23rd Annual Gun Rights Policy Conference
by Dave Workman
Countering Media Bias
“...leave no lie unchallenged.”
Gun rights activists have long been convinced that the press dislikes gun rights and has been exceedingly biased against firearms owners. They got a chance to hear how to counter this bias with the next panel, a media researcher, two talk show hosts and a newspaper editor from Hawaii.
Tim Graham with the Media Research Center, recalled a study his group did in 2000 about how the major networks approached firearm stories. Of the 653 gun-related stories, they found that 357 were tilted against gun rights, 260 were neutral and only 36 had a favorable slant toward the Second Amendment. Graham said evening news broadcasts are biased 8:1 against guns, and he also said Good Morning America is the worst offender, having run 93 stories on guns during the study period, and only one of those had a positive view of gun ownership.
“You look at that and say, ‘I’m sorry, these are not people who are trying to be fair and balanced’,” he stated.
His group also looked at media coverage of the Heller decision earlier this year. There were only 21 stories about this case, from the time it went to the Supreme Court in October 2007, through the hearing in March and ending with the June 26 ruling.
“This is not a front-burner story,” he said, “and that’s a sign you’re winning. The less stories (about guns) there are in the media, you’re winning.
“There is a bias,” he added. “You have to assume there is one. You have to go against it.”
Gresham, host of the nationally-broadcast Gun Talk every Sunday, cautioned the audience against assuming anything about reporters.
“Don’t assume that they’re out to get you,” he said. “Don’t assume that they’re stupid.”
Reporters are always looking for stories, and gun rights activists can develop relationships with these journalists so that when gun stories do come up, the activist becomes a reliable source. Gresham has known reporters who always call the Brady Campaign for information about guns, explaining that “they’re going to give us the straight scoop every time.”
Keeping in mind that “we are now in an era where the media sells fear; the media tries to scare everybody,” Gresham accused media outlets of keeping people fearful so that they come to depend upon that news outlet for information.
“Talk radio was born because the general public doesn’t trust the media,” he said.
Gresham said the public is not necessarily afraid of guns, but they have been conditioned to fear gunowners. “It’s our job to fix that,” he contended. “The reason they are afraid of us is they don’t know us.”
Gresham formed the Gun Talk Truth Squad some years ago. They are a network of thousands of volunteers who write letters to the editor, challenging editorials and news reports. His advice is to “leave no lie unchallenged.”
He also suggested taking a reporter to a gun range and letting him or her shoot, insisting that they will not be able to do a compete story without the experience. The result will be that the reporter is no longer doing a story about “them” but a story about “us.”
Kirby Wilburalso a member of the SAF board of trusteesis a talk host on Seattle’s KVI radio, with the most popular morning drive-time talk show in the region. Noting that he is the “only life member of the NRA in Seattle’s major media,” Wilbur said stories recently reported in the Seattle area included two multiple homicides in which law enforcement officers were among the victims, and both cops were female.
He suggested that reporters are ignorant on the subject of firearms. He concurred with Gresham and Graham that local gun activists should make themselves available to reporters, and offer to be of help on stories.
“Try to establish a rapport,” he said. Wilbur also recommended inviting reporters to a gun show, and bringing their attention to favorable stories about gun use, such as a woman defending herself and children.
Malia Zimmerman, editor of The Hawaii Reporter, finished the panel, noting that even in an anti-gun state like Hawaii, there are victories to be enjoyed.
She discussed the murder of a woman by a boyfriend who beat her to death in front of witnesses, including a police officer, using a shotgun. Hawaii does not have concealed or open carry so private citizens could not help the woman.
She said gun rights activists do contact reporters, and point out biases. When a story comes up, they contact reporters and ask them to the gun range for a counter-point. She also recommended testifying before the legislature.
“Now they (reporters) know who to go to when they have a story like this,” she said.
Workman was back along with other panelists to discuss the on-going threat to gun ranges, hunting on public land and the efforts to allow concealed carry in national parks.
A dilemma facing hunters is the conflict with hikers, he said. A growing number of non-firearms recreationists are taking to the woods, and while they may not have any animosity toward hunters and shooters, “they just don’t quite get it that those of us who understand the value of having a firearm.”
“It’s not that we think we’re going to need it,” he said, “but that if we do need it, we want to have it.” He urged gun owners to maintain good relations with the non-shooting public, noting that they vote.
“As you go out in the forest you become an ambassador for what we do,” he concluded. “Behave yourself, don’t shy away from a good conservation, but sometimes recognize you have to walk away from a bad one.”
Don Turner, former manager at the Ben Avery range in Phoenix and now the project manager for the Clark County, NV, Shooting Park, said gunowners are facing the reality that their shooting areas are drying up.
“The ability to shoot unregulated on private land is disappearing,” he said. “We’re going onto the public lands and the public lands are closing us out…”
A key to securing land for gun ranges is to go through Congress. Find a site, contact a member of Congress and push toward setting aside land for shooting.
“There is a problem with recreational shooting and the government,” Turner explained. “In 1974 they passed the Federal Land Management Planning Act. It was multi-recreational but guess what. They left out recreational shooting.”
Dennis Fusaro, representing the Virginia Citizens Defense League, discussed his group’s long-running effort to secure concealed carry rights inside national parks. Recalling that some people have been murdered in national parks, he said “having a firearm can save a life.”
He has had interesting and frustrating exchanges with Department of Interior bureaucrats, who insist that concealed carry in national parks would be unsafe for park visitors. One Park Service official wrote to him insisting that parks are safe places and that “right to carry laws do not reduce crime.”
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