The National Rifle Association is distorting a survey that experts say already uses questionable methodology to claim that the vast majority of police don't believe background checks will reduce violent crime.
The Washington Post's website is currently displaying an NRA ad which states, "80% of police say background checks will have no effect on violent crime."
But the poll in question, conducted by the law enforcement news portal PoliceOne, does not ask respondents whether they believe background checks will have an effect on violent crime. As Slate's William Saletan has noted, the only question in the survey that produced results similar to the ones the NRA cited was the question, "Do you think that a federal law prohibiting private, non-dealer transfers of firearms between individuals would reduce violent crime?" The bipartisan background check amendment currently under discussion in the Senate would not impact private, non-dealer transfers; it would only require background checks for commercial sales.
Moreover, the survey's methodology raises questions about its results. It is not a random sample, but rather a survey completed by the 3 percent of registered current and former law enforcement officers who are members of PoliceOne and chose to respond.
Academic polling experts who Media Matters contacted said this approach is questionable, because the self-selection of respondents can bias the sample. University of Michigan Professor Michael Traugott, for example, told Media Matters that "one issue that would be of particular concern is that the survey was completed by self-selected respondents," which the Public Opinion Quarterly editor said could have skewed the results.
Other experts highlighted that the survey examines only members of PoliceOne. "How representative of all police officers are PoliceOne's members to begin with?" said Columbia University professor Robert Shapiro, a co-author of award-winning books on public opinion research. "And how does the sample compare with all police officers demographically?" Temple University's Christopher Wlezian, another editor at Public Opinion Quarterly, likewise commented that the problem with the survey is "the fact that we don't know whether the sample of respondents is representative of the population of police officers."
With the Senate poised to take up a bill to strengthen gun laws -- including a provision to expand the background check system to cover Internet sales -- The New York Times has published a report detailing the "unregulated bazaars" of Internet arms sales.
Right-wing media and the National Rifle Association have been fervent opponents of proposals to expand the background check system. The Times report indicates just what they have been supporting - an unregulated marketplace in which, at a single website, more than 20,000 ads are posted each week for guns that can be purchased by felons and those with mental illness without undergoing a background check.
The Times detailed how they contacted Omar Roman-Martinez, a Colorado felon banned from owning guns who nonetheless was posting want ads at the gun sales portal Armslist.com seeking to buy a handgun for $250 cash. The Times explained:
The mere fact that Mr. Roman-Martinez was seeking to buy and sell guns on Armslist underscores why extending background checks to the growing world of online sales has become a centerpiece of new gun legislation being taken up in the Senate this week. With no requirements for background checks on most private transactions, a Times examination found, Armslist and similar sites function as unregulated bazaars, where the essential anonymity of the Internet allows unlicensed sellers to advertise scores of weapons and people legally barred from gun ownership to buy them.
The bipartisan Senate compromise under consideration would require that background checks be conducted through federally licensed dealers on all Internetand gun show sales. Gun control advocates argue that such checks might have prevented shootings like that of Zina Haughton, 42, who was killed in October with two other women by her husband, Radcliffe, even though a restraining order barred him from having guns. Mr. Haughton simply contacted a private seller on Armslist and handed over $500 in a McDonald's parking lot for a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol and three magazines.
Seeking a glimpse into the largely hidden online gun market, The Times assembled a database and analyzed several months of ads from Armslist, which has become the dominant player in the arena, and examined numerous smaller sites.
Over the past three months, The Times identified more than 170,000 gun ads on Armslist. Some were for the same guns, making it difficult to calculate just how many guns were actually for sale. Even so, with more than 20,000 ads posted every week, the number is probably in the tens of thousands.
Notably, 94 percent of the ads were posted by ''private parties,'' who, unlike licensed dealers, are not required to conduct background checks.
A 2011 investigation by New York City found that these online sellers are more than willing to sell firearms to those who say they wouldn't be able to pass a background check. But opponents of the background check system are apparently unconcerned about potentially dangerous people getting ahold of firearms.
Days after the 1996 Olympic Park bombing, media and federal investigators focused on their top suspect: Richard Jewell, the security guard who had first discovered the bomb which killed one and injured 111. It took more than a year for Jewell to clear his name; he would successfully sue several outlets for their coverage but remained haunted by the memory of the reporters who went after him "like piranha on a bleeding cow" for years.
In the 24 hours following yesterday's tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon, several right-wing media figures have attempted to create their own Jewell. Echoing the same piranha-like voraciousness seen in that case, they have published the name, home address, and what they claim are Facebook pictures of a 20-year-old Saudi national that police have since identified as a witness -- not a suspect -- to the Boston bombings.
Less than two hours after the bombing took place, The New York Post -- citing unnamed "law enforcement sources" -- claimed that a "Saudi Arabian national" was a "suspect" in the case and that he was "under guard at an undisclosed Boston hospital." Several right-wing outlets quickly trumpeted that report. But the claim quickly unraveled (as did the paper's similarly sourced claim that 12 had been killed in the explosions), with law enforcement telling reporters that no one had been arrested in the case and that the Saudi was a witness who was cooperating with authorities.
By the next afternoon, Fox News was reporting that "a federal law enforcement official is confirming... that Saudi man, the college student who was described as a person of interest in the Boston bombings, has now been ruled out as a suspect in this bombing."
But in the interim, the right-wing media -- led by popular conservative blogger Jim Hoft -- swallowed the initial Post report and began posting as much personal information about the man as they could discover.
As the nation mourned the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon, media figures used the attacks to offer conspiracy theories, make Islamophobic comments, and push petty political and personal attacks.
Conspiracy Radio Host Alex Jones: U.S. Gov't Is "Prime Suspect" In Attack
Radio host and noted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones responded to the bombings by suggesting that they may have been a "false flag" operation staged by the government:
In a special webcast on April 15, Jones expanded on the conspiracy, saying"You saw them stage Fast and Furious. Folks, they staged Aurora, they staged Sandy Hook. The evidence is just overwhelming. And that's why I'm so desperate and freaked out. This is not fun, you know, getting up here telling you this. Somebody's got to tell you the truth."
WND Columnist Erik Rush's Attempt At "Sarcasm": Kill All Muslims In Response To Attack
Shortly following the bombings, WND columnist and occasional Fox News guest Erik Rush tweeted:
Rush lashed out at critics of his tweet and claimed it was "sarcasm" intended to show that liberals' "precious Islamists say the same about us EVERY DAY."
The National Rifle Association has released a new video that attempts to rebut a TV ad calling for stronger gun laws by pushing a false claim about that ad that originated in the right-wing media.
In March, several conservative media outlets including Fox News highlighted Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller's claim that ads released by Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) to promote expanding the background check system featured a man using unsafe gun handling. In particular, Miller and the right-wing media falsely claimed that the man's finger was on the trigger of the firearm.
The NRA used the same claims to undermine the ad in their own web video released April 15. According to the ad's narrator, "every gun owner watching probably noticed... the finger dangerously close to the trigger." The narrator suggests that this is not "responsible firearms handling."
With the U.S. Senate having voted to take up legislation to strengthen gun laws, which will likely include a bipartisan proposal to expand federal firearms background checks, Media Matters reviews myths the media has promoted about the background check system.
Media Matters investigative reporter Joe Strupp has been named a finalist for the prestigious media industry reporting Mirror Award for Best Single Article - Digital Media for his 2012 story, "How A Right-Wing Group Is Infiltrating State News Coverage."
In a statement, Media Matters Founder and Chairman David Brock called Strupp "an invaluable addition to the Media Matters team" and said that the "well-deserved honor speaks to his incredible abilities as a journalist."
Strupp's reporting detailed the rise of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a conservative news outlet funded by major right-wing donors and staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with the Koch brothers that seeks to publish its ideological journalism in the pages of state and local newspapers.
According to the Mirror Awards website:
The Mirror Awards are the most important awards for recognizing excellence in media industry reporting. Established by Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, the awards honor the reporters, editors and teams of writers who hold a mirror to their own industry for the public's benefit.
This is the fourth time Strupp has been named a finalist for a Mirror Award, with the previous three coming for his reporting for Editor & Publisher. It is the first time a Media Matters reporter has been recognized by the Mirror Awards.
The New York Times covered up the extremism of the fringe gun lobby organization Gun Owners of America (GOA) in an article highlighting the group's influence with Republican politicians.
Notably, the Times reported only that the group's leader, Larry Pratt, "worked briefly for Patrick J. Buchanan's 1996 presidential campaign." While it's true that he "worked briefly" for Buchanan's campaign, the Times left out the reason Pratt's role was short-lived: he stepped down as co-chair of the campaign in response to reports that he had attended meetings organized by right-wing militia leaders and white supremacists.
The article describes GOA as an "upstart group" that has a "rising profile" and is "increasingly potent" because of its "loud" advocacy tactics on positions that "tend to veer farther right than those of the" National Rifle Association. It includes praise for the group from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Dean Heller (R-NV) and reports that the organization has been successful in "freezing senators, particularly Republicans" from taking positions in support of gun violence prevention legislation.
But the Times ignored the extremism of the group's leadership and the bizarre conspiracies they have adopted. The article describes Pratt, the organization's executive director, as follows:
Mr. Pratt, 70, has long been active in Republican politics. He served in the Virginia legislature in the 1980s, and he worked briefly for Patrick J. Buchanan's 1996 presidential campaign.
That description of Pratt's service with Buchanan is inadequate, as the Times' reporting from February 18, 1996, indicates (via Nexis, emphasis added):
Last week, Larry Pratt, a co-chairman of the Buchanan campaign, took a leave of absence after the disclosure that he had spoken at rallies held by leaders of the white supremacist and militia movements.
Mr. Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said in an interview that he did not know the other speakers. He also said he did not harbor anti-Semitic or racist views, although his articles on gun ownership often appear in The Jubilee, a tabloid published in California by leaders of the Christian Identity movement, a white supremacist organization.
Bill Donohue, the virulently homophobic head of the Catholic League who has blamed that church's sexual abuse scandals on the presence of gays among the clergy and criticized the "gay death style," is the latest right-wing figure to come to the aid of Dr. Ben Carson in the wake of Carson's anti-gay comments.
Carson, a recent favorite of the right-wing media, has been at the center of a firestorm since he compared gay supporters of marriage equality to supporters of pedophilia and bestiality during a Fox News interview. Conservatives including Rush Limbaugh, Fox's Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity have come to his support.
Donohue joined that chorus, saying Carson's comments were a "perfectly legitimate line of inquiry" and calling him "a good man who was framed" in an April 2 press release:
Princeton professor Peter Singer wants us to keep an open mind about Fred having sex with Fido. He says, "sex with animals does not always involve cruelty," and that "mutually satisfying activities" of a sexual nature should be respected. Last month, Yale hosted a "sensitivity training" exercise where Dr. Jill McDevitt touted the merits of bestiality. Her goal is to "increase compassion for people who may engage in activities that are not what you would personally consider normal."
Dr. Carson is a good man who was framed. It's the sexologists and the Ivy Leaguers who need to explain themselves.
It's unsurprising that Donohue would speak out in support of anti-gay comments; he has a long history of inflammatory rhetoric, particularly concerning the LGBT community.
Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center, reacted to MSNBC's announcement of Karen Finney as host of a new program by suggesting that Finney's skin is not dark enough for the "average viewer" to guess that she is African-American.
According to MSNBC's press release, "Finney, who served as the first African-American spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, has been an MSNBC political analyst and guest host on the network since 2009."
Graham responded with the following tweet:
UPDATE: Graham adds: