Two recent stories based on faulty premises -- an Illinois Review post that falsely claimed President Obama had supported "Stand Your Ground" as an Illinois state legislator, and a since-corrected BuzzFeed report that pushed the erroneous conclusion that gun violence prevention group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) has suffered a membership drop -- have nonetheless spread throughout the right-wing media.
The cases are not parallel -- Illinois Review is a minor conservative Illinois political blog (their Twitter handle has about 3,000 followers) whose story was too good to check for the right-wing media, while the BuzzFeed story is an unfortunate outlier for a publication that typically produces good reporting. But the articles nonetheless illustrate the first-mover problem of correcting misinformation -- once a charge is levied and begins gaining momentum it becomes difficult to stop, no matter how clearly false the claim, due to the right-wing media apparatus that will push any story considered damaging to progressives.
The basis of the July 22 BuzzFeed article was that MAIG is losing membership ("is finding it hard to keep its membership up") because it has become too strident in its recent push for stronger gun laws. But BuzzFeed's premise was false: MAIG has actually seen an increase in membership during the period the article covered, with more than 100 mayors joining the coalition during that time of increased political action.
Buzzfeed has since updated its article, making a minor change to the text "to reiterate the fact that Mayors Against Illegal Guns is gaining more members than it's losing." But of course, that "fact" completely repudiates the premise of the article.
And of course, the damage has been done. The idea of MAIG shedding membership has already spread through the conservative echo chamber. The story was picked up by a number of right-wing outlets, with Breitbart News and the New York Post stating outright that the story indicated that the group's membership was down overall. The Post article in particular, which ran under the headline "weakened arsenal," linked the group "struggling to replace ex-members" to their focus "on banning weapons and other tough new gun-control measures" (by contrast, a New York Daily News piece cited the BuzzFeed report but framed the story with the fact that the group is larger and growing faster than ever before).
These sorts of misguided stories have an impact on the political debate. One NRA activist, who acknowledged that the number of mayors leaving "isn't a huge blow to MAIG," wrote that BuzzFeed's story "isn't good for MAIG. They will have to counter this meme, and that's good for us. Make them work for it."
Buzzfeed is alleging that the gun violence prevention group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) "is finding it hard to keep its membership up," citing a few dozen of the group's hundreds of mayors who have resigned their offices, lost re-election, or chosen to leave the group due to "political heat." In reality, the group has seen its membership increase by 17 percent during roughly the period of time the article discusses.
In suggesting that mayors would flee a group that supports stronger gun laws in the face of political pressure from the National Rifle Association, the Buzzfeed article buttresses a long-running media myth that politicians who oppose the NRA should fear being defeated for reelection.
In the article, headlined "Mayors Abandon [NYC Mayor Michael] Bloomberg's Gun Control Group," Buzzfeed called MAIG "a rare group battling in the trenches against the well-organized and deep-pocketed" NRA. The article cites four mayors who "appear not quite to have signed on for that level of political heat" and left the organization because they disagree with some of its recent policy stances. The article further stated:
According to an old version of its member list, saved on a blog dated back to late February, more than 50 mayors who were then listed on MAIG's website are no longer there. Most of the mayors whose names are no longer affiliated with the group are off the list either because they resigned or lost an election, but others have specifically asked to be removed.
BuzzFeed reached out to dozens of the replacement mayors and none of them would confirm if they planned to join the group or if they were even considering it
Buzzfeed reported halfway through the article that, according to the group's executive director, MAIG "is growing much faster than it is shrinking" -- a claim that, if true, would seem to debunk the premise of the story. After all, if the group is replacing members at a faster rate than it is losing them, the group could hardly be said to be "finding it hard to keep its membership up."
The reporter does not appear to have attempted to verify this statement, instead placing it in opposition to the balance of his reporting. But a review of membership lists published on the group's website indicates that MAIG has seen a dramatic increase in mayors choosing to affiliate with the group in recent months.
Buzzfeed did not link to the "old version of its member list" it compared to the group's current roster of affiliated mayors. But the version of the group's membership list saved to the Internet Archive on January 27 lists 857 mayors; the list currently posted on MAIG's website features 1005, an increase of 148 mayors. According to a Media Matters review, MAIG has seen its representation increase in 33 states during that period; it has held level in 6 states and decreased in 8 states.
UPDATE: Buzzfeed has updated their article, changing their original report that MAIG "is finding it hard to keep its membership up" to indicate instead that the group "is finding it hard to maintain some of its members." In a correction appended to the piece, Buzzfeed explained that the change was made "to reiterate the fact that Mayors Against Illegal Guns is gaining more members than it's losing."
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent continued his ongoing racial tirade, appearing on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' radio show to claim that that African-Americans could fix "the black problem" if they just put their "heart and soul into being honest, law-abiding, [and] delivering excellence at every move in your life."
Nugent has faced criticism over the past two days for a pair of columns he wrote for conservative websites WND and Rare that variously termed deceased Florida teenager Trayvon Martin as a "dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe," an "enraged black man-child" and a "Skittles hoodie boy."
During his appearance on The Alex Jones Show, Nugent used the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Martin as a platform to offer advice to black America and make a number of unfounded claims about racism.
From the July 16 edition of The Alex Jones Show:
Conservative activist David Keene, who finished serving a two-year term as National Rifle Association president in May, will join The Washington Times as opinion editor. The conservative newspaper has often provided a platform for opponents of stronger gun laws and for the promotion of the NRA.
In April, after a Senate proposal to expand background checks on gun sales was blocked by a predominately Republican coalition of senators, the Times editorial board fawned over the NRA, which was credited with influencing the legislation's defeat.
According to the Times, the failure of the proposal was, "a decisive victory for the National Rifle Association (NRA), which led the fight to protect the rights of all." The April 18 editorial also employed the right-wing media canard that family members of victims of the December 14, 2012, massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School who supported expanded background checks were used as "props" by the Obama administration "to make a political argument." The April 18 Times opinion page also featured an op-ed that began, "I don't believe the families of the victims from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., deserve a vote."
Keene, an irregular contributor to the Times opinion page, has also used the Times to promote the interests of the NRA. In a March 27 op-ed, the then-NRA president complained about a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Bass Pro Shops over the allegation that the hunting and fishing supply company engaged in a pattern of racially discriminatory hiring practices. Beyond misleading on the substance of the lawsuit -- Keene wrongfully described it as an attempt by the EEOC to force Bass Pro Shops to hire felons -- at no point did Keene mention the NRA's business relationship with Bass Pro Shops, which includes a collaborative effort to open a 10,000-square foot firearms museum.
Keene, in his capacity as NRA president, often used interviews with Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller to promote his organization's message. Miller authors a blog about guns for the newspaper and is a frequent guest on the National Rifle Association's news programming. The 2011 recipient of the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund Harlon B. Carter - George S. Knight Freedom Fund Award, Miller also is a source of misinformation about gun violence. (She is reportedly "THRILLED about [her] new boss.")
Media figures are falsely claiming that Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law played no role in the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin.
In the wake of Zimmerman's March 2012 killing of Martin, media attention turned to the role of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" (also known as "Shoot First" or "Kill at Will" statute). That law allows a person who believes his life or safety is in danger to use deadly force in self-defense without being required to retreat as long as they are not engaged in illegality and are attacked in a place they have a right to be.The law also allows for a defendant to seek an expedited pretrial hearing on those grounds, and grants people who kill in self-defense immunity from civil lawsuits.
The statute was drafted with the help of the National Rifle Association. After Florida passed the law in 2005, it was adopted as model legislation by the American Legislative Exchange Council and nearly two dozen states passed similar legislation. Such laws have been found to increase the rate of homicide and have a racially disproportionate impact on black victims.
After Zimmerman was found not guilty of murder in the death of Martin, gun violence prevention advocates again highlighted the role of Florida's self-defense law. But some in the media, due to a misunderstanding of the statute's breadth, have falsely claimed that the law played no role in the trial.
On the July 15 edition of CNN's New Day, co-hosts Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan agreed that the law played no role in the case.
In fact, Florida's self-defense laws set the framework by which Zimmerman was tried, setting the standard by which the jury would have to determine if Martin's death resulted from the justifiable use of force. Indeed, the jury instructions in the case specifically mention that "If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in anyplace where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground" and use deadly force.
Frank Borelli, a frequent guest on NRA News, noted the excuse used by Nazis who operated concentration camps that they were "just following orders" to applaud sheriffs who would "selectively enforce" Maryland's new gun violence prevention laws.
On May 16, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley signed into law a ban on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines and a handgun licensing scheme.
Borelli, who is the editor of the law enforcement news site Officer.com and is a regular guest on NRA News, made the Nazi comparison as a counterpoint to an editorial by Maryland House of Delegates member Jon S. Cardin that criticized a Maryland sheriff who said he would not enforce the new laws.
From the June 20 edition of Cam & Company on the Sportsman Channel:
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: The Baltimore Sun is very upset, particularly Jon Cardin is incensed that there are sheriffs in the state of Maryland who say that they will not be enforcing the new gun control laws against otherwise legal law-abiding gun owners. He says this is a horrible idea, in a country dependent on the rule of law, he says, to protect civil rights and public safety this is dangerous and distressing. I'm curious, what's your take, Frank?
FRANK BORELLI: I'd like to ask Mr. Cardin one question. Does he feel that when Nazis working the death camps used the excuse of, I was just following orders, was that an acceptable excuse and did it exempt them for moral turpitude for their actions? And I'd like to hear him justify that.
These sheriffs have stepped up, again this is my opinion, these sheriffs have stepped up and said you know what, we don't [sic] feel these laws are unconstitutional therefore we're not going to enforce them. They're saying, hey, this isn't a lawful order. These laws aren't enforceable. We choose not to enforce them. I commend them for their courage to do so.
The National Rifle Association's news show inaccurately portrayed a California program that seeks to recover guns from felons and other prohibited individuals as a means of placing law-abiding gun owners in danger of firearm confiscation.
The June 20 special targeted a California law enforcement program that works with the Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS), a database of individuals who are no longer legally allowed to possess guns. The database works by combining gun registration records with the records of individuals who are barred from owning a firearm because of a felony conviction, restraining order or adjudication of serious mental illness.
According to Pacific Standard magazine, the database includes 20,000 people who possess at least 38,000 handguns and 1,600 assault weapons.
Setting up the segment, NRA News' investigative reporter Ginny Simone said that the special would tell the story of a person who was "wrongly targeted," despite the fact that the person featured is prohibited by federal law from owning a gun. NRA News host Cam Edwards also claimed that "there are so many issues right now for the law-abiding in California because you got lawmakers going after their rights, meanwhile the criminals are getting put back out onto the streets, and it sounds like you've got a government that is in many ways just out of control."
The agency responsible for the enforcement of federal gun laws, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), has not had a permanent director since 2006 largely due to obstruction from the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress. Today, a Senate hearing will consider President Obama's nomination of current acting ATF Director B. Todd Jones for permanent director.
National Rifle Association News host Cam Edwards compared the experience of opponents of new gun laws in Colorado during the legislative process to the experiences of victims of racial segregation.
Edwards hosted Laura Carno, the founder of conservative nonprofit I am Created Equal that is seeking to remove Colorado Senate President John Morse from office for supporting legislation to require background checks on gun sales and limit high-capacity magazines. During this discussion, Edwards said, "We have seen a great deal of disrespect shown to gun owners throughout this process," and added, "It's not just that our rights aren't being respected, our voices aren't being respected."
He then read from the dissent in the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, which railed against the majority ruling that established the racially discriminatory "separate but equal" doctrine. Quoting from Justice John Marshall Harlan's dissent, Edwards said, "In the view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here," and, "In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful."
From the June 4 edition of NRA News' Cam & Company:
Gun Owners of America Execuive Director Larry Pratt is happy to appear on talk shows hosted by conspiracy theorists who believe 9/11 was an inside job, think white Christians should arm themselves for the coming race war, or want to shoot Hillary Clinton in the vagina.
Pratt told Media Matters in a lengthy interview this week that outlandish, discredited claims by the likes of talk show hosts Alex Jones and Pete Santelli do not bother him as long as his interviewer "has an audience and he provides a microphone for us to reach that audience."
"As long as I have a chance to present what Gun Owners of America is doing ... ideally seek support for Gun Owners of America, get [people] on our alert list, receive the alerts, then that's all good," Pratt said.
In the interview, Pratt also defended conspiratorial claims he had made on extremist programs, including his suggestion that the government might have been involved in the 2012 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.
Pratt's organization has become an important player in the gun debate, with The New York Times in April heralding their role as an "increasingly potent group" that was "emerging as an influential force" over then-pending Senate gun legislation. This high-profile role has come in spite of Pratt's long record of extremism.
As Media Matters has documented, discredited conspiracies and outlandish and offensive statements are the stock-in-trade of several radio talk show hosts whose regular guests have included Pratt, as well as gun advocates Ted Nugent and former NRA President David Keene.
Among the radio shows that Pratt has frequented are those hosted by Jones, Santelli, and Stan Solomon and Gary Franchi.
Solomon, a race-baiting host who is convinced a war between a "black force" and a "white resistance" is set to break out at any moment, also believes the December 2012 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school was a "programmed event" designed to help pass gun legislation.
Franchi is an avid conspirator who drew unwanted attention when NBC News highlighted his history of promoting conspiracy theories, including his extensive involvement in the "9-11 truth" movement and his belief that the government is secretly building FEMA concentration camps to round up American citizens.
Jones believes the government actively carried out or was otherwise involved in the 9-11 attacks, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the mass shooting in Newtown. (He also recently suggested a government "weather weapon" could possibly have created the devastating tornado in Oklahoma.)
Santelli in recent weeks has been in the news for repeatedly expressing his desire to shoot Hillary Clinton "in the vagina" over her supposed treasonous acts.
Asked if he agrees with these hosts or finds any problem with their views, Pratt stated, "If they will provide an audience, we're happy to speak to their audience."
Conservative commentator Tony Katz said on the National Rifle Association's radio program that some victims of both the May 23 bridge collapse in Washington state and Hurricane Katrina were blameworthy for not doing enough to protect themselves.
Katz, who hosts a radio show and is a contributor to a number of conservative news sites, also claimed that not a single British citizen cared about a May 22 attack on a British soldier in London "because they have an entire society now where you can kill a soldier in broad daylight and no one says, 'let's do something about this.'" Host Cam Edwards claimed that bystanders in the aftermath of the attack were "docile" and "nobody did anything." From the May 24 edition of Cam & Company on NRANews.com:
While criticizing the actions of victims of recent disasters, Katz claimed that some victims of Hurricane Katrina were "up to their knees in water screaming out, where is the government to help me?" He added: "Well if you don't know how to get to dry land or how to move before the storm comes, this is what you get."
David Kopel, a gun activist who frequently writes for the National Rifle Association's publications, has been identified by Denver Fox affiliate KDVR/FOX31 as a source for a fake story about a gun executive who was supposedly detained after being misidentified as a terrorist.
Kopel, who is an adjunct professor at the University of Denver's law school, is currently representing a group of sheriffs who seek to overturn Colorado's newly enacted gun violence prevention laws. In January, Kopel testified against stronger gun laws before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
According to a May 22 article, Kopel put KDVR in touch with a woman who claimed that Daniele Perazzi, an executive for Italian shotgun company who actually died in 2012, had been taken in for questioning by police in Denver after a cab driver misidentified him as a terrorist. It later became apparent that the woman, identified as Korrine Aguirre, fabricated the account.
KDVR reported that Kopel "first told FOX31 Denver" about the incident and referred them to Aguirre, "who, it now appears, concocted an elaborate but false story." The news outlet was also in touch with NRA board member Steve Schreiner, who claimed to be at the Colorado Gun Collectors Association show, where Perazzi was supposedly heading to when he was accused of being a terrorist:
Two trusted sources who told FOX31 Denver that an Italian gun company executive was questioned by local law enforcement after a Denver cab driver thought he might be a terrorist now say they were misled.
David Kopel, a nationally-recognized Second Amendment attorney with the Independence Institute in Denver, first told FOX31 Denver about the alleged incident Saturday. He referred us to Korrine Aguirre, who, it now appears, concocted an elaborate but false story.
Steve Schreiner, a Colorado board member of the National Rifle Association, told us he was at the gun show. He said Aguirre told him about the alleged questioning of Perazzi by police.
FOX31 Denver News Director Ed Kosowski has acknowledged, "More steps should have been taken to corroborate Aguirre's story and verify information provided by Kopel and Schreiner."
The Daily Caller's "Guns and Gear" section used an image of Nazi soldiers on parade to accompany the republication of a National Rifle Association press release that attacked proponents of stronger gun laws.
Appended to the top of the press release was an image of Nazi soldiers performing the goose step in front of Hitler and his generals during an October 1939 parade in Warsaw, Poland:
The NRA press release identified three Democratic members of the New Jersey Legislature, Loretta Weinberg, Sandra Cunningham and Linda Greenstein, who were reportedly "complaining" that proposals to strengthen gun laws in New Jersey do not go far enough. The NRA further claims that one of the legislators was caught on tape saying, "We needed a bill that was going to confiscate, confiscate, confiscate." As the New Jersey Star-Ledger notes, it is actually not clear which legislator named by the NRA, if any, made the comment or what words were said before "confiscate":
As a committee hearing on new gun-control legislation began winding down Thursday, three state senators started chatting amongst themselves.
What they didn't realize was the microphone was still on.
A recording of the exchange -- which appears to be between Democrats Loretta Weinberg, Sandra Cunningham and Linda Greenstein -- ended up on YouTube, and gun supporters said today they were upset by the remarks.
The recording opens with what sounds like a senator or staff member saying, "We needed a bill that was going to confiscate, confiscate, confiscate" -- although it is not clear who is speaking or if this is what she is saying.
PolitickerNJ.com also reported on the recording, noting that the "confiscate" comments were made by "an unknown voice." Reached for comment, Weinberg stated, "All I know is it's not my voice and I don't know who said it or in what context."
As media scrutinize accidental shootings involving children, the National Rifle Association's news program Cam & Company has instead repeatedly highlighted incidents where students clashed with administrators over school policies that relate to guns.
Accidental shootings involving children have been a much discussed topic over the past few weeks, with some incidents receiving widespread coverage. In particular, a fatal accident in Burkesville, Kentucky, where a 5-year-old boy unintentionally shot his 2-year-old sister with a rifle designed to be used by young children, was covered by The New York Times, CNN, the Associated Press, CBSNews.com, and MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes.
Between the Kentucky accident that occurred on April 30 and May 14, Cam & Company spent only 5 minutes and 33 seconds covering gun accidents, mostly by attacking the media for reporting on the incidents. In comparison, the show spent 71 minutes and 13 seconds highlighting instances where host Cam Edwards felt that students had been unfairly treated by schools for their participation in gun culture. During the sole segment that covered a gun accident, Edwards criticized The New York Times for its reporting on the Burkesville accident.
School incidents that received ample coverage on Cam & Company, which airs on The Sportsman Channel, include: