Too Soon! Howard Kurtz Whacks CNN for Talking Gun Control Hours After Shooting

In his Sunday show Reliable Sources, CNN host Howard Kurtz smacked the network for debating gun control less than 24 hours after Friday's tragic Aurora shooting.

"I feel so strongly about this – how about waiting a decent interval, maybe a day, until, you know, the families have had a time to absorb the shock, the victims have been identified," opined Kurtz, after calling out CNN by name. "Why this rush to do it immediately?"


Kurtz called the move "troubling" and accused television of turning the "atrocity into ideological fodder while the victims are still being treated."

Only hours after the massacre, CNN's Piers Morgan launched a Twitter crusade about the need for gun regulations. Later that afternoon, CNN hosted the Democratic Mayor of Philadelphia and asked him why his party wasn't doing more to "legislate guns".

Later that night, Morgan pushed for gun control on his prime-time show. Kurtz highlighted the segment where a Denver University law professor lectured Morgan that it was too soon to be having the debate. Morgan questioned that assertion. 

"A lot of people who don't want strengthening gun control have said this is not the day to debate it. I tell you the day to debate it, it would have been yesterday. To have prevented this from happening," Morgan ranted.

Kurtz lumped MSNBC in with CNN in his criticism, which couldn't have helped CNN's efforts to portray itself as the moderate, centrist alternative to its liberal cable news competitor. Kurtz also mentioned FOX, but that was for dismissing the importance of gun control in the conversation, not for bringing gun control into the spotlight like MSNBC and CNN.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on July 22 on Reliable Sources at 11:02 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

HOWARD KURTZ: The other troubling thing that television in particular does is to turn such an atrocity into ideological fodder while the victims are still being treated. MSNBC had a gun control debate just hours after the shootings, and there was this gun control discussion on CNN.

(Video Clip)

DAVID KOPEL, law professor, Denver University: Honestly, Piers, I think this is the wrong night to be doing this, and I really wish you'd waited to have this segment until after the funerals.

PIERS MORGAN: A lot of people have said that today. A lot of people who don't want strengthening gun control have said this is not the day to debate it. I'll tell you the day to debate it. It would have been yesterday to prevent this from happening.

(End Video Clip)

KURTZ: Other pundits said there was no need for some grand policy debate.

(Video Clip)

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Once again, we have mass murder in America and the killer is a young man who is simply out of his mind. It's nobody's fault, there's no policy deficit, it's just an atrocity that is impossible to explain.

(End Video Clip)

KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the coverage of the Colorado shooting in Minneapolis, Ana Marie Cox, political correspondent for The Guardian. And here in Washington, Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at National Review, and Bob Cusack, managing editor of the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill.

(...)

KURTZ: Ramesh Ponnuru, we saw Piers Morgan a moment ago in the early hours after this tragedy. He tweeted, "America has got to do something about its gun laws." And then Breitbart.com, the site -- the conservative site founded by the late Andrew Breitbart, threw up a big headline, "CNN, Piers Morgan Exploits 'Dark Knight' Massacre to Push Gun Control." Is a single tweet exploitation?

RAMESH PONNURU, National Review: You know, I am actually pretty latitudinarian on this. I think -- 

KURTZ: Can you define for our audience, people like me who don't quite get it?

PONNURU: I think, you know that if you actually do believe that stronger gun control laws would have prevented this from happening, which I think actually is pretty dubious, but if you do believe that, I don't see why you wouldn't make that argument on that day when people are paying attention, and it might make an impact.

KURTZ: And here's the irony, Ana Marie Cox, the same Breitbart site, this is the web site that talked about Piers Morgan exploiting the situation, throws up a headline, "James Holmes Could Be Registered Democrat." And then later was "Update: May Not Be Registered to Vote." 

(...)

ANA MARIE COX, political correspondent, GQ: And, you know, people die from gun violence all the time. Chicago has seen a wave of violence that regularly has double-digit people dying over a single weekend. And that doesn't get coverage. You know, that doesn't get – the kind of killings that happen every day that could be prevented aren't getting the kind of coverage that this gets. 

KURTZ: Well, they certainly get local coverage. But the national media don't turn it into some kind of crusade. 

(...)

KURTZ: Now, I would agree with Ramesh to this extent – gun control, what kind of weapons are used, other security matters, we saw Virginia Tech – legitimate part of the debate, but I feel so strongly about this – how about waiting a decent interval, maybe a day, until, you know, the families have had a time to absorb the shock, the victims have been identified. Why this rush to do it immediately?

BOB CUSACK, managing editor, The Hill: Well, if you talk to gun-control advocates, they are just so frustrated because we've had these shooting massacres. And the NRA is very, very powerful in Washington and in the halls of Congress. And Democrats have shied away from the gun-control debate. So when they see this, they're just -- they want to speak out because they have an ability to possibly influence the debate.

KURTZ: Because they have the nation's attention for this rare moment because most of the time the attitude among journalists in Washington is – well, gun control, it's not going anywhere, both parties consider it a political loser. 

CUSACK: Right. Exactly. That's right.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014