Everyone can imagine the horror of a madman shooting up an elementary school, especially the horror of losing your six-year-old in the melee. But at some point, the news media's wallowing in Newtown reminds one of Don Henley's satirical song "Dirty Laundry," and how the anchors' eyes gleam through plane-crash news because "it's interesting when people die; we love dirty laundry."
The "O" word that defines the media at times like these isn't "objective." It's "opportunistic."
To be sure, the "news" manufacturers aren't hoping for a school shooting. But that doesn't mean they aren't ready to exploit it. Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen was explicit back in 1999: ""Perhaps it will take one more school shooting to move the majority of Americans into a position more powerful than that of the NRA. Perhaps it will take one more school shooting to move us from people who support gun control to people who vote it."
A new Media Research Center study reviewed a sample of 216 gun-policy stories on ABC, CBS and NBC in the first month after Newtown, from the Dec. 14 shooting through the morning after President Obama's Feb. 16 speech pushing new gun control proposals. The number is instructive. That's not 216 stories in a month on Newtown. That's 216 stories just about the policy "solution" — more gun control.
There are zero stories tilting toward a "solution" of curbing violence in TV and movies. That's because the TV networks show violent scenes nightly and are owned by companies with movie studios that profit from violent scenes. Try finding the word "violence" next to "movies" or "television" in a post-Newtown story on the TV networks where it isn't a casual afterthought.
The First Amendment is treated as sacred; the Second Amendment as profane.
As one might suspect, stories advocating more gun control dominated. But "outnumbered" is an understatement. They smothered stories tilting against gun control by 99 to 12, or more than 8 to 1.
It's easy to arrive at that results when anti-gun sound bites were aired almost twice as frequently as gun rights sound bites (228 to 134). When the Big Three network "news" operations sought out guests for interviews, the tilt was 26 to 7.
CBS won the month for being the most shamelessly tilted, with 44 anti-gun stories to just two with a gun-rights emphasis and 37 in the neutral zone. NBC was "best" with a slant of 26 to 5, and 43 neutral stories. Let's hope none of these people would assert that they're "fair and balanced" when absolutely everyone can smell the strong liberal coffee they're making.
No one at the networks waited to begin the campaign advertising disguised as "news." On the first night after the Newtown shooting, just hours after the grisly story broke, "CBS Evening News" anchor Scott Pelley was already pushing: "One wonders if the nature of this crime and the age of the victims might create the debate in Washington that could push legislation along?"
Over on NBC that night, reporter Tom Costello connected liberal dots: "In Colorado, still haunted by the Aurora and Columbine massacres, the governor of that western pro-gun state also said it's time to begin a discussion about sensible gun control. ... Tonight, with dozens dead, including so many children, the debate over guns is back."
The bias here is just loaded with urgency, because every politicized "news" advocate knows that the policy debate on guns operates on emotion, and not on facts. The facts might be the same in the first 10 days as they are three months later, but liberal journalists feel like they're going to lose the debate to the NRA's army of members in fly-over country as soon as the emotion subsides.
That's why the Senate launched an emotional gun control hearing on Jan. 30 starring former Democrat Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, a famous and tragic victim of a madman shooting. Even that Gabby story was a rerun, since the networks also promoted her saying "Enough" to the NRA on Jan. 7 on the anniversary of the Tucson shooting.
Six days before the hearing, a Senate staffer told Broadcasting and Cable magazine that the hearing would not be confined to gun control issues and could include mental health and media violence issues: "I think everything is going to come up." But while the witness panel was balanced, there was no panel of Hollywood executives to face tough questions, the way that Senators love lining up tobacco or oil-company CEOs.
After Newtown, the networks again demonstrated that there's no story on which they can't dramatically stack the deck. Liberal news stories lead to liberal legislation. They know it; and relish it.