WashPost Still Upset on Page One That Newtown Wasn't 'Transformative Moment' for Gun Control

Sunday's Washington Post seemed to arrive about two months late with a dominating front-page story on mourning Newtown parents Mark and Jackie Barden. Much of the Eli Saslow story was a heart-breaking account about the aftermath of their son Daniel's death in the grade-school rampage.

But the Post also wanted to drive home the anger that Newtown did not create a gun-control victory for Obama and the Bardens, as Mark introduced the president on April 17, when Obama called it a "pretty shameful day" that the gun-rights advocates had won. "Gun culture was extreme," Barden thought, and it couldn't be moderated.

In large bold type, Saslow's message preached on the inside pages:

They were coming to the truth of what Newtown would become. Would it be the transformative moment in American gun policy? Or another Columbine, Virginia Tech, Gabby Giffords, Aurora -- one more proper noun added to an ever-growing list?

"We just want every one of these lawmakers to see you. We want them to feel your loss and understand what's at stake."

The first pull quote was Saslow, but the second was a Delaware politician trying to pass a gun-control bill. The second one was placed just above a photo of Obama sympathetically patting Barden on the back in the Rose Garden. Saslow added a little detail to that day:

When the Senate vote failed, Mark was asked to introduce President Obama for a speech in the Rose Garden. “Let’s go rip some bark off it,” Obama told him. And yes, Mark was angry, too — angry enough that his hands balled into fists and trembled at the podium — but mostly he was unmoored. “So what does all of this add up to now?” he had asked a White House employee later that day, when the speeches ended.

Because if it amounted to nothing at all, what was the logic, the order, the meaning of their broken lives?

What was the meaning of the anger he felt lately while shopping at Costco, hoping one of the strangers in the aisles might be a gun nut who would recognize and approach him, so he had an excuse to shout back?

Notice "gun nut" doesn't have to be put in quotes.

The other politically interesting part of this story was how the distraught parents are molded and shaped by P.R. consultants to say the market-tested things so they can win. After losing in D.C., the parents were brought to Delaware, where Democratic Gov. Jack Markell was pushing a bill that Mark Barden thought had too many exceptions:

But the past five months had taught Mark and Jackie that simplicity and innocence didn’t work in politics. Neither did rage or brokenness. Their grief was only effective if it was resolute, polite, purposeful and factual. The uncertain path between a raw, four-minute massacre and U.S. policy was a months-long grind that consisted of marketing campaigns, fundraisers and public relations consultants. In the parents’ briefing book for the Delaware trip, a press aide had provided a list of possible talking points, the same suggestions parents had been given in Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.


“We are not anti-gun. We are not for gun control. We are for gun responsibility and for gun safety laws,” one suggestion read.

“I am here today to honor my child’s memory,” read another.

“The Sandy Hook shooter used 30-round magazines. He fired 154 bullets in four minutes, murdering 20 children and six adults,” read one more.

Now, at this latest news conference, the governor finished his introduction and a reporter raised his hand to ask a question. “This one is for the parents,” he said. “How would a high-capacity ban prevent something like the carnage at Sandy Hook?”

Carnage? Mark squeezed Jackie’s hand. She stared down at the floor. He looked up at the cameras.

“The bills on the table here make good, common sense,” he said.

“This is not about banning or confiscation,” Hockley said.

“We are here to honor our children,” Marquez-Greene said.

“Our shooter used high-capacity magazines to fire 154 bullets,” Hockley said.

“Please know, this is not about gun control but gun responsibility,” Mark said, as the governor nodded in affirmation.

“So polished,” the press secretary told Mark afterward,  squeezing his shoulder, and it was true. He never lost his temper. He always made eye contact. He spoke in anecdotes that were moving and hopeful.

As you might expect, the attempts to lobby for gun control could in no way make up for the loss of a child. But that doesn't mean the liberals wouldn't try their hardest to exploit the grief for political gain if it could work.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis