NY Times Privileges Right-Wing Media's “Anti-Gun” Smear Of Obama Surgeon General Nominee

The New York Times repeated the unfounded claims from critics that Obama Surgeon General nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy is “antigun,” without adequately explaining how Vivek's views on firearms are mainstream within the medical community.

As Murthy's nomination for Surgeon General moves towards a vote in the Senate, which may now be delayed, the National Rifle Association and its allies in conservative media are advancing the false narrative that Murthy is “radical” and “anti-gun” because he views gun violence in the United States as a public health concern and supports allowing doctors to ask patients about gun ownership, among other gun safety measures.

In a March 14 article, the Times devoted significant space to attacks on Murthy while only briefly noting that his views reflect those of many Americans. The article noted that an NRA message to supporters claimed that Murthy is “President Obama's radically antigun nominee,” and also mentioned that a Democratic senator had received letters from constituents “who say they are alarmed by what they believe are Dr. Murthy's antigun views.”

It took until the 14th paragraph of the article to note that Vivek's views on firearms are “in step with where many Americans stand on gun control,” and the article made no mention of the fact that Vivek's views on guns are in keeping with the medical community.

Each year in the United States more than 30,000 Americans die from gun violence and another 70,000 are injured in shootings. While gun homicides sharply declined in the early 1990s and have declined more slowly in recent years, the Wall Street Journal found that between 2001 and 2011, the number of individuals who sustained serious gunshot wounds -- those that require hospitalization -- increased “by nearly half.” Experts credit advances in medical technology to explain why homicides have decreased while serious gunshot injuries have increased.

Given this state of affairs, the American Medical Association has stated, “Gun violence in America has reached epidemic proportions.” According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, combatting gun violence involves a “public health approach.”

In a recent Washington Post column, a senior advisor for Doctors for America -- the medical organization Murthy co-founded that is supportive of the Obama administration's gun violence prevention agenda -- argued that Murthy's “views are far more representative of mainstream medical and public health opinion” than the NRA's.

The senior advisor added, “If you doubt me, check out this Congressional letter from the American Psychiatric Association after the tragedy at Sandy Hook. Or read this piece from the American Academy of Pediatrics, or this one from the American College of Emergency Physicians Web site."

The Times article also devoted coverage to the fact that the NRA says it will score Vivek's confirmation vote for the upcoming midterm elections, without mentioning that research has demonstrated that the NRA has little ability to influence the outcome of congressional races.

Positing that Vivek's nomination has “placed Democrats from conservative states, several of whom are up for re-election this year, in a difficult spot,” the Times described the NRA as “a powerful political force in many of the states where Democrats face their greatest threats this year in efforts to keep control of the Senate.”

But according to statistical analysis of House and Senate races conducted by American Prospect contributing editor Paul Waldman (a former employee of Media Matters), the NRA has little ability to determine the outcome of congressional elections, despite conventional wisdom in the media to the contrary.

Sharing the results of his research in a 2012 ThinkProgress article, Waldman concluded (emphasis original): "The NRA has virtually no impact on congressional elections. The NRA endorsement, so coveted by so many politicians, is almost meaningless. Nor does the money the organization spends have any demonstrable impact on the outcome of races. In short, when it comes to elections, the NRA is a paper tiger."

To find out the truth behind other gun violence falsehoods, visit Media Matters' Mythopedia project.