A new CBS Evening News' series that examines gun violence in America has featured prominent conservative misinformers on the issue, including a guest who once suggested that mass shootings are staged by the government. While "Voices Against Violence" has also featured advocates for stronger gun laws, CBS has given airtime to Gun Owners of America head Larry Pratt -- whose group has donated money to a white supremacist group -- and Milwaukee County, Wisconsin Sheriff David Clarke, who has raised the idea of justifiable armed revolution against the government and is well-known for his inflammatory commentary, such as that Hillary Clinton "is willing to prostitute herself to secure the black vote."
From the October 23 edition of CBS' CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley:
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A CBS Evening News segment in response to the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College featured Sheriff David Clarke, a frequent Fox guest with a history of inflammatory statements, pushing the debunked myth that gunmen in mass shootings target "gun-free zones."
On October 2, CBS Evening News host Scott Pelley announced a new series called "Voices Against Violence" as part of "the national conversation about violence" after the recent mass shooting that killed nine and wounded nine more at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon. One of the featured speakers was Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who claimed that shooters target "gun-free zones" because they "know that nobody is going to be able to interrupt [them] until mass carnage occurs":
SHERIFF DAVID CLARKE: I'm Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. Any time we have a horrific incident like a mass shooting, these things have a tendency to become politicized. One of the things that I would do to reduce -- we're not going to be able to eliminate these entirely -- but to reduce the likelihood that there's mass carnage, is to get rid of these gun-free zones. These gun-free zones -- theaters, churches, college campuses, elementary schools -- are chosen by the perpetrator for a reason. He knows that nobody is going to be able to interrupt him until mass carnage occurs. And we ought to give people the individual freedom, the individual right to -- under certain circumstances like a concealed carry license -- to go armed in these venues in case something like this happens for their own protection, and to have a chance. Look at Chicago, Illinois. Look at Washington, D.C., the federal district. If gun control really worked, those would be two of the safest areas in the United States. In fact, they're two of the most violent.
Clarke's "gun-free zones" claim is not supported by any evidence. According to an analysis by Everytown for Gun Safety, only 13 percent of the 133 mass shootings that occurred between January 2009 and July 2015 took place in "gun-free zones." An analysis by Mother Jones found that, of 62 public mass shootings over a 30 year period, not a single shooting was stopped by a civilian carrying a firearm. Mother Jones also found that gunmen do not choose to target locations because guns are not allowed, but rather for personal reasons such as a workplace grievance.
Clarke has a history of making outrageous statements and associating with fringe personalities and organizations. During a 2013 appearance on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' radio show, Clarke responded to Jones' claim that "the Obama Marxist types" wanted to confiscate guns, stating, "I believe that if somebody tried to enforce something of that magnitude you would see the second coming of an American Revolution, the likes of which would make the first revolution pale by comparison." He also claimed that Obama had encouraged violence in Ferguson, Missouri after a police officer killed resident Michael Brown by calling for calm "with a wink and a nod." Clarke was named "sheriff of the year" by the far-right fringe group Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), whose leader proposed using women as human shields during a 2014 dispute between Cliven Bundy, a lawless Nevada rancher, and the Bureau of Land Management. And in a 2014 speech to the National Rifle Association, Clarke said, "If you're going to stand with me, you have to be willing to resist any attempt by government to disarm law-abiding people by fighting with the ferociousness of a junkyard dog. For it says in the Declaration of Independence that it is our right, it is our duty, to throw off such government and to provide new guards for our future security."
A Media Matters analysis of the three months of broadcast evening news' coverage of Hillary Clinton following her 2016 presidential campaign launch found that there were more than twice as many segments covering Clinton's use of a personal email server than there were of her more than a dozen announced policy proposals and positions.
If you feel like the 2016 presidential campaign, starring celebrity Donald Trump, has already produced mountainous media coverage, you're right. According to a new study of network evening news campaign coverage by broadcast news monitor Andrew Tyndall, ABC, CBS, and NBC have devoted a total of 504 minutes to covering the story in 2015. At this point in the 2007 race, 462 minutes had been dedicated to the race, compared to just 277 minutes given to the contest in 2011, according to Tyndall.
To date, Republican coverage far outweighs that of the Democratic primary, 338 minutes to 128 minutes.
But what's most telling about the number crunching is how broadcast newscasts have covered Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The findings back up claims from supporters of both candidates who insist the press is a) utterly obsessed with the Clinton email story and b) not giving Sanders his due.
The Clinton campaign has received a good deal coverage this year, garnering 82 minutes in network news time. That's second only to Trump (a staggering 145 minutes), and well ahead of the next most-covered candidate, Jeb Bush (43 minutes). Here's what's so noteworthy, though: ABC, CBS, and NBC have dedicated almost the exact same amount of airtime to her campaign (82 minutes) as they have to covering the Republican-fed controversy surrounding Clinton's old secretary of state emails this year (83 minutes).
So for the network newscasts, the Clinton email story has proven to be just as important as the entirety of her campaign. Talk about newsrooms having skewed priorities. To date, the email story has produced no proof any kind of lawbreaking by Clinton, yet the network newscasts have absolutely devoured the story and turned it into one the year's big news events.
More from Tyndall on the Clinton coverage:
CBS has found the e-mails more newsworthy than the candidacy (31 mins vs 19); NBC has focused more on the candidacy than the e-mails (42 mins vs 26); ABC has treated them roughly equally (e-mails 25 mins vs candidacy 21).
As for Sanders, his campaign has barely even registered on the broadcast evening news this year, generating just eight minutes of coverage. By comparison, Mitt Romney's decision last winter to not run for president generated just as much coverage as Sanders' entire 2015 campaign, which has been crisscrossing the country for the last four months.
Meanwhile, Sanders' coverage is getting dwarfed by Bush's, which doesn't make a lot of sense. According to the polls, Sanders is running strong in Iowa and New Hampshire and polling at approximately 25 percent nationally. By contrast, Bush is polling very poorly in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire and is polling nationally at around ten percent.
Obviously, with many more Republican candidates in the field it's harder to post a big national number. But still, it's hard to look at the polling data and understand why Bush has received more than five times as much network newscast coverage as Sanders.
Also, note that the Vermont Democrat's campaign has received the same amount of broadcast news time as Gov. Chris Christie, who's polling at around three percent and in seventh place among GOP candidates.
In the month since he announced his bid, Sanders' coverage seems to pale in comparison to comparable Republican candidates who face an arduous task of obtaining their party's nomination. The reluctance is ironic, since the D.C. press corps for months brayed loudly about how Hillary Clinton must face a primary challenger. Now she has one and the press can barely feign interest?
As the campaign progresses, there's plenty of time for network newscasts to shift some of their relentless focus off the Republican race and do more to cover the Clinton campaign (not the partisan controversy), and give Sanders his fair share.
Broadcast evening news programs were once again virtually silent on congressional Republicans' attempt to restrict women's access to reproductive health care by pushing an extreme 20-week ban through the Senate. The same outlets ignored a GOP-controlled House vote on a similar bill in May.
Broadcast evening news programs entirely ignored Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign finance reform proposal, instead continuing to focus on speculation about Clinton's email use and poll numbers, according to a Media Matters review.
Cable and network TV news devoted more segments to coverage of economic issues during the first half of 2015 compared to the last six months of 2014, an increase driven by heightened public interest in the debate over economic inequality and a flurry of economic policy proposals from nearly two dozen 2016 presidential candidates.
CBS Evening News allowed discredited gun researcher John Lott to attack the view that gun violence is a public health issue with the unsupported claim that murder rates have increased everywhere guns have been banned.
Lott is a well-known pro-gun advocate and frequent source of conservative misinformation about gun violence. He rose to prominence during the 1990s with the publication of his book, More Guns, Less Crime, although his conclusion that permissive gun laws reduce crime rates was later debunked by academics who found serious flaws in his research.
During an August 27 segment on CBS Evening News that discussed the shocking killing of two Virginia journalists, Lott said he did not believe gun violence was a public health issue and claimed, "Every country in the world, or place in the world, [that] has banned guns has seen an increase in murder rates, it's not just Washington, D.C. and Chicago."
Lott's claim is unsupported by the data. It's also a red herring; in the United States, sweeping gun bans were found to be unconstitutional in the 2008 Supreme Court decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, effectively making the proposition of banning all guns irrelevant in serious policy debates over gun laws, which are focused most strongly on strengthening the background check system for firearm sales.
Lott's claim about higher murder rates where gun sales are all but banned falls apart after examining one of the cities he cites, Washington D.C.
Lott is technically correct that the D.C. murder rate in 1976 -- the year a ban on private ownership or possession of handguns in nearly all circumstances went into effect -- was 26.8 people per 100,000 residents, and was 31.4 in 2008, the last year the ban was in place. But those two data points don't tell the whole story. For example, the murder rate in the last full year in which D.C. did not have a gun ban, 1975, was 32.8 -- higher than the murder rate when the ban ended
In fact, D.C.'s murder rate during the last year of the gun ban was lower than the murder rates in each of the five years before it was implemented (31.4 vs. 32.8, 38.3, 35.9, 32.8, and 37.1).
Homicide trends in D.C. also cast doubt on Lott's suggestion of a causal connection between the District's handgun ban and number of murders. Murders in D.C. peaked in 1991 -- a crack epidemic was raging at the time -- at 80.6 per 100,000 residents. During the last 17 years D.C.'s gun ban was in effect, the rate fell by more than half, suggesting that factors other than the ban were driving the murder rate.
Data from Australia also casts doubt on Lott's premise that more restrictions on firearms equal more murders. Following a series of mass shootings that culminated with the 1996 Fort Arthur massacre of 35 people, Australia enacted extremely restrictive gun laws that placed strong limits on firearm ownership -- especially for handguns and semi-automatic rifles -- and confiscated 650,000 privately owned guns.
After Australia implemented these laws, according The Washington Post, an academic study found that "the firearm homicide rate fell by 59 percent, and the firearm suicide rate fell by 65 percent, in the decade after the law was introduced, without a parallel increase in non-firearm homicides and suicides."
In a more general sense, an examination of research on guns and homicide by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center found "case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the US, where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide."
Although Lott is well-known to reporters and news producers, he should not be considered a credible source for information about gun violence. In addition to his flawed research, Lott has been embroiled in a number of ethics controversies, including his admission that he used the pseudonym "Mary Rosh" to defend his works from critics and praise his own research in online discussions. He has also faced allegations that he fabricated the results of a study on defensive gun use and has been caught attempting to surreptitiously revise his data after critics discovered errors.
From the August 3 edition of CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley:
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From the June 18 edition of CBS Evening News:
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Broadcast evening news programs on ABC, NBC, and CBS completely ignored likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's questionable delay in announcing his campaign while he sidesteps campaign laws and continues coordinating with his super PAC. Despite increasing scrutiny of a strategy that "tests the legal definition of [a] candidate," the nightly news programs have devoted zero coverage to the matter since The Associated Press (AP) first reported on it in April.
"The floods in Texas, the strengthening storms ... these things are a result of human activity making things worse."
On CNN, Bill Nye provided this necessary climate change context to the devastating floods, which killed dozens last week in Oklahoma and Texas, where new monthly rain records were set. But this time, it isn't just "the Science Guy" who is connecting the dots. While past media coverage has largely failed to explain the role of climate change in extreme weather events like wildfires, snowstorms and droughts, Nye's CNN appearance was just one of many examples of major media outlets covering the recent floods in a science-based global warming context, a promising sign that the press is beginning to do more to address the relationship between climate change and extreme weather.
In recent days, the role of human-induced climate change in devastating weather events like the floods was also a featured story on both NBC's Nightly News and the CBS Evening News. On NBC, anchor Lester Holt introduced a report about Texas's "weather whiplash" in which national correspondent Miguel Almaguer explained that "[s]cientists say climate change is exacerbating the wild swings."
On CBS, correspondent Kris Van Cleave noted that a new study by researchers at Rutgers University found that "climate change in the Arctic is slowing the jet stream over the Northern Hemisphere," resulting in prolonged weather conditions that lead to more heavy rain, heat waves, droughts, and snowstorms. As Rutgers climatologist David Robinson explained during the CBS segment: "Everything slows, and with it, weather patterns persist over areas for longer periods of time. That could make a wet situation dangerously wet ... [and] a heat wave dangerously long."
CNN's coverage of the floods has also stood out. CNN's Carol Costello began her May 29 interview with Nye by affirming that "97 percent of scientists say climate change is real and much of it is driven by man," and what followed was a helpful discussion about how the floods demonstrate the need for media to "talk about" climate change.
From the June 1 edition of CBS Evening News:
Although there have been several major campaign finance stories this year, so far the media has paid significant attention only to one: the retired postal worker from Florida who landed his gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn to raise awareness about the need for reform -- and the coverage has barely noted his motivations.
On April 15, Doug Hughes landed his gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn "to save our democracy," as he wrote in The Washington Post, because "91 percent of Americans see the corrosive influence of money in our political system as a problem that demands attention." Hughes continued:
It is clear these issues will be among the most important in the 2016 election, when every candidate for any office needs to answer one simple question: Which approaches to reducing money's corrupting influence on our democracy do you support? Journalists, especially at the local level, need to ask tough questions, then report the truth and let people decide.
Sadly, most Americans don't know about [campaign finance reform] solutions or how to engage. That's why I chose civil disobedience, taking 535 stamped letters and my message to the seat of power where the problem is. Big money is a threat to our democracy just as security threats are.
Hughes is right -- according to Bloomberg, "spending by candidates, parties and outside groups and individuals" in the run-up to the 2016 election "may approach $10 billion." Thanks to a series of Supreme Court decisions that have relaxed Watergate-era campaign finance reform laws, it's easier than ever for an elite few to exercise disproportionate influence in the democratic process.
Hughes' landing was marginally successful in getting some media coverage of campaign finance reform in the days following. A Media Matters analysis of the network evening news broadcasts and the Sunday political talk shows found 17 total segments dedicated to Hughes and the gyrocopter landing. But other than a discussion on the April 19 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, none of the Sunday shows or evening news broadcasts dedicated any substantive coverage to the message behind Hughes' protest. Understandably, most of these segments focused on the security issues raised by the fact that Hughes was able to fly undetected into the District of Columbia's no-fly zone, rather than his reasons for his flight in the first place.