At DRGO we’ve often written about advocacy science, which really isn’t science at all. Rather, it is politics masquerading as science. There’s also such a thing as advocacy journalism, which really isn’t journalism at all. It is politics masquerading as journalism.
DRGO recently was approached by Kaiser Health News reporter Shefali Luthra for a story on the latest pediatric journal article aimed at shoring up the case for doctors probing their patients about guns in their homes.
The Journal of Pediatrics article surveyed parents in several urban pediatrics practices, probing their attitudes on pediatricians questioning them about their gun ownership. The matter has assumed urgency among the anti-gun rights pediatric academic establishment because of ongoing federal litigation over Florida’s law prohibiting politically motivated questioning by doctors looking to advance organized medicine’s gun prohibition agenda. DRGO has been intimately involved in this firearm civil rights matter for years.
Luthra and I got off to an awkward start when she couldn’t assure me that DRGO would be credited by name in her article. Why wouldn’t it, some readers may wonder. It won’t shock you to know that DRGO, like other pro-firearm civil rights organizations, has routinely been treated unfairly by mainstream media. For that reason, after reviewing of Kaiser Health News’s left-leaning media articles, I requested up front that our organization be credited. Luthra wouldn’t give me that assurance, claiming that it wasn’t her call.
At my request she checked with an editor, who she said backed up her refusal. I declined to do the interview, because her expectation of my expert review of the journal article and commentary without even saying where it came from was entirely unreasonable.
My complaint to a senior KHN editor prompted a quick reply that Luthra had misunderstood my request (although I had repeated it in simple language several times, so I seriously doubt that) and she would indeed cite DRGO in her article.
Luthra called me back, we did the interview, and her article went online later that night. As you can see, the couple of hours I spent on the whole project were hardly worth the time. After all that, she devoted only 4%—a mere 47 words out of her 1,090-word article—to the opposing viewpoint I presented. And the point she chose to report was a minor one, completely ignoring the main elements.
I should have known Luthra was acting in bad faith when I asked her if she was aware that owning guns for self-defense is an enumerated constitutional right, and she completely ignored the question.
Luthra and Kaiser Health News give us yet another example of what I call the sandwich method for dishonest and unbalanced reporting on anything related to firearms. Reporters and editors at leftist publications like Kaiser Health News and the Washington Post seem to believe they can inoculate themselves against charges of bias by pretending to include an opposing viewpoint.
The sandwich method followed by most hoplophobic “news” reporters uses these three elements:
- A rousing introduction with a summary of the journal article’s findings. This includes a quotation from the lead author, but also quotations and talking points from prominent anti-gun rights public health academics. Luthra packed quotes from four such people into her article.
- The middle of the sandwich consists of a few lines from one person on the opposing side, usually some minor point and not the essence of the opposing position. This person’s input is often diminished by the author paraphrasing and not directly quoting the opposition. And that’s exactly what Luthra did here. Sometimes this source isn’t even named, even further diluting the message. In this case I had to appeal to an editor for the simple courtesy of DRGO being credited.
- Then quickly back to the honors, attaboys, and more anti-gun rights talking points, with the “reporter” concluding by hammering home the anti-gun rights message of the journal article.
Luthra knew, because I told her, that Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership had been involved for years in the so-called Docs vs. Glocks controversy. But she also could have perused our website, to which I referred her several times. She would then have known we had published articles on the ethics and politics of the issue and had sent a representative to an American Medical Association Litigation Committee meeting to present our case against the practice of doctors asking about guns.
While clicking around our website Luthra could also have easily accessed three amicus curiae briefs that DRGO and our umbrella organization the Second Amendment Foundation have filed in the federal Docs vs. Glocks litigation. She did learn enough about the Docs vs Glocks case to track down and quote one of the plaintiff doctors challenging the Florida law, but chose not to reference DRGO’s strong defense of the law detailed in our federal court briefs.
Reviewing this rich source of perspective would have been routine research for an honest reporter. But Luthra couldn’t be bothered, preferring instead to check off the “balanced reporting” box by tossing us 47 words of nothing.
According to Luthra, she contacted the NRA for comment on the journal article but didn’t get a response. I suspect that NRA leaders concluded long ago that cooperating in good faith with agenda-driven media outfits like Kaiser Health News is pointless, since their comments would inevitably be mangled by scheming hoplophobes pretending to be honorable reporters.
At DRGO we have seen a few media types willing to redeem themselves through more balanced reporting, usually after being shamed into it. But we will think twice before talking to Shefali Luthra or anyone else at Kaiser Health News ever again.
—Timothy Wheeler, MD is director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of the Second Amendment Foundation.