[Ed: We present Part 2 of Dr. Brown’s detailed advice for objective reporting on the enormous, tragic, evil, shameful epidemic of guns killing and injuring so many millions of Americans. We would add that he is a tenured professor of Advocacy Journalism at the Bloomberg College of Liberal Arts, if that were true. See Part 1 here.]
The Political Debate
The Back Story
The ongoing public debate about the role of guns and gun laws in society has remained at a high level since the 1960’s. Although many good, restrictive laws have been enacted, it is important to make people believe otherwise. It is also good to imply that no debate has been going on at all when we should be having a “national conversation about guns.” Make your audience believe that the gun lobby has never given up anything. Our side just wants reasonable compromise and an honest dialogue that will give us common sense gun safety laws. There is a famous quote by John F. Kennedy, “What is mine is mine, but what is yours is negotiable,” that is our basic principle.
Mainstream Journalism mounted a massive and courageous attack on the gun lobby after the Sandy Hook gun massacre in December, 2012. By coordinating with our friends in government and gun safety groups, we were able to make our largest gains in two decades. One reason for this success is that we have finally overthrown the tired old concept that Journalists should appear to be unbiased.
2016 – A turbulent year
With the Obama administration in its final year, there is a sense of urgency in the air. Depending on the results of the November election, we could be at a severe disadvantage beginning in 2017. This stressor, combined with the opportunities provided by high profile mass shootings, makes for a chaotic and emotional news environment.
A number of gun safety advocates in the media have abandoned the cover story that we are only interested in incremental, non-threatening, gun laws. “Ban them all” is the new rallying cry.
You must pay attention to the current trends and strive to make your coverage of gun issues fit the dominant narrative, whatever it may be. The level of hysteria shown by the editorial board of the New York Times is a useful indicator of the current trend.
Corporate media managers have found that conducting hostile on-air interviews with gun lobbyists boosts ratings, so if you work on the air, you must be prepared for this kind of confrontation. Always refer to pro-gun organizations as “the gun lobby”. When talking to them on the air, give free reign to your feelings. This is a good time to be condescending and self-righteous. It is now acceptable to shout and call them names. They are evil, shameful and ignorant. We all know it, so why hide it?
Do not let them confuse you with facts. Do not try to engage them in a real discussion. Have your list of anti-gun talking points in front of you. If you must improvise, stick to the most emotional statements and questions you can think of. Don’t ever admit that any of their facts are correct. Just cut them off and move on to your next talking point without the slightest affirmation. At least half of those talking points should involve children and if your opponent disagrees, feel free to announce that they are in favor of dead children.
This is no time for honesty. For example, you can claim that you are a current or former gun owner. Our analysts believe that this gives you more credibility with the public, as long as you sound sincere, and of course that’s what you do for a living.
The Gun Lobby
The National Rifle Association should be a primary target of your words. A great deal of work has gone into nurturing a general hatred of this organization. Although the NRA is not among the top campaign contributors, you should always mention “NRA money” when discussing how they influence politicians. Their legislative lobbying efforts should be described as “arm twisting” or “threats”.
Whenever mentioning the NRA, it is important to frame that reference in the right way. For example, you can mention the most recent emotional gun incident: “On the four year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings, the NRA announced a new program to promote gun ownership.”
There are many other gun lobby groups that are smaller than the NRA, some are national, like Gun Owners of America and The Second Amendment Foundation. Some are at the state level. Try to ignore these organizations, since it detracts from our portrayal of the evil, monolithic gun lobby.
Gun owners must never be seen in a positive light. Do not mention that these misguided individuals may actually be well educated, or have respectable careers and healthy families. They should be called “gun nuts” if you can get away with it or simply gun owners at best. Mention details about their clothing, especially if they are wearing hunting clothes or hats. Mention the simplistic slogans on their bumper stickers to show that their intelligence level is low. Many gun owners drive pickup trucks, hunt helpless animals and live in rural areas. Use these details to help portray them as ignorant rednecks.
Off-air interviews of gun lobbyists
When preparing a print article on the problem of gun violence, you will often wish to interview someone from the gun lobby. This allows you to include quotes that will make your coverage seem more balanced.
Your goal, of course, is to make them look bad and their arguments ridiculous. Don’t hesitate to take their quotes completely out of context. Be aggressive and insulting. Consider bringing a second interviewer to create a tag team effect. Always ask if the lobbyist is making their own recording; if they are, you should not completely fabricate a quote. If they are not, you are free to do as you wish.
When a pro-gun group stages a public rally or demonstration, avoid covering it if possible. If you must cover it, underestimate the number who attended. Have your photo/video person arrive well before or after the peak attendance to show a smaller crowd. Pick out the most ridiculous hand-made signs and the oddest looking people, isolate them from the crowd, and make sure they are prominently featured in your visual coverage.
Try not to cover pro-gun rallies that are held on weekends. Since working people can attend, these are generally much larger than the weekday rallies. You will also find many young families with children, which is not the image you want for your story. Weekday rallies, which are scheduled to catch legislators at work, tend to be made up mostly of retired people. This fits our desired narrative of gun owners as old, white men who are on their way out.
One recent development is the staging of rallies where participants carry guns openly. On one hand, carrying guns makes them look scary and menacing to good progressive folks. On the other hand, there is never any violence at these rallies, which tends to support their point that guns prevent violence. If you must cover such a rally, I suggest that you rely on close up visuals of the weapons and try to interview a Progressive bystander who felt threatened.
Rallies to end gun violence and support common sense gun legislation are fairly common and every one must receive as much coverage as possible. Your goal is to maximize the impact by minimizing these negative factors:
Anti-gun rallies tend to be quite small, so you must overestimate the size of the crowd. Arrange your visuals so that the small number of participants seems larger. Make sure several of the professionally printed signs are in each view. Include images of moms, kids and minorities, if any, to create contrast with the image of old, white, male gun owners.
Quite often, the participants are given free transportation and free lunch by a gun safety organization. There is no reason to mention this.
If prominent public figures arrive to speak, they will often be protected by armed bodyguards. Do not point this out and do not include the bodyguards in your visuals. You must also avoid showing any counter-demonstrators or hecklers from the pro-gun side.
Face to face with real gun owners
When you are building a piece on new gun laws, you will appear less biased if you get comments from some local gun owners. This can be more productive than interviewing experienced gun lobbyists.
Don’t be afraid to interview gun owners, they are harmless even though we portray them as a menace to society. Try to solicit comments that show them in the worst possible light. Veteran reporters call this “bumpkin hunting.” Gun shows may not be your best hunting ground. You will not be allowed to conduct interviews inside a gun show, but the parking lot may be available. Gun shop owners are excellent targets. They find it hard to refuse an interview request and can usually be relied upon to make statements that play into our preferred stereotype.
You must only interview white males over age 50 who sound and look unintelligent. Make them look ridiculous, especially when they talk about gun ownership as a barrier to tyranny. Find ways to blame them for the gun violence in the inner cities or the horrific mass shootings. Never show or refer to any gun owners who are women, minorities or liberals.
If you come into contact with many gun owners, eventually one will offer to take you to a local shooting club and teach you how to shoot. This can be a very tempting offer, especially if, like most of us, you have never fired a real gun. It may also seem like a good way for you to better understand the enemy. Unfortunately, this seemingly harmless activity has led to many defections and articles that are damaging to our cause. You must not, under any circumstances, accept such an offer.
Gun safety organizations
Anti-gun organizations must be treated with care. They currently prefer to be called “gun safety” groups, but this may change in the future. Do not attempt to investigate their finances, their campaign spending or their membership, which is embarrassingly small compared to gun lobby organizations. Their money comes from a small number of millionaires and billionaires who don’t like the idea of ordinary people being armed. Do not mention this or the fact that these wealthy donors are protected by heavily armed security personnel who are not affected by gun control laws.
Dealing with inconsistencies
One of the largest problems facing the gun safety movement is that violent crime has dropped substantially in the last two decades, a time when misguided Americans have purchased guns at frightening rates and several million have acquired permits to carry hidden guns. It is critical that we keep this paradox from coming to the attention of the general public. You must avoid any mention of it, even under the most severe pressure.
Another major problem is the lack of any evidence showing that gun control laws have reduced gun violence – ignore this and say that restrictive laws are just common sense.
Many states have weakened their gun laws by allowing hidden guns or even allowing guns to be carried openly. During the debates preceding these changes in state law, predictions were made of gunfights over parking spots and “blood in the streets” of our cities. None of these predictions came true, which is somewhat embarrassing for our side. In spite of this, we should still make these same predictions in future articles about weakening gun laws. People have very short memories.
Feel secure in your advocacy journalism. The vast majority of your fellow Journalists support your activism. Simply being an urban, liberal journalist makes you one of the elite and the people should let you guide them.
The nation will be a better place when only the police and military have guns. Remember that you are doing it for the children so the end justifies the means. Some day we will all drink the Kool-Aid of victory.
When common people are eventually disarmed, the government will be all-powerful and the media will guide the government. If things don’t work out as planned, just contact me then for more helpful hints.