Knight Column: New Study Exposes Anti-gun Bias in Media

August 29th, 2007 4:36 PM

On Tuesday, Jesse Jackson, the Brady bunch -- not the TV folk but the anti-gun lobby -- and other liberal activists rallied against “the national scourge of illegal guns” in cities around the nation.

The networks ignored the event, probably because turnout was so embarrassingly low. The Chicago Tribune reported that “about 200” piled out of three buses in Lake Barrington, Illinois, the Chicago-area protest keynoted by Jackson himself. The Philadelphia Inquirer said “about 200” showed up in Philly. The Dallas Morning News reported about 60 demonstrators in South Dallas, and AP said “about 100”attended the Washington, D.C. event held in nearby District Heights, Maryland.

Anti-gun activists were counting on good coverage if they had big turnouts, and no negative coverage if they didn’t. It’s the flip side of how the media cover pro-life rallies, downplaying enormous crowds and playing up the handful of counter demonstrators. In this case, the networks chose to look benignly in the other direction. The gun grabbers know that liberal journalists don’t like guns. Or, rather, they don’t like private citizens owning guns and taking personal responsibility for their own safety and that of their families and property.

How do we know? From the loaded coverage night after night on the networks and each day in major newspapers. A new CMI study, The Media Assault on the Second Amendment, documents seven months of media coverage of gun issues, and explains how the media are taking potshots at the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

The media had a field day during the week after the Virginia Tech campus shootings on April 16. The major broadcast networks ran nearly 30 total stories promoting gun control, with another 24 from CNN, 9 in the New York Times and 20 in the Washington Post. The message was delivered with machine-gun regularity: lack of gun control led to the massacre, so more gun laws might prevent another massacre.

Armen Keteyian of CBS Evening News quoted the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and noted that Virginia Tech (which had recently imposed a total gun ban on campus) had fought Virginia’s “hunting culture” in a desperate effort to “safeguard the student population.” Seung-Hui Cho clearly was not deterred by Tech’s gun ban.

Conspicuously absent from the coverage were the many documented cases of guns used by citizens to thwart criminals. According to a survey by the United States Journal of Criminal Law, more than 2.5 million people annually use a gun in self defense. You’d never know it from the media’s preference for lurid murder pieces.

From January 1 to July 31, 2007, ABC, NBC and CBS ran a total of 650 murder stories. During the same period, self defense cropped up once on ABC, once on NBC and was absent on CBS. ABC’s John Stossel referred to two cases of armed self defense on the May 4 edition of 20/20, and NBC’s Today Show on April 23 featured former Miss America Venus Ramey, 82, who wielded a shotgun to chase off an intruder.

During the Tech aftermath, talk radio and Internet blogs filled some of the information gap by noting relevant incidents like the two Appalachian School of Law students in 2002 who grabbed their own guns to capture a man who had killed three people on campus. The networks showed little interest in the possibility that a similarly armed Virginia Tech student or professor might have stopped Cho before he slaughtered 32 souls in Blacksburg.

Another tactic that the media are using in their assault on gun ownership is making selective, misleading comparisons to other nations. NBC anchor Brian Williams noted on April 17, the day after the Tech massacre, that Great Britain “outlawed handguns, and anyone caught with one faces a minimum prison sentence of five years. They are so opposed to guns here that not even police officers on routine patrol carry them. Now gun violence is rare.” Williams ignored Britain’s long history of strict gun laws and unarmed “bobbies,” and the recent rise in knife violence and other crime. He also declined to mention countries like Switzerland, where male citizens are required to be armed with assault rifles and ready for militia duty, but where there is little gun violence. Or South Africa, which has some of the world’s most stringent gun laws but has a rate of gun homicides of 74.57 per 100,000 population, contrasted with New Zealand, with weak gun laws and only a 0.18 rate of gun homicides per 100,000 people.

Even after the Virginia Tech story cooled, the media continued its portrayal of lawless cities in need of more gun control. A classic example was ABC World News Sunday’s hit piece on July 8 blaming “rural” Pennsylvania’s law makers for a 2007 crime wave of shootings in Philadelphia. After Rep. Steve Capelli, the single pro-gun rights legislator featured in the story, gave a statement, the camera went to a crime scene, followed by a gunshot, and then this from reporter David Kerley: “That argument is being echoed across much of the country, as rural sensibilities continue to rule the gun debate. And cities like Philadelphia prepare for another night, and another shooting death.” Rural people, bad. Rural people with guns, worse. Rural people with guns cause Philadelphians to shoot each other.

Did the anti-gun lobby get the best possible media treatment of their rallies on Tuesday? You might as well ask, “Does the Brady bunch have CBS, NBC, and ABC on speed dial?”

This article was adapted and updated from an August 28 Washington Times op-ed. CMI Senior Editor Brian Fitzpatrick assisted with the article. Robert Knight is director of the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.