PBS' Frontline is responding to criticism of its recent documentary about the National Rifle Association by misrepresenting the arguments made by progressives in order to dismiss them.
On January 6, Frontline aired Gunned Down: The Power Of The NRA, a documentary that covered the history of the NRA from when the group began to become politicized in the 1960s through legislative efforts in 2013 following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In a January 8 blog post, Media Matters leveled several critiques against the documentary, namely that it overstated the ability of the NRA to influence election outcomes, that it credited the NRA with Al Gore's defeat in the 2000 presidential elections, and that it created the perception of NRA invincibility by only including recent NRA victories, but not defeats.
In its response, Frontline wrote, "As for the assertion by Media Matters writer Timothy Johnson that the film overstated the influence of the NRA, we stand by our reporting." According to the documentary's producers, "The many interviews we conducted support the notion that since 1999 Washington has failed to enact tougher national gun legislation and the NRA has been the key reason why."
This is a straw man argument. Media Matters never argued that Frontline had overstated the influence of the NRA on federal legislation since 1999. That the NRA is a powerful lobbying force on Capitol Hill is obvious and has been discussed by Media Matters previously.
Instead, Media Matters criticized Frontline -- as it has criticized quite a few media outlets -- for overstating the ability of the NRA to determine the outcomes of elections. In part, politicians' misguided fears about the NRA punishing them on Election Day plays into the NRA's ability to effectively lobby.
Frontline's response doesn't take into account the distinction between the ability to influence election results and the ability to influence legislation. In addition to crediting the NRA with Gore's defeat in the 2000, Gunned Down credulously promoted the NRA's supposed electoral prowess by quoting a former NRA spokesperson saying, "You are a politician, you want to get elected, you want votes, NRA has votes" while offering no countervailing perspective.
Although that type of conjecture is often pushed by the NRA and its allies, a regression analysis of actual House and Senate races that involved NRA spending and endorsements has disproven the notion that the NRA is effective in determining the outcomes of elections.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent made a rare appearance on the NRA's radio show to call his critics "subhuman mongrels" and to claim people who "attack" the NRA are "not the same species as we are."
During his January 15 appearance on the NRA's radio show, Cam & Company, Nugent discussed his upcoming appearance on Sarah Palin's Sportsman Channel reality show Amazing America with Sarah Palin. No mention was made by Nugent or host Cam Edwards of how the musician and conservative commentator recently mocked people with mental disabilities on Facebook while using the word "retard." Palin has previously called for people who use that word to be fired (while making an exception for Rush Limbaugh). The topic also did not come up during a January 15 appearance by Palin on the NRA's television show on Sportsman Channel, which is also called Cam & Company. Instead, Palin called Nugent her "blood brother."
Nugent turned from hyping his appearance on Palin's show to offering a rant against critics of him and the NRA, reviving his infamous "subhuman mongrel" slur. As Nugent's rant reached a crescendo, NRA News apparently muted him for several seconds:
NUGENT: So Cam [Edwards], don't ever question what you're doing because I know you get attacked like I do and remember that those that attack us are such subhuman mongrels, and if that offends anyone, tough. The people who attack us and freedom and gun owners and the NRA, they're not the same species as we are. They are some strange inbred Martian -- [audio cuts out] -- individuality, doesn't believe in independence, doesn't believe in freedom and you and I can be very proud that those kind of punks hate us.
The National Rifle Association reacted to the terror attacks at Charlie Hebdo by releasing a commentary video that blamed France's gun laws for the attack and warned "anti-gunners" that only the Second Amendment can stop terrorists from "killing you."
In a January 15 video, Colion Noir, an NRA News commentator and host of the NRA web series Noir, reacted to recent terror attacks in France with a message to "anti-gunners" to "stop trying to sell us on this gun control crap."
According to Noir, people who use their right to free speech to "insidiously attack" the Second Amendment should consider "the next time a bunch of terrorists decide they don't like what you have to say, better believe the only thing stopping them from killing you won't be your words, but the sound of someone exercising their Second Amendment right."
Like members of conservative media, the NRA commentary video also blames firearm policies in "gun control utopia" France for the attack.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent shared an open letter "to all the braindead hippie logic-challenged dipshits in the media" that mocked individuals with mental disabilities with the line, "Not every retard can read, but look at you go, little buddy."
In two weeks, Nugent will appear on Sarah Palin's Sportsman Channel show. Palin, who has a child with Down syndrome, has compared the use of the word "retard" to using racial slurs.
The National Down Syndrome Society "strongly condemns the use of the word 'retarded' in any derogatory context" because the term "is hurtful and suggests that people with disabilities are not competent."
An image posted to Facebook by Nugent on January 14 contained other offensive comments, including, "Look at you smiling at your phone, you crayon eating motherfucker," and suggested that a "retard" "lick[ed] windows" or "screw[ed] farm animals":
PBS' Frontline documentary on the history of the National Rifle Association pushed the common media myth that the gun organization always wins and told the debunked story of how the NRA was supposedly responsible for the defeat of Al Gore in 2000.
On January 6, Frontline aired the hour-long feature Gunned Down: The Power Of The NRA, which was directed by filmmaker Michael Kirk. The documentary covered the history of the NRA from when the group began to become politicized in the 1960s through legislative efforts in 2013 following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Gunned Down overstates the ability of the NRA to influence election outcomes. The gun group's influence on federal gun legislation is often credited to the theory that politicians who oppose the NRA will be defeated when running for reelection. A statistical analysis of recent House and Senate races has disproven this notion. Still, mainstream news outlets often advance the myth of NRA electoral dominance.
Gunned Down repeatedly inflates the supposed strength of the gun group based on commentary from former NRA officials -- no current official would talk to Frontline -- and by citing what is considered conventional wisdom in Washington D.C.
While explaining the NRA's successful lobbying to defeat federal legislation to close the gun show loophole following the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School, Gunned Down turned to a former NRA spokesperson who said of the NRA's membership "if it had one political trait, they vote, it's that simple. You are a politician, you want to get elected, you want votes, NRA has votes."
The NRA has often attempted to take credit for Al Gore's loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. At the gun group's annual meeting in 2002, executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre told the crowd, "You are why Al Gore isn't in the White House."
Gunned Down gave baseless credence to these claims.
The National Rifle Association's news show Cam & Company hosted an attorney to attack as "frivolous" and "irresponsible" a lawsuit filed against NRA corporate donor Bushmaster for making the gun used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
On December 13, several Newtown families sued Bushmaster under a "negligent entrustment" theory for the gun manufacturer's role in putting an assault weapon into the hands of a gunman who killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. The lawsuit also named Bushmaster's parent company, Remington Arms Company, as well as the seller and the distributor of the gun.
Steve Halbrook, an attorney who writes about the Second Amendment and other gun issues, joined Cam & Company on December 16 to repeatedly suggest that the lawsuit was "frivolous," call for the complaint to be dismissed, and argue that Bushmaster may be entitled to compensation for attorney's fees. Halbrook is also the author of a book that advances the ahistorical claim that gun restrictions were responsible for Hitler's rise to power and served as counsel for the NRA in the landmark Supreme Court case McDonald v. Chicago.)
During his appearance, Halbrook said that the plaintiffs -- who are family members of teachers and children who were killed at Newtown, as well as one survivor of the attack -- and their lawyers were "extremely irresponsible" to file the lawsuit.
Conservative media had worked to cast Murthy as a radical for his uncontroversial stance that gun violence is a public health issue and criticized his supposed lack of qualifications.
The conservative media attacks against Murthy began in early March. Coverage of his nomination focused on his past acknowledgement that gun violence affects public health, which conservative media spun as evidence Murthy is obsessed with gun regulations. (Murthy has actually said his focus as Surgeon General will not be on gun violence, but rather obesity.)
Fox contributor Katie Pavlich claimed that Murthy is "rabidly anti-gun" and "must be stopped," and Fox & Friends co-host Peter Johnson, Jr. argued that, if confirmed as Surgeon General, Murthy would make the examining room about "about party registration or about gun registration" rather than medicine. Fox hosts also worked to downplay Murthy's considerable accomplishments and suggested that he was unqualified to be "our nation's doctor" because "he hasn't done much in his career yet," all while arguing he would turn the Surgeon General role "into a hyper-partisan position." These arguments became the basis for an extended smear campaign on Fox News and conservative blogs.
In fact, Murthy's stance on firearms is common within the medical community. The American Medical Association (AMA) agrees that gun violence "has reached epidemic proportions" and has argued that the medical profession carries an obligation to combat gun violence. The Institute of Medicine has also advocated for a "public health approach" to fight gun violence. Furthermore, Murthy's credentials were endorsed by a broad array of health care groups including the American Public Health Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, and Trust for America's Health.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent reacted to the decision of a Missouri grand jury to not indict police officer Darren Wilson by attacking "black klansmen" and claiming "millions" of African-Americans "slaughter" each other "every day."
The grand jury was considering whether Wilson should be charged with a crime over his fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown on August 9 in Ferguson, Missouri.
In a November 24 post on Facebook, Nugent, who is a columnist for several conservative websites, offered "lessons from Ferguson," writing, "Don't let your kids growup to be thugs who think they can steal, assault & attack cops as a way of life & badge of black (dis)honor. Don't preach your racist bullshit 'no justice no peace' as blabbered by Obama's racist Czar Al Not So Sharpton & their black klansmen."
He also wrote, "dont claim that 'black lives matter' when you ignore the millions you abort & slaughter each & every day by other blacks," and concluded, "So quit killin each other you fuckin idiots. Drive safely":
Conservative media are freaking out after Jay Leno canceled an upcoming gig at the gun industry's 2015 trade show, the National Shooting Sports Foundation's (NSSF) SHOT Show, calling the comedian a "coward" who has "no spine." The NSSF had responded to the deadly 2012 school shooting in the association's hometown of Newtown, CT, by opposing all proposed gun safety measures.
From the November 12 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre warned that "all we've worked for" with regard to "our freedom since the founding of the country could be in jeopardy" in the 2016 elections while also stating that "every American owes NRA members and gun owners a debt of gratitude" for the 2014 election outcomes.
The NRA frequently rallies its supporters by suggesting each election cycle could bring about the destruction of the Second Amendment or even the entire United States of America while baselessly giving itself credit in instances where Republicans do well at the polls.
During a November 6 appearance on the NRA's radio show Cam & Company, LaPierre wasted no time turning to 2016, stating, "We've won the first half here of the game, but we won't win the battle until we win all the game and 2016 is a big deal."
"I mean if we end up with an anti-Second Amendment president in 2016, I mean all we've worked for in the last 30 years or our freedom since the founding of the country could be in jeopardy," LaPierre added.
Arguing that "we need to get NRA stronger," LaPierre went on to describe the 2016 election as "the fight of our lives for American freedom." LaPierre also said in the 2014 elections that the NRA had "beat the Bloombergs, we beat the Clintons, this time, but they're not going away and if they win in '15 and '16 the damage that they can do to the Second Amendment is unimaginable. (Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a prominent gun safety activist and was the primary backer of an "historic" 2014 ballot initiative to expand background checks on gun sales in Washington state.) LaPierre concluded his remarks by saying, "we are never going to have a bigger challenge than what we have to pull off together in 2016."
That sentiment from the NRA is one that observers have heard time and again.
Just days ago the NRA warned that the "the future of our Second Amendment rights comes down to one day -- Election Day 2014," which is "the most important of our lifetime" because "[o]ur fundamental right to keep and bear arms has never been in greater jeopardy."
The National Rifle Association and its allies in conservative media are attempting to downplay the significance of an "historic" victory for gun safety in Washington state, where voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative to expand background checks on gun sales.
On November 4, Washington voters backed Initiative 594, a proposal to require a background check on nearly all gun sales, with some exceptions for temporary transfers and transfers between family members. In doing so, Washingtonians closed a loophole in federal law that allowed guns to be bought without a background check at gun shows, over the Internet, and through other venues from non-licensed sellers.
Voters also rejected I-591, a competing initiative that would have prohibited the enactment of any background check law that was stricter than the loophole-riddled federal law. The NRA stayed neutral on 591 and spent nearly $500,000 opposing 594.
Journalists labeled the successful ballot initiative approach to a background check law as "historic," while the head of Everytown for Gun Safety, a prominent backer of I-594, said the outcome "proved the polls right -- when Americans vote on public safety measures to prevent gun violence, gun safety wins."
Prior to Election Day, an NRA spokesperson expressed concern about the potential passage of I-594 stating, "If [gun safety advocate Michael Bloomberg] is successful in this ballot initiative in Washington, we are very concerned that he will replicated this across the country and we will have ballot initiative like this one across the country. That is why we are so concerned."
In an attempt to spin the unfavorable outcome, conservative media and the NRA are offering weak arguments to downplay the significance of this major victory for gun safety advocates:
Media commentators are highlighting "historic" gun safety victories on election night, including the passage of a background check ballot initiative in Washington state, the reelection of governors who passed the toughest gun safety laws in the wake of Newtown, and the recapture of Colorado state senate seats targeted by gun activists in a 2013 recall campaign. The media attention given to these victories stands in contrast to frequent reporting advancing the myth of the National Rifle Association's electoral dominance.
From the November 3 edition of CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper:
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National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent weighed in on the Texas governor's race in his column for conspiracy website WND, attacking the "America-hating" campaign of Democratic candidate Wendy Davis.
In his October 29 column, Nugent wrote, "Thank God there are still way more Texans that stand in defiance of the lying, scamming, America-hating, Texas-hating scammers and scoundrels that infest and steer the Wendy Davis campaign of deception."
In February, Nugent set off a lengthy controversy when he appeared at a campaign event with Republican candidate Greg Abbott and called him his "blood brother." Abbott was criticized for appearing with Nugent after the NRA figure had recently called President Obama a "subhuman mongrel" and because of Nugent's history of demeaning attacks on women.