How the media shape gun policy

How the media steer the public policy on firearms

After every tragedy with a gun involved there are stages of the media that are much like the stages of grief.

  1. Denial:  Not denial of the tragedy, denial that the suspect, victim or both had a gun.  Did government give them permission?  Was it registered?  Because regular people don't have guns and the ones who do don't carry them.  You can observe this in any "event" reporting - stammering "reporters" clamoring for the right gun language to use, and the opportunity to interject their gun questions into the conversation with whomever they can find that will talk.
  2. Guilt:  They should have done something; maybe an expose on how easy it is to get guns, proliferation of guns, gun violence or something else to demonize guns and prevent this from happening.  The mentality of "if we'd only been talking about this sooner" can be heard through the voice, or even perceived through the written word.
  3. Anger and bargaining:  This is where the media are particularly dangerous.  By this point they have had time to absorb the impact of what has happened.  Their guilt has turned to anger at what happened and more importantly what they can do about guns.  Now they are plotting to find some token pro-gun people but will scour the earth for the head of Brady, VPC and other "name" firearms confiscation advocates.
  4. Depression, reflection, loneliness:  The overwhelming feeling of sorrow that the media has not done enough to have firearms confiscated from the citizens' hands.  It is in this period that the melancholic press tries to humanize the loss, and reiterate the magnitude of the event and then tie it to a firearm.
  5. The upward turn:  The media have successfully engaged firearms confiscation advocates and gotten the comments they want, they have talking points and now they need face time with the government.  The media will SHOW THEM!
  6. Reconstruction / working through:  The first few interviews with the media and elected officials.  This is where the public policy on firearms is born in modern America. Not in some bureaucrat's office, not in the halls of legislative bodies but on the pages of newspapers, in the airwaves of radio and television and in the deep bowels of cyberspace.  This is where the media effect public policy by cleverly steering the "event" discussion with their government representatives.  Some are more skilled at it than others but the basic gist of this is that if the government person doesn't agree, or isn't "willing to compromise" they won't be invited back for an interview.  Only those who agree or show a willingness to "go along" get more face time.  Legislators LIVE for face time with the media and so will say what the public or in this case the press wants to hear.  The media shower the politicians with praise for doing so, feeding the politician's ego and spurring them to action.
  7. Acceptance and Hope:  Now the media have achieved the turning of a tragedy into their political cause.  They've gone from denial to an agreement to legislate.

That's a nut shell view of how the media are able to turn a tragedy into legislative action.  The media in America wield tremendous power on public policy because they have the "ear of the people and politicians".  As with all human beings they cannot be unbiased.  All of us have a belief system that is the result of our learning and our ignorance in some cases of things.  These beliefs come all of the collective experiences we have over a lifespan and contribute to our behavior.  Just like employees everywhere, reporters want to be 'promoted' or recognized for their work.  Above reporters are editors. Reporters use their writing "style" to help get them noticed, their interview skill in getting answers to tough questions while appearing to be fair to get themselves noticed.  So they hide editorializing in plain sight.  Flowery language, catchy and sometimes humorous plays on words, double entendre and of course controversy help get them noticed.  Getting noticed once is not enough so in order to be consistently noticed sometimes they have to "gin up" controversy where there really isn't any.  If they don't get noticed they don't get to be editors.  What do editors do? Write editorials.  The editorials that do your thinking for you, tell you how to feel, and what to do about it.

WHY on earth would you or anyone rely on a newspaper editor to shape your opinion?  If you've read this far, you probably think you don't let the press shape your opinions and you may be right on the issues you are passionate about but what about on issues that you are not as passionate about?  For people who are not as passionate about firearms they are influenced by the media.

This is why the media need to be engaged and challenged the same way we confront politicians.