals, and there were no urgent meetings at the White House over the weekend to draft legislation. Administration officials cautioned against expecting quick, dramatic action, especially given the end-of-the-year fiscal crisis consuming most of Mr. Obama’s time.

* Note: This is an edited compilation of two articles that first appeared on TimesWatch.