In the wake of the horrific attack on an Orlando nightclub by a man espousing allegiance to ISIS, it didn’t take long for the Big Three networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) to advance the preferred political line of the Democrats, in this election year, to push for more gun control. Beginning on the evening following the shooting, NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt on June 12, sounded the clarion call for gun control: “Today’s terror attack brings national security and the debate over gun control to forefront of the presidential campaigns once again.”
And for the next week, an MRC study shows the broadcast network news programs flooded their shows with statements favoring gun control over gun rights by a ratio of 8 to 1.
MRC analysts reviewed all 47 gun policy stories (41 full segments, 6 anchor read briefs), plus 10 other stories that mentioned gun policy on the Big Three networks’ evening (ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News) and morning show programs (ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, NBC’s Today), beginning with the evening (June 12) after the shooting through Friday evening, June 17.
The study found a huge disparity in the airtime devoted to advancing more gun control versus arguments in favor of gun rights.
Time spent arguing in favor of more gun control overwhelmed time devoted to opposing gun rights by 65 minutes and 12 seconds, to just eight minutes and 12 seconds.
CBS was the most stridently anti-gun rights network. By a whopping 10 to 1 ratio, CBS devoted more time to arguing in favor of gun control (30 minutes, 40 seconds) to time that supported gun rights (2 minutes, 56 seconds).
NBC devoted nine times as much airtime to anti-gun rights arguments (23 minutes, 20 seconds), while matching CBS with airtime for pro-gun rights statements (2 minutes, 56 seconds.)
ABC, which seemed far less interested in serious policy discussions, still devoted more airtime to arguments in favor of gun control (11 minutes, 12 seconds) to those favoring Second Amendment rights (2 minutes, 20 seconds), a 4 to 1 ratio.
So determined to agitate their viewers into restricting gun rights, CBS may have even broken the law to achieve that end. In an anti-gun story warning about how easy it is to get dangerous weapons, aired on the June 16 edition of CBS This Morning, one of their producers participated in an undercover sting to show how, in the words of one of the talking heads aired in the piece, “Throughout most of America you can go into a store and buy an AR-15 just like you would go into Starbucks and buy a cup of coffee.”
According to the gun store in question, the CBS producer may have broken federal law: “Ms. Paula Reid came into the shop with cash, claiming she wished to purchase an AR-15 to ‘undergo training.’ She refused basic, free instruction of firearms safety under the pretense that she was using the firearm for training with a NRA certified instructor. Due to the information provided in the CBS News report filed today, I suspect Ms. Reid committed a straw purchase and procurement of a firearm under false pretenses.”
CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley, on June 15, couldn’t understand how American citizens could have their right to due process violated if wanted to legally buy a firearm for protection and their name happened to appear on a no-fly list known to be filled with errors: “The FBI had investigated the killer for possible ties to terrorism. Omar Mateen was on the terror watch list until the FBI cleared him. It seems hard to justify, but people on that terror list are still allowed to buy weapons.”
And CBS This Morning co-host Charlie Rose was enamored by the Boston Globe’s front page assault on the Second Amendment: “Pressure’s growing on Congress to act against gun violence after America’s deadliest mass shooting. Page one of this morning’s Boston Globe demands ‘Make it Stop.’”
NBC began their push for more gun control when correspondent Harry Smith closed the June 12 NBC Nightly News by yearning for action: “We have been here too many times before and with no sign that anything will change, we fear this will not be the last.”
Anti-Gun Spokesmen Outnumber Pro-Gun Spokesmen 3-to-1
When it came to spokesmen, viewers were far more likely to hear from gun control advocates like liberal Democratic Senator Chris Murphy and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton than Second Amendment defenders like GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump or Republican Senator James Inhofe. Anti-gun spokesmen were aired three times as frequently as pro-gun ones (57 to 19), while 27 spokesmen were neutral.
When anti-gun rights guests like Senator Murphy, Hillary Clinton and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson were interviewed they were celebrated and/or prodded. On the June 16 CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King sounded like an adoring fan of Senator Murphy’s: “You sent out a tweet yesterday, in the morning, that said, ‘I'm prepared to stand on the Senate floor and talk about the need to prevent gun violence for as long as I can. I’ve had #enough.’ What was the tipping point for you?...Many people are applauding you for raising the issue again.”
To Secretary Johnson, on the June 14 This Morning, King advocated: “What will it take to move the needle when it comes to gun control? People thought it would be Sandy Hook.”
When Hillary Clinton showed up on the June 13 Today show, co-host Savannah Guthrie pushed: “Continually you hear policymakers and the President say, ‘The American people are with us, they don’t think that common sense gun reforms are a problem.’ And yet, even after you have 20 first graders killed, you can't even get the bare minimum of gun legislation passed. Why is that? What needs to change?”
However, when Donald Trump was interviewed on the morning shows the following questions, with loaded language, from Guthrie on the June 13 Today show were typical: “Here’s the argument: They’re a weapon of war. They’re not a hunting rifle. They appear to be the weapon of choice for terrorists as well as the shooter of kindergartners, first graders in Newtown, as well as movie theatergoers in Aurora. Why not ban assault weapons, as Hillary Clinton just called for recently on our show?” After Trump disagreed, the co-host snidely lectured, “Can you think of an instance when somebody on the good side used an assault weapon?”
The Case for Gun Rights
While extremely rare, the occasional argument for gun rights was made. Some examples of this include CBS’s Norah O’Donnell brief, on the June 14 This Morning, when she reported “In an opinion piece [for USA Today] executive director [for the NRA] Chris Cox wrote, radical Islamic terrorists are not deterred by gun control laws. The only way to defeat them is to destroy them, not destroy the right of law-abiding Americans to defend themselves.”
NBC’s Tom Costello, on the June 14 Today, actually took the time to visit a gun range and explain to viewers crucial gun details: “The AR-15* is a semi-automatic weapon, it is not a machine gun. That means you have to pull the trigger for each individual round you fire....The NRA calls it America’s most popular gun and you hear a lot of responsible gun owners say they enjoy using that gun at gun ranges like this. They enjoy teaching their kids how to responsibly use that gun. And there’s an awful lot of anger and resentment that somebody would use that weapon for mass murder.”
*The Orlando shooter, in fact, used a Sig Sauer MCX carbine and not an AR-15 style rifle as stated in early reports.
Methodology. To assess the tilt of stories, analysts tallied the airtime of pro- and anti-gun statements by reporters, talking heads and guests in each story. Among statements recorded as anti-gun rights: violent crime occurs because of availability of guns, not criminals; and gun control prevents crime. Categorized as arguments for gun rights: gun control would not reduce crime; that criminals, not guns are the problem; examples of citizens advocating or exercising their 2nd Amendment right to self-defense, citizens should not be denied their right to due process by being denied their right to purchase a gun because they appeared on a terror watch list or no-fly list filled with errors.