All three network newscasts on Monday and the morning shows on Tuesday promoted Barack Obama's "urgent plea" for gun control. These programs pushed the emotional angles, focusing on the Newtown families. Opposition to new restrictions on the Second Amendment was mostly ignored. On World News, guest host George Stephanopoulos hyped, "Tonight, urgent plea. The President goes all out in the fight over guns in America. Calling in the families of the children slain in Newtown." [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
Reporter Jon Karl parroted administration talking points: "The President portrayed his gun plan as a moral imperative." The ABC reporter then played two clips of Obama, including one where he lectured, "This is not about me. This is not about politics." (How can journalists allow a politician promoting legislation to get away with saying something "isn't about politics"?) Karl also highlighted Gabby Giffords's husband arguing for more restrictions, but no pro-Second Amendment voices. On the CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley introduced three segments on gun control.
Pelley talked to the families of Newtown and framed the issue as to how it impacts the President's gun plans: "Do any of you fear that after only four months the impact of this on the Congress is beginning to fade and the memory of how we felt on that day is beginning to fade?"
In total, Pelley featured one segment on Obama's speech, another with the families on Newtown and yet another on the fate of the legislation in Congress. In all of that, the anchor allowed only one question voicing opposition. Talking to the families, he wondered, "But gun rights activists make the argument: This wouldn't have helped in Sandy Hook."
On the NBC Nightly News, Chuck Todd reminded viewers that this could be Obama's "last best chance to do something meaningful to reform America's gun laws."
Todd, too, ignored pro-gun voices and even explained what the White House's talking points were: "It's an orchestrated media campaign designed to restore the moment for reform and counter the efforts of the pro-gun lobby which had stalled that momentum."
With no sense of irony, Todd played right into that "orchestrated media campaign," helpfully paraphrasing, "Brian, the president made a plea to gun owners saying he believes in the Second Amendment, that he understands their rights and understands why they want to own a gun." The journalist added, "He is simply trying to stop random violence."
On Tuesday's Good Morning America, George Stephanopoulos returned for more loaded language. The GMA host intoned, "Emotional journey. President Obama brings the Newtown families to Washington on Air Force One. A mother wiping away tears as they board."
Journalist Jeff Zeleny narrated Obama's reaction to the families: [The President] stood watch as the group of mothers and fathers walked down the steps to make their way to the Capitol where they're asking tough questions today."
On CBS This Morning, Charlie Rose highlighted how the "push for gun control turns personal today." A segment by Nancy Cordes featured clips by Obama, Newtown families and Harry Reid. Yet, nothing from pro-gun rights groups.
NBC's Today on Tuesday ignored the topic.
If a Republican President were making a last ditch, "urgent plea" to get his or her agenda back on track, it's unlikely that compliant journalists would be so helpful. Yet, reporters on the networks are all too happy to play into Obama's media strategy.
A transcript of the April 8 World News segment is below:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Tonight, urgent plea. The president goes all out in the fight over guns in America. Calling in the families of the children slain in Newtown. But is America resisting change?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Good evening, Diane is on assignment tonight and President Obama is on the road making an emotional plea. You see him right there in Hartford, Connecticut, just 40 from miles from the Newtown shootings. Pressing lawmakers to punch through the stalemate and pass something on gun control. He laid out an ambitious agenda after Newtown. But much of it has already been blocked and resistance is growing. So as the President scrambles for a compromise, he's taking dramatic steps. When he leaves Connecticut tonight, 11 relatives of the Newtown victims will join him on Air Force One. They’ll make their pitch to Congress tomorrow face to face. A last ditch intensely human pitch. ABC’s Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl starts us off.
JONATHAN KARL: The President portrayed his gun plan as a moral imperative.
BARACK OBAMA: This is not about me. This is not about politics. This is about doing the right thing for all the families who are here that have been torn apart by gun violence. It's about them. And all the families going forward, so we can prevent this from happening again.
KARL: He invoked the memory of those gunned down in Newtown, Connecticut almost four months ago.
OBAMA: If there's even one step we can take to keep somebody from murdering dozens of innocents in the span of minutes, shouldn't we be taking that step?
KARL: But even before Congress starts voting on guns, two major parts of the President's plan, banning so-called assault weapons and banning high capacity ammunition clips are unlikely to pass. The measure that has the best chance, requiring background checks for all gun sales. To pass that, the President is hoping to have an unlikely ally. Republican Pat Toomey, who has a lifetime A rating from the NRA and is one of the most conservative Senators. He's now trying to craft a compromise that would require background checks on all sales except for those between close relatives and friends. Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly are gearing up for a big lobbying push this week, saying that improving background checks is something Congress simply must do.
MARK KELLY: Gabby will be incredibly disappointed, as I imagine a large part of this country will be if a universal background check bill is not passed here.
KARL: Those Newtown family members flying back to Washington tonight with the president on Air force one will be a big part of his push for his plan in Congress. This week George as one senior administration official told me a short while ago, there's no more effective advocate on this than a parent who's lost a child.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Jon I know they're hoping to push this compromise on background checks and that Senators have been working through the weekend. Anything new on that?
KARL: Well I can tell you that I’ve talked to some of the president's allies on the hill about this just a short while ago. They think there is a 50-50 chance that they can get that compromise done and passed in the Senate. George the key factor is obviously Pat Toomey, the Republican Senator, but also the NRA. How big a push do they make against this? That’s the big question.