The Power of Media Bias: Most Americans Wrongly Believe Gun Violence Has Increased

The extent of the media's influence to shape public opinion was on full display in a new Pew Research Center poll that shows, even though gun crime has dropped by half since its peak in the mid '90s, most Americans (56 percent) wrongly think gun violence has increased.

In an L.A. Times article that highlighted the poll, Emily Alpert posited "It's unclear whether media coverage is driving the misconception that such violence is up. The mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., were among the news stories most closely watched by Americans last year, Pew found."

According to a recent MRC study there is nothing "unclear" about media coverage "driving the misconception" that violence is up. The MRC found, in the wake of the Newtown shootings alone, the Big Three (ABC, CBS and NBC) networks flooded their programs with 216 panicked segments that discussed gun policy. The study also found stories advocating more gun control outnumbered stories opposing gun control by 99 to 12, or a ratio of 8 to 1.

On Tuesday, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that the number of gun killings fell by 39 percent between 1993 and 2011. Yet as Alpert noted, the Pew poll found a huge disparity in statistic reality and the perception of Americans:

"Despite the remarkable drop in gun crime, only 12% of Americans surveyed said gun crime had declined compared with two decades ago, according to Pew, which surveyed more than 900 adults this spring. Twenty-six percent said it had stayed the same, and 56% thought it had increased."        

On Tuesday night NBC's Brian Williams and CBS's Scott Pelley actually reported on the drop in gun crime on their evening shows, but both failed to mention the Pew Research Center results, ABC has yet to report on either.

The following briefs were aired on the May 7 editions of NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley:
 

BRIAN WILLIAMS: In light of the post-Newtown gun debate in this country some new stats from the Justice Department show that, on the whole, gun related crime is actually much lower than it was two decades ago. Gun murders dropped a full 39 percent between ‘93 and 2011. Other gun crimes fell even more sharply, down 70 percent. But 70 percent of all murders are still committed with guns, most of them handguns.

SCOTT PELLEY: You know we've seen so many high profile murders involving guns we were surprised today when the Justice Department reported that gun violence has declined sharply in the past two decades. In 1993 there were 18,000 homicides involving firearms. In 2011 there were just over 11,000. That is a drop of 39 percent.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.