In recent weeks, two difficult, 'hot-button' social issues have been in the news. Each is directly tied to divisive calculations that occur at the tricky intersection of morality and public policy. Each involves debating hard trade-offs in the context of a debate over individual rights and freedoms. Each features the emotional component of lethal harm done to innocent children. And the manner in which these controversies have been treated by the mainstream press has once again revealed deep, entrenched bias -- especially on these particular subjects. As the media follows the aftermath of last week's sickening mass killing at a high school in Parkland, Florida, far too much of the coverage has adopted an activist tone. Journalists have gone beyond expressing understandable and universal horror at the bloodshed, crossing into emotionalism and partisanship, framing relevant gun policy issues through the preferred prism of gun control advocates:
The implications -- or the explicit arguments, in a number of cases -- are that one side "cares" about slaughtered children, whereas the other side does not. That the shocking and atrocious details of mass murders are appealing to enlightened empathizers, but are basically ignored or even caused by those with different politics. And that the politicians who protect gun rights are bought off by hardline, deep-pocketed special interests, typified by the NRA. Yes, the above tweet from CNN's official account provides factual information, but it definitely has the look and feel public shaming. It's the sort of thing one might expect from an agenda-driven organization, which CNN insists that it's not. Meanwhile, many in the media have also trained their focus on the tool of death used by the killer: A semiautomatic AR-15 -- the most popular rifle in America, owned by millions of law-abiding citizens (more than 80 percent of gun crimes are committed by people with illegal firearms, not legal gun owners). Whenever the nation is left grappling with a disgusting tragedy like Parkland (and we are confronted with such incidents far too often, even as gun violence has dropped despite soaring gun sales) the resulting political debates follow similar patterns. We currently find ourselves in the latest round of this ugly cycle.
I've written previously that I'm open to some restrictive policy measures (one of which the president pursued this week), while emphasizing that the first step ought to involve adhering to existing laws and protocols -- which has not been the case in the lead-up to a number of recent massacres. I've also amplified the emotionally-unsatisfying but level-headed evidence that much of the "do something" crowd's so-called solutions would not be effective. I don't begrudge a single person's emotionalism in the wake of unspeakable violence -- especially intense feelings from heartbroken and reeling students whose peers were just mowed down in cold blood in the halls of a school. If you're not aghast by events like Parkland, some serious self-reflection is in order. Grief should be respected and treated with empathy, even if it's not necessarily a wise basis for crafting legislation. What I do resent is members of the media who take sides, as if there's a clear right and wrong policy response to these terrible acts. Who advance the template that people who disagree with the "correct" side's ideas don't really mind dead kids. Who scoff at or gloss over reasonable constitutional objections raised against alleged fixes for which the "correct" side is clamoring. It's disgusting, it's demagogic...and it's unpersuasive:
For so many issues, the choice is between making progress and righteous angry screaming, and righteous angry screaming is by far the winner.— Frank J. Fleming (@IMAO_) February 20, 2018
Here's the Brooks column he's referencing. It makes a painfully obvious point, yet self-righteous preening remains the default setting for many journalists when it comes to gun control. That reality is felt acutely by gun rights proponents, and is also quite clear to someone like me -- who supports the second amendment, but who is neither terribly emotionally invested in the issue, nor attached to "gun culture" in any way. And then there's this important point, hinted at above, which is quite telling:
Senate recently filibustered a 20-week abortion ban. Like GOP on guns, Dems voted against public opinion (59-35) and global standards (all but countries 7 ban it) on a life-and-death issue— Brian Riedl (@Brian_Riedl) February 21, 2018
Yet I never saw networks detailing Planned Parenthood’s $20M spending & “bought off” Dems
Gun control and abortion aren't the same things, so this is nowhere near an apples-to-apples policy comparison, but that isn't what he's getting at. Nevertheless, as I noted above, they're both highly emotional and personal, they both touch on constitutional rights (the right to bear arms appears in the bill of rights, whereas the "right" to abortion was invented by judges nearly two centuries later), and people who hold certain positions on each issue often cite the protection of children's lives as a major justification for their views. Gun control supporters also point to lopsided majorities in favor of their preferred positions. In some cases, they have a real point. But it's also true that the vast majority of Americans oppose the sorts of gun bans that (constitutionality aside) would be required to theoretically prevent the huge majority of gun violence in America -- which has dropped to near-multi-decade lows. Also, it must be said that a hypothetical reimposition of the "assault weapons ban" (gun violence fell precipitously during the ban, but kept dropping after it expired) has been opposed by numerous Democratic lawmakers -- and does not enjoy clear-cut public support, according to a new Washington Post poll:
By contrast, public opinion in favor of a late-term elective abortion ban (in the sixth month of pregnancy and beyond) is undeniable and consistent. It represents a mainstream position in support of rectifying America's global-outlier abortion laws to protect the human rights of more fully-developed unborn children who are at or near the point of viability outside of the mother's womb. Not long ago, almost every Congressional Democrat bucked strong public opinion to vote down a bill to modernize the country's unusually inhumane abortion regime. Mainstream media outlets did not start fixating on the millions of dollars Democrats have taken in by the well-funded abortion lobby in response, nor did they publish 'dishonorable mention' lists, identifying the politicians who sided "against the kids." That's because most journalists are decidedly socially liberal, and struggle to hide it -- if they even try. The juxtaposition in Riedl's tweet exposes laboratory pure bias. So does the following dichotomy I described last year:
We're often told by media apologists that the press is merely biased in favor of conflict, which helps explain why big state-level controversies on hot-button issues tend to make national news. Think of Arizona's SB 1070 on immigration, or Indiana's (grossly mischaracterized) religious freedom bill, or the ruckus over Texas' abortion law that outlawed most abortions after the fifth month of gestation. These were big national stories. Correspondents from New York and Washington descended on these state capitols, often framing Republicans as the bad guys pushing "divisive" laws. Left-wing State Senator Wendy Davis was a media darling as she fought against the Texas bill, with protesters storming the rotunda and interrupting votes. It was about "women's rights," you see. Never mind that women heavily supported the 20-week ban. Cast your mind back to those three major dust-ups I mentioned, then ask yourself whether you've heard anything about the Oregon legislation that even approaches that level of breathless, flood-the-zone coverage. This bill theoretically checks all the "conflict" boxes (except, perhaps, large organized protests disrupting legislative sessions), but passed with little notice.
When the Left wants to restrict gun rights in the name of the children, it's righteous. When the Right wants to curtail abortion 'rights,' it's a crisis -- even when the proposed law is widely popular. When 'extremists' run afoul of public polling on guns, the media broadcasts it far and wide. When pro-abortion extremists vote against the will of most voters to make the killing of children as easy as possible, including taxpayer funding for illegal immigrants' abortions, it hardly registers a blip. I'm moderately pro-gun (on principle, not in practice) and generally pro-life. Nevertheless, I understand and respect some of the arguments made by people who disagree with me, recognizing that not everything is black and white and not presuming to have an unassailable grasp on the truth. But I am profoundly bothered by a mainstream media status quo wherein newsrooms are thickly populated with like-minded progressives who consistently place their collective thumb on the scales of public opinion, particularly on heated questions like guns and abortion, while masquerading as straightforward purveyors of facts. The news media should clarify, not distort; it should provide facts and context, not engage in newsy partisanship. A man can dream.