The NRA's Implausible Conspiracy Theory About CNN's “Guns In America” Town Hall

The National Rifle Association is claiming that CNN's recent “Guns in America” town hall event was “staged” by President Obama as it attempts to explain why NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre declined to participate in the event, but then days later challenged Obama to a TV debate.

The NRA leveled several accusations against the Obama administration and CNN in a January 15 article, including that Obama was able to see questions in advance, that Obama “personally selected” the anchor of the event, and that the White House “personally selected” questioners for the event.

On January 7, CNN hosted an hour-long primetime program on gun violence. During the broadcast Obama answered questions about guns posed by CNN host Anderson Cooper and eight audience members who were split along ideological lines. CNN conceived the event and invited President Obama and the NRA to participate in the event. Obama accepted CNN's offer and the NRA declined. In declining to participate, the NRA claimed the event was “orchestrated by the White House,” a false claim that was corrected by CNN in a January 6 article.

Then on January 13, days after skipping his chance to go face-to-face with Obama on national television before millions of viewers, LaPierre released a video challenging Obama to “a one-on-one, one-hour debate -- with a mutually agreed-upon moderator -- on any network that will take it.”

LaPierre's challenge was ridiculed by some in the media who pointed out that the gun group leader had his chance to confront Obama but declined to take it.

In order to deflect from questions about why the NRA did not participate in the CNN event, the gun group has become increasingly brazen in promoting a conspiracy theory that the event was not CNN's doing, but rather was organized by the Obama administration.

A January 15 article in the NRA's online magazine America's 1st Freedom leveled several allegations against the White House and CNN:

  • The NRA claimed CNN's town hall was “staged and choreographed by the White House publicity machine.” According to a CNN spokesperson, the event was conceived of by CNN.
  • The NRA claimed “Obama and his handlers” were allowed to see questions in advance. It is obvious to anyone who watched CNN's town hall that this was not the case and the NRA's claim requires the belief that Obama was putting on an elaborate act as he reacted to questioners.
  • The NRA claimed that Obama “personally selected” Anderson Cooper to host the event and that Cooper's “career depends on having access to, and friendly relations with, the president and politicians in his party.” CNN invited Obama, not the other way around. And again, anyone who watched the event would be puzzled by this claim given Cooper's challenging and sometimes adversarial questions to Obama.
  • The NRA claimed the people selected to ask questions during CNN's town hall were “personally selected by the White House” so that Obama could rehearse responses to their questions. This claim is debunked by an interview on the NRA's own radio show, Cam & Company. The day after the town hall, Cam & Company hosted one of the pro-gun questioners, who explained that she was selected by CNN. The guest also noted that CNN screened her question, but explained that as the event was live television, she could have said whatever she wanted to the president.