Fairness: Gun Control Advocates Get Five Times More Coverage on CNN's The Situation Room

January 31st, 2013 11:44 AM

Viewers who tuned in to Wednesday's The Situation Room were bombarded with over five times as much coverage of gun control advocates than of the lone gun rights advocate Newt Gingrich.

Host Wolf Blitzer tossed plenty of softball questions to gun control advocates Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mark Kelly, husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), but he grilled Gingrich on background checks.

Blitzer actually goaded Kelly, a gun control activist, to persuade viewers to accept stricter gun laws: "But there are still so many gun owners out there who oppose any kinds of restrictions, if you will, on these kinds of weapons. So look in the camera. Talk to them, and tell them why this is the time for action."     

In addition to two lengthy interviews of Kelly and Feinstein, CNN replayed most of the Kelly interview and played up his wife's "very, very dramatic, emotional speech" asking Congress to take action on guns.

Blitzer praised it as "very, very impressive" and spent part of his interview with Kelly asking about the speech. "She spoke from the heart. And what does she want – what do you want, in a nutshell, the United States Congress right now to do?" he prodded the activists to call for gun control.

In his interview with Feinstein, Blitzer teed her up to bash the NRA. After playing a clip of her calling the NRA "venal," Blitzer simply asked Feinstein, "I just want you to elaborate on what you mean by 'venal.'"

In contrast, Blitzer and co-host Kate Bolduan spent their interview with Gingrich grilling him on background checks. "Shouldn't we tighten the laws right now? Forget about the assault weapons ban or magazines, just on background checks. Why not tighten the laws to save lives?" Blitzer asked.

Below are transcripts of the interviews, which aired on January 30 on The Situation Room:

4:14 p.m. EST

WOLF BLITZER: Today's Senate hearing on guns started with a very, very dramatic, emotional speech by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who survived a gunshot to her head by a would-be assassin just two years ago.

(Video Clip)

Former Congresswoman GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D-Ariz.): Thank you for inviting me here today. This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats and Republicans. Speaking is difficult but I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you. Thank you.

(End Video Clip)

BLITZER: That was very, very impressive, as you saw. Giffords' husband, the retired astronaut Mark Kelly, was right at her side this morning testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee for hours afterwards. And Mark Kelly is here in The Situation Room. He just came over from the White House. First of all, let's talk about your wife. How did she prepare for that? Because that's really the first time we heard her speak like that over these past two years.


BLITZER: And we saw the handwritten notes that – what her speech therapist had prepared, had wrote those out there. They are right there on the screen. She was basically reading from those handwritten notes.

MARK KELLY, husband of Gabrielle Giffords: Yeah. Some of it. And you could see sometimes she's looking up and she even ad libed a little bit at the time. But I think the most important thing is hopefully the senators and the people hearing this and hearing her take something away from that message, that this is really serious and we need to do something.

BLITZER: She spoke from the heart. And what does she want – what do you want, in a nutshell, the United States Congress right now to do?


KELLY: We, first of all, need to have a universal background check. We need to close the gun show loophole. We need to do something about mental illness in this country. And then for us, specifically from what happened in Tucson, high-capacity magazines. I don't think anybody has the need for a 33-round magazine like Jared Loughner had or a 100-round magazine that was used in Colorado. And then the assault weapons. We really need to seriously look at the lethality at these weapons and why they are so prevalent in our society.

BLITZER: Because the prevailing wisdom here in Washington is maybe you'll get something on background checks, but when it comes to the magazines and assault-type weapons, that's a major uphill struggle.


BLITZER: But there are still so many gun owners out there who oppose any kinds of restrictions, if you will, on these kinds of weapons. So look in the camera. Talk to them, and tell them why this is the time for action.

KELLY: Well, I mean, I could just say, you know, we've had many, many mass murders in this country. We've had a lot of them. Especially -- especially recently. What we saw in Newtown and Colorado and Tucson, I mean, this is unacceptable. I mean, I think people understand that when somebody does a mass shooting and they use a semi-automatic weapon and an assault rifle, twice as many people are hurt and injured. It's not -- it's something that needs to be addressed. But more than that, as a universal background check and closing the gun show loophole, we really need to make sure that criminals, the mentally ill, terrorists do not have access to firearms. You know, in fact, 72 percent of NRA members believe there should be universal background check before buying a gun. 72 percent. Or 74 percent. You would think that the head of the NRA who testified today would agree with that position. But he doesn't.

BLITZER: Because here's what a lot of people don't understand. Maybe – you have a new group, Americans for Responible Solutions. You and Gabby have launched this group. This is going to be your cause now, right?


BLITZER: Why should someone who's on a no-fly list, or someone who is a criminal, if you will, be able to go to a gun show, or from a private sale go ahead and buy a gun without any background checks?

KELLY: Well they shouldn't be.

BLTIZER: Has anyone given you a good explanation for that?

KELLY: Well, I mean, I think with the –

BLITZER: Did you hear Wayne LaPierre give you a good explanation for that?

KELLY: He gave an explanation. I don't think it was a good explanation. His explanation was basically more bureaucracy. It creates more bureaucracy. But I know –

BLITZER: But it might save lives.

KELLY: It would save lives. Absolutely would save lives.


BLITZER: Even if you make it much more difficult to get it, that potentially could save some lives.

KELLY: It also gives you time. If you make it more difficult, maybe in that period of time he would have gotten some treatment.

BLITZER: Americans for Responsible Solutions, is that going to be, if you have your way, the counter to the NRA?


BLITZER: One final question at the end, we saw you shaking hands with Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association. Did you exchange any words? Did you say anything to each other?

KELLY: Yeah I think I said, nice to meet you and enjoyed testifying with you today.


5:31 p.m. EST

WOLF BLITZER: In all seriousness, you've been through this debate for 18 years. What's different now?

Sen. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-Calif.): Well, what is different now is that the weapons have increased in firepower, in velocity, in kill-power.


BLITZER: I want to get to the politics in a moment, and a likely vote in the Senate and the House. But you were on CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley on Sunday, and you said this.

(Video Clip)

FEINSTEIN: The NRA is venal. They come after you. They put together large amounts of money to defeat you. They did this in '93 and they intend to continue it.

(End Video Clip)

BLITZER: I just want you to elaborate on what you mean by "venal."

FEINSTEIN: Well, what I mean by "venal" is just that. They raise money, if you vote against them, to defeat you. And particularly with members of the House, they have been successful. Jack Brooks, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Tom Foley, at the time the Speaker, both were defeated. Now, the NRA has been raising a lot of money from gun companies now. Gun companies are supporting this. The NRA is encouraging programs that give these weapons to youngsters as young as 8 and 9 years old. I've got to wonder what's happening to this country. So every single poll shows that a dominant majority of Americans want to ban military-style assault weapons. Every single poll shows that. The question is, will America stand up and will America take this case to the Midwest, to the South where it is very difficult to obtain a vote?

BLITZER: Listen to Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, at the hearing this morning.

(Video Clip)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, executive vice president, National Rifle Association: Unfortunately, we've seen a dramatic collapse in federal gun prosecutions in recent years. Overall, in 2011, federal firearms prosecutions per capita were down 35 percent from their peak in the previous administration. That means violent felons, violent gang members and drug dealers with guns and the mentally ill possess firearms are not being prosecuted.

(End Video Clip)

BLITZER: Does he have a point there?

FEINSTEIN: Well, he may. I don't really know about that. But we will look at it. I do know this. That a violent felon can buy a gun at a gun show, no questions asked, even if it is a .50 caliber sniper rifle, an AK-47, a sophisticated Bushmaster. He can buy it. I do know that you can buy any amount of ammunition on the internet. I do know that clips, high-capacity magazines are cheap and easily available. So anybody can put together any kind of an arsenal they want. Criminal, terrorist, he's right about that. Now, the question comes, what kind of gun laws will the National Rifle Association support? In the time I was at the hearing, this question was more or less asked of Mr. LaPierre, and he did not answer it. Essentially, they believe that you don't need to do anything, just enforce laws. The Brady gun checks, for example – a database, a product of the tea art legislation, the next day you have to dissolve it. So the NRA has been very artful in moving forward to really put opposition to enforcement at the same time they're complaining about it.

BLITZER: It's not just the NRA, but you've some problems with some prominent Senate Democrats as well. I know that Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has a different perspective than you do and maybe even the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Do you have these senators, these Democratic senators on board?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I can tell that you Patrick Leahy voted for the bill in 1994. I can't comment on Senator Reid. Look, everybody says, do you have every vote? The answer is no. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Look, what happened in Connecticut at Sandy Hook, the ripping apart of bodies of five and six year-olds. A mother who gave her son a gun when that son shouldn't have been anywhere near a gun, shows the falsity of the situation that we live in now. We've got to change that and we've got to protect our schools. You can't just protect them with guards. I have no problem with guards. There was a deputy sheriff armed at Columbine. He couldn't hit the sniper or the shooter that was in that school. So we have to keep these weapons, which are military weapons, out of the hands of gang-bangers, of mental incompetents, of people who would use them for bad purposes.


WOLF BLITZER: Let's talk about universal background checks. Criminals, they can go and buy a gun, legally. Just go to a gun show, if you will, or from a friend or a neighbor. People on the no-fly list. They can go out -- they can't fly, but they can go buy guns. Shouldn't there be universal background checks, to make sure bad guys simply can't go buy a weapon?

NEWT GINGRICH, former Speaker of the House: Look, first of all, there are, I think, over 70,000 convicted felons who have been reported having trying to buy a gun, who were checked by the current background checks. This administration has prosecuted virtually none of them. Now, if we already have a law, if the law is not even being enforced, there's something fundamentally wrong with this.

Second, when you go to – and you've heard me talk about this before, that the No. 1 place they should hold hearings is Chicago. 80 percent of the killings in Chicago are gang-related. Tragedy, I think, today or yesterday, of a wonderful young woman, who had a great high school record, who was at the inaugural, who was killed by being near gang members, all right? Those gang members aren't going to go someplace that has a background check. I mean, what we do in this country is, there's a whole group of people who say, "Gee, why don't we harass the innocent, because we don't have the guts to stand up to the criminals?"

BLITZER: I don't think anybody wants to harass the innocent. I don't think anyone – everybody wants to enforce – I agree, we should be enforcing the current laws, but why should a criminal just be able to go to a gun show or a terrorist, if you will, and buy a gun?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all –

BLITZER: If you were on the no-fly list, for example, you would not be -- you would not be cleared to buy a gun. You can't go get on an airplane. Shouldn't we tighten the laws right now? Forget about the assault weapons ban or magazines, just on background checks. Why not tighten the laws to save lives?

GINGRICH: I think background checks that involve any kind of a commercial dealer should be required, and frankly, even at gun shows, commercial dealers run background checks. Because they're commercial dealers.

Now you're telling me that my cousin, who's about to sell a deer rifle to his nephew, is going to run a background check? I mean, at what level of intrusiveness – why do the innocent – we refuse to go after the criminals, and this is a problem in every major American city, except New York. We refuse to go after the criminals. We refuse to take down the people who aren't legally allowed to have guns –

BOLDUAN: But what about this –

GINGRICH: By the way, when they did it in Richmond, they had a very tough check people – if you have a gun and you're a felon, you're gone. That program radically reduced the murder rate in Richmond.

BOLDUAN: But even the former vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, he's come out to say that we should be looking at this so-called gun show loophole. Do you not think that that should be looked at?

GINGRICH: You can look at the gun show loophole, and then when people who decide -- the people you're describing, who want to get a gun ,who are bad people, figure out, "okay, I'm not going to go to the gun show, I'll be in the parking lot."

BOLDUAN: So you think there's nothing –

GINGRICH: I'll meet you at the Denny's. Well, I think, first of all, take on 70,000 felons who have already been identified. And the morning you see the Obama administration interested in action rather than politics, you're going to have a different kind of tone. But we also should – we should be looking at two things. What are those psychiatric problems, and to what degree does the federal privacy law make it almost impossible to identify people who have psychological problems?

I suspect we're going to find this tragic situation in Alabama right this minute involves somebody with a deep psychological problem. And then, second, I think we have to look at what is happening in big cities where it is, in fact, largely pistols that are involved, and largely gangs that are involved?