Gun group leader: Don’t ban bump stocks even though they are great for shooting people like fish in a barrel
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The nation's most prominent news programs found little time to discuss gun policy and solutions to gun violence while covering the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history, and what little discussion they did have disproportionately featured Republicans with ties to the gun industry.
Media Matters analyzed evening news shows and Sunday political talk shows on CBS, NBC, and ABC between October 2 and October 22 that included discussion of the October 1 Las Vegas, NV, massacre and found that conversations about how to solve gun violence -- via policy or other means -- were few in number and quickly tapered off in the days following the shooting. During the limited gun policy discussions, the shows hosted and quoted Republican officials who have received much more money from the gun lobby than their pro-gun-safety Democratic counterparts.
Conservative media and their gun lobby allies often respond to mass shootings by saying that the immediate aftermath of the event is not the time to talk about solutions to gun violence. Overall coverage of the Las Vegas massacre appears to follow that advice, as the vast majority focused on breaking news and updates, with only 19 percent even mentioning gun policy and solutions. The entirety of the coverage -- including breaking news and updates on the incident, gun policy and solutions-oriented discussions, and non-gun-policy discussions related to the shooting -- was largely contained to the immediate aftermath of the shooting, with 83 percent taking place in the first week of the study period. As the drastic drop in coverage during our analysis indicates, there is no period “appropriately” removed from a high-profile incident of gun violence when a gun debate actually takes place. None of the segments analyzed from October 8 through the end of the study period on October 22 included gun policy and solutions-oriented discussion.
As the country grapples with yet another horrific mass shooting following the November 5 church massacre in Sutherland Springs, TX, here are several key takeaways from our analysis of broadcast news coverage of the Las Vegas shooting:
CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, ABC’s World News Tonight, and the networks' Sunday political talk shows -- CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and ABC’s This Week -- ran a total of 140 segments on the shooting between October 2 and October 22. Forty-six segments were broadcast on the day after the shooting, October 2, when broadcasts networks extended their normal show hours to run additional segments. The shooting received heavy, but declining, coverage in subsequent days, and then briefly spiked on October 8 when segments on Sunday political talk shows helped to bring the total number for that day to 18.
After October 8, coverage fell off. Political talk shows on October 15 and October 22 included no segments on the shooting, and coverage on evening news programs tapered off.
Broken down by week, 83 percent of segments occurred during the initial week following the shooting (October 2-8), 12 percent came the following week (October 9-15), and 4 percent of segments occurred in the final week of the study (October 16-22).
Our analysis also sought to determine the substance of segments run on the shooting. While broadcast news programs’ stature gives them the authority to set an agenda for what topics will be covered long term, they do have limited time and must move forward with reporting on new topics. Given those constraints, we wanted to analyze how the programs used the time they had; to do so, we coded three common occurrences in segments: breaking news and updates on the Las Vegas shooting, gun policy discussions, and non-gun policy discussions.
The first category included reports on the facts of the shooting -- the who, what, when, where, and why -- and often included updates about the perpetrator, the victims, the timeline, and the weaponry that was used. Gun policy and solutions-oriented discussions typically included segments about the prospect of legislative action to address the massacre, but non-policy discussion of solutions to gun violence were also included. Finally, non-gun policy discussions included segments that discussed policy changes in the wake of the shooting that were unrelated to the regulation of firearms -- for example, segments that covered mental health policies or non-gun-related security screening measures to prevent mass shootings.
During the period when the shooting was receiving the most coverage, gun policy and solutions-oriented discussion was largely drowned out by other types of coverage. In the first five days of coverage following the shooting -- Monday, October 2, through Friday, October 6 -- segments were far more likely to focus on breaking news and updates than gun policy or solutions-oriented discussion. Given the later overall drop in coverage of all types on the shooting, this would have been the time to have a rigorous debate over policy and solutions. But that didn’t happen. During this week, 15 segments included gun policy and solutions-oriented discussion, while 85 contained breaking news or updates.
Of the 140 segments in the entire study period, 115 (82 percent) included breaking news or updates, 27 (19 percent) included gun policy and solutions-oriented discussion, and 16 (11 percent) included non-gun policy discussion. Some segments fell into more than one category, i.e. a segment that provided updates on the timeline of the shooting that also included discussion of legislative proposals to prevent further massacres.
Gun policy and solutions-oriented discussions spiked on the Sunday following the shooting, when all three Sunday shows included in the study ran multiple segments that met our criteria. That day featured 12 segments on gun policy and solutions-oriented discussion, representing 44 percent of total segments meeting that criteria.
But then the discussion of what should change following the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history was over: Between October 9 and October 22, zero segments included gun policy and solutions-oriented discussion, a time period when the programming missed an opportunity to continue the conversation.
Of the 27 segments that included gun policy and solutions-oriented discussion, nearly half occurred on CBS. NBC and ABC accounted for the other 14 segments.
Media Matters also analyzed the people news programs hosted and quoted in discussing the shooting. Among gun policy and solutions-oriented discussions featuring members of Congress, 63 percent of individuals quoted or hosted were Republicans:
These segments typically focused on questions about banning or otherwise regulating bump fire stocks -- a firearm device the Las Vegas gunman used to rapidly accelerate his gunfire. Based on a review of transcripts, it is likely that the overrepresentation of Republican lawmakers was due to reports that Republicans were open to regulating the devices, a concession rarely seen from Republicans on gun policy.
But since those initial reports on Republicans’ supposed willingness to take action, the waters have become significantly muddied. Republicans have the numbers in Congress to quickly move legislation banning the devices, but they have chosen not to do so. (A hearing that will include testimony on bump fire stocks will take place this week, but that is no guarantee legislation will pass or even be advanced.) House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) made statements on October 11 that further cast doubt on the idea that Republicans are serious about passing bump fire legislation. During a press conference that day, Ryan advanced the position of the National Rifle Association, which is that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) should regulate bump fire stocks. (Ryan received $171,977 from the gun lobby during the 2016 election cycle, more than double any other U.S. representative.) The ATF, however, does not have the authority to regulate the devices because it hasn’t been granted the agency by Congress. Ryan and the NRA’s position is really just a gambit that allows them to appear conciliatory in the face of public outcry while actually preserving the status quo.
Ryan’s claims were just a portion of several developments that could have warranted further segments on gun policy, but as previously noted, segments that included gun policy and solutions-oriented discussion were nonexistent after October 8.
Beyond Ryan, every Republican who came up in the study had received money from the gun lobby for the 2016 and/or 2018 election cycles, with the exception of Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who has backed some gun safety laws. Those members were: House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (LA) ($24,550), Sen. John Thune (SD) ($32,460), Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) ($4,500), Sen. Bill Cassidy (LA) ($4,700), Sen. Tom Cotton (AR) ($8,085), Rep. Adam Kinzinger (IL) ($7,900), and Rep. Scott Taylor (VA) ($2,000). In total, Republicans who appeared, or were quoted, on shows in the study received nearly $300,000 from the gun lobby over the last two election cycles. Among Democrats who appeared on the shows monitored in the study, just one, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), received money ($18,165) from gun safety groups in 2016 or 2018
Beyond not adequately discussing gun policy, the shows also failed to invite guests with expertise on the issue during the period of our analysis. The shows examined hosted just one gun violence researcher -- Dr. Daniel Webster of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research -- during the study period.
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for CBS Evening News, Face the Nation, NBC Nightly News, Meet the Press, World News Tonight, This Week between the dates of October 2 and October 22 for the terms “gun” or “firearm” or “shooting” or “domestic violence” or “suicide” or the word “accident” within five words of the word “gun” or “hate crime” or “officer involved” or “police shooting” or “shot” or “massacre” or “Las Vegas.” We counted segments that fit our criteria, omitting teasers and headlines.
We downloaded transcripts for these search results and analyzed them. To determine what the substance of segments on gun violence was, we split segments into three categories. The first category is segments that reported on the facts of the shooting -- the who, what, when, where details, including but not limited to reports on victims, perpetrators, how the shooting was carried out, the location of the shooting, and what firearms were used in the shooting. Second, we coded for segments that included policy or solutions-based discussion. The final substance category we coded for was non-gun-related policy discussions during segments that we coded as coverage of the Las Vegas shooting, such as when mental health policy was discussed.
For segments that included policy or solutions-based discussion, we coded members of Congress by their party affiliation when they were hosted as guests or quoted on the topic. Segments that quoted members of Congress discussing only news updates about the shooting were not included in this count. We also coded for guests' professional affiliations during policy segments.
In the last couple weeks, Fox News host Tucker Carlson has repeatedly pushed conspiracy theories about the Mandalay Bay mass shooting that left 58 people dead and over 500 more wounded, including about a security guard who was injured.
Carlson aired a report on October 5 by Fox News correspondent Trace Gallagher, who reported that “the Clark County Sheriff has gone on the record saying that he believes Stephen Paddock did have an accomplice in all this.” Immediately after, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt debunked the claim, saying, “I'd like to correct at least one thing that was said in the last segment. You know, the Sheriff did not say there was any evidence of an accomplice … as of right this moment, it is still a single person operation.”
Carlson stepped it up and began floating full-fledged conspiracy theories about the security guard, Jesus Campos, on October 17. Carlson claimed on his show that “Campos may have used someone else’s federal ID” to work at the Mandalay Bay. That claim too was corrected; the hotel sent a statement to Carlson’s show reporting that it had verified Campos’ status in 2015.
And on October 25, Carlson, citing a “document from a confidential source,” questioned why authorities allowed Campos to travel to Mexico when he was “the only eyewitness to the biggest mass shooting in modern American history” and “investigators thought” shooter Stephen Paddock “may have had an accomplice.” As evidence of something fishy, Carlson pointed to the claim that Campos had driven a different car on this trip from one he had used in January. Carlson went on to speculate about the extent of Campos’ injuries, whether he has a criminal record, and why “so many people [have] gone to so much trouble to shape this story” (full transcript here):
The next day, Carlson’s conspiracy theories were again debunked. On October 26, he hosted David Hickey, union president for the International Union, Security, Police, and Fire Professionals of America (SPFPA), of which Campos was a member, to discuss the shooting. Hickey explained that Campos went to Mexico on a previously scheduled trip to see his family and that police were fully aware of his vacation. Hickey explained that Campos had been treated at a hospital for two shrapnel wounds in his left thigh beforehand. He said “to his knowledge,” Campos had not met Paddock before the shooting:
Carlson is certainly not the only one pushing conspiracy theories about Campos and about the shooting. Fake news purveyors and online message boards have been active on the subject, and noted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones spent the week after the shooting recklessly accusing a multitude of people and groups of involvement, while also claiming that the whole thing might have been staged. And right-wing radio host Mark Levin promoted an article on Facebook and Twitter suggesting that Campos was involved in the shooting -- only to later delete his posts when he realized the article was from a fake news purveyor pretending to be CNN.
But Carlson is the only one who hosts Fox News’ 8 pm prime-time show. And, as victims continue to recover from their physical, mental, and emotional wounds, the spread of baseless speculation and conspiracy theories not only has the potential to re-traumatize those victims; it has led to some, like Jesus Campos, being smeared and even receiving death threats.
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Fox host Tucker Carlson was forced to issue a correction after parroting far-right internet troll and conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer, who baselessly claimed Mandalay Bay security guard Jesus Campos worked under someone else’s Social Security number.
Carlson promoted the baseless conspiracy theory during the October 17 edition of his show, claiming Mandalay Bay security guard Jesus Campos had worked under “someone else's Social Security number.” One day later, Carlson admitted “MGM reached out” to him, and verified that Campos used had his own Social Security card when MGM verified his employment in 2015:
TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Meanwhile, MGM reached out to us after a report came out suggesting that Jesus Campos was using someone else's Social Security number.
MGM Company claims they verified his employment eligibility back in 2015, and it was his Social Security card.
Conspiracy theorist and far-right troll Laura Loomer first promoted the claim, tweeting, “EXCLUSIVE: #JesusCampos intel report reveals he shared SSN w/ Jesus Quintero. Is #JesusCampos an illegal alien?” Loomer’s unsubstantiated conspiracy theory was subsequently promoted by Jim Hoft’s conspiracy theory-driven website, The Gateway Pundit.
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Jones has recklessly accused a multitude of people and groups of being involved in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history
Hours after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, America’s most famous conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, took to the airwaves to name the culprit as a “leftist” who was “angry about Trump” before connecting the shooting to the 100-year anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution -- and Jones was just getting started.
No credible reporting had said anything of the sort. But the falsehoods from Jones kept flowing as he spun increasingly convoluted and wide-ranging conspiracy theories out of his initial claims. In the three days following the shooting, Jones would make wild claims about the gunman, Stephen Paddock, including alternately claiming that Paddock was a left-wing extremist and that the mass killer was actually innocent, the victim of a setup. And he was reckless in ascribing blame, claiming the shooting was ordered by various groups including the Democratic Party.
To give his irresponsible -- and often contradictory -- conspiracy theories a sheen of credibility for his audience, Jones often cited anonymous, supposedly highly-placed sources in law enforcement, the military, and the government.
For years, Jones has concocted conspiracy theories following tragedy. Other shootings he has claimed were false flags or hoaxes include the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the Aurora, CO, movie theater mass shooting, the Columbine High School attack, and the Pulse nightclub shooting. The narrative is always politically expedient for Jones: When Democrats are in power, the government often stages the attacks, and when they are not, outside leftist forces are usually responsible.
There are real-world consequences to Jones’ conspiracy theories. The man who opened fire in December inside a Washington, D.C., restaurant that Jones’ website Infowars had claimed was involved in a child trafficking ring appears to have watched Infowars material in the days leading up to the shooting, according to court documents.
Families of Sandy Hook victims have said that Jones has spurred harassment against them, with angry callers telling parents their children didn’t actually die. Jones’ Las Vegas comments are primed to cause a similar phenomenon. Significantly, Jones is pushing conspiracy theories surrounding people with no involvement in the shooting, including the gunman’s brother and the owner of the Mandalay Bay Resort, the site from which the gunman carried out his attack.
Also significant is the fact that Jones apparently has the ability to get his information on the desk of President Donald Trump. The two men have a warm relationship, with Trump appearing on Jones’ show in December 2015 to praise Jones’ “amazing” reputation. Since then, Jones has claimed to be in regular communication with Trump and his inner circle. In one recent example of Jones’ influence, racist former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio credited Jones with bringing his case to Trump’s attention, ultimately leading Trump to issue Arpaio a pardon.
Below are Jones’ myriad conspiracy theories about the Las Vegas attack, made on The Alex Jones Show between October 2, the day following the shooting, and October 4:
Jones has offered numerous contradictory claims about the gunman’s background, including that Paddock was a left-wing extremist who attended anti-Trump rallies, a patsy, “an Islamist,” and a spy who “got set up and double crossed.” Jones also claimed that there were multiple gunmen and in one scenario suggested that Paddock was “a patsy taken up there and killed,” allowing the real perpetrators to escape:
While credulously repeating ISIS’ claim of responsibility for the attack, Jones said that Paddock “was basically a leftist” who “was so angry about Trump and everything that was happening that he went out and carried out this attack.”
Jones weaved Paddock’s reported interest in gambling into his conspiracy theories, stating at one point that “this guy was an Islamicist (sic) or an Islamicist (sic) patsy being handled and set up to pay off gambling debts that were being paid out of the Middle East for him to carry out this attack or to at least be set up in the attack.”
Just before showing a graphic image purportedly of Paddock’s corpse, Jones said, “He could clearly be a patsy taken up there and killed; the folks that actually did it escaped.”
He also promoted the evidence-free theory that there were multiple gunmen. According to “Army and Navy SEAL contacts” whom Jones says he talked to, “it’s very clear at some points you’ve got multiple shooters going on.”
While playing video footage and stills supposedly from a past demonstration against Trump in Reno, NV, Jones fixated on a man in the crowd and said, “I’m sorry, that last video looks like [Paddock]. I’m sorry. Bone structure, the way he smiles, he looks like an idiot,” and, “If that isn’t him, that’s his brother.” Later while playing the same footage, Jones said, “You know it’s going to be antifa because it looks just like him getting in the cop's face on the video. And I mean, if it isn’t him, it’s his twin brother.” Jones made the claims even though one his own reporters previously said that the man shown in the video is “almost certainly” not the gunman.
Jones said that “the consensus around the office” is “that this guy’s a patsy and he was set up.”
Riffing on his “patsy” theory, Jones said, “We also have all the telltale signs of a patsy: working for Lockheed Martin, connected to the Skunk Works, traveling all over the world, millions and millions of dollars that he couldn’t show for from shadowy investments, a wife or girlfriend married to two other men connected to Islamic groups, connected to antifa groups.”
Jones claimed that Paddock “was hooked into intelligence agencies” and “got set up and double crossed.”
While authorities have not determined Paddock’s motive, Jones has made a laundry list of claims of who supposedly directed or was connected to the attack. People and groups he named include ISIS, supporters of the Bolshevik Revolution, “deep state Democrats,” former Vice President Al Gore, former high-level CIA officials, “the shadow government,” antifa, globalists, the Democratic Party, the owners of the Mandalay Bay Resort, and supporters of restrictions on guns:
While most news outlets were skeptical of ISIS’ claim of responsibility, Jones promoted the terror group’s claim as fact, saying that Paddock “had converted to Islam.” He also stated, “Well now we see what appears to be the first Islamist attack on a conservative group or a conservative venue.”
Jones claimed that the attack “has the hallmarks of being scripted by deep state Democrats and their Islamic allies using mental patient cut-outs.”
Ascribing a racist motive, Jones stated that the attack was part of a plot by the “left” to “mainly go out and kill white people.”
Jones connected the attack to former Vice President Al Gore and two former CIA officials, claiming, “Who was allied with ISIS and Al Qaeda during the entire last six years of the Arab Spring? Well, Al Gore called for an Arab Spring here in America. Al Gore, Phil Mudd, and many others also said -- like the former deputy director of the CIA Phil Mudd said, or like the former head of the CIA Mr. [John] Brennan said -- there will be terror attacks in America and they’re coming and Trump is going to be overthrown in the next two months.”
Claiming that all of his CIA sources believe “this is basically leaning towards a left-wing false flag attack,” Jones suggested it could have been “staged by the shadow government,” and added, “You think, well, logically if it’s hitting a group of patriots, then that would look bad on Obama and Hillary and the globalists, but that’s not how this works.”
Jones claimed that sources from the FBI’s hostage rescue team told him that “they found antifa information in the room and photos of the woman in the Middle East.”
Citing violence in Ukraine, Jones said the shooting fit within the “globalist” tactic of using mass shootings to overthrow governments.
Jones said that “the deep state Democratic Party wing is 100 percent behind this thing and they are just a murdering pack of scum.”
Referencing the large variety of weapons found in Paddock’s room, Jones suggested that the shooting was staged to ban those weapons, saying, “They’ve got every manufactured type you can imagine of semi-auto and of different conversions to be able to ban all of those. You can see the whole cut-out.”
Jones alleged on multiple occasions that the employees of Mandalay Bay Resort knew of Paddock’s plan. His theory posits that hotel staff must have known about the arsenal of weapons in Paddock’s hotel room because housekeeping staff do a “security sweep,” including rummaging through all of people’s belongings. Jones also seized on a letter MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren sent several weeks ago that offered to match donations employees made to several nonprofit organizations, claiming Murren “is saying give to the big Islamic group here in the U.S., CAIR, give to the Chinese government-connected group, give to the Southern Poverty Law Center, you name it, ADL, you name it. So this is a big leftist hotel, big leftist group. So -- I mean there’s no way to get 42 guns up in there and they don’t know.” Citing the same letter, Jones said, “You look at where this ends up happening -- in a hard-core Democratic Party company stronghold involved giving massive amounts of money to the very suspect groups who had their hands in [the Oklahoma City Bombing] and other events.” He also said, “We should look at the insurance of Mandalay Bay, just like 9/11.”
Referencing his oft-repeated claim that the left is attempting to start a civil war in the United States, Jones said, “This is a Democratic Party production -- I will say it. They did it. They’ve been calling for a civil war, they’ve been calling to kill conservatives, they want our guns, they’re completely obvious, and they’re just -- it’s incredible.”
Jones repeated the claim of one of his employees that described the attack as “an arms deal gone bad with jihadis,” adding that “they set him up and that they then did the shooting and that that’s what happened.”
Beginning on October 4, Jones began promoting conspiracy theories about media interviews given by Paddock’s brother Eric. While playing footage from interviews Jones said, “This guy is the worst actor,” and that he “is central casting, the squirrelist person I’ve ever seen.” Although not apparent on the video, Jones claimed that Paddock was wearing an “earpiece” and “they’re talking in it, you can see it’s happening, … and he’s just parroting talking points,” before saying, “This is a total cover-up.”
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AG Adam Laxalt: “As of right this moment, it is still a single person operation”
Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt immediately corrected misleading reporting on Fox News claiming that Las Vegas authorities currently believe that the gunman that killed scores of people from the Mandalay Bay hotel had an accomplice. He explained that despite the report on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, “The Clark County Sheriff has gone on the record saying that he believes Stephen Paddock did have an accomplice in all this.”
Laxalt stated “the Sheriff did not say there was any evidence of an accomplice,” and that “I think he was expressing what we all feel, which is it’s hard to believe that a crime of this magnitude could have been done by one person.” Laxalt additionally stated “as of right this moment, it is still a single person operation.” From the October 5 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight:
TRACE GALLAGHER: The Clark County Sheriff has gone on the record saying that he believes Stephen Paddock did have an accomplice in all this. He said he would be Superman if he did not have an accomplice, and pulled this off on his own.
We have now learned that in the days running up to this shooting, that Stephen Paddock was gambling very heavily inside the Mandalay Bay for hours at a time, seven, eight hours at a time, also drinking heavily, and that he was with a female companion. Police are now looking for that female companion.
And there are reports tonight that his girlfriend, Marilou Danley, told the FBI in her five and a half hours of interviews yesterday, that he may have had some mental issues, that she would see him on the bed moaning, things like "Oh, my god," and screaming "Oh, my god." Four days later, Tucker, still no motive for this mass shooting.
TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt is playing a major role in that investigation, of course, and he joins us tonight with the latest. Mr. Attorney General, thanks a lot for coming on. So, I'm sure you've got to be as anxious as anyone to understand why this man, Paddock, did something like this. Are you any closer to figuring that out?
ADAM LAXALT: You know, I'd like to correct at least one thing that was said in the last segment. You know, the Sheriff did not say there was any evidence of an accomplice. I think he was expressing what we all feel, which is it’s hard to believe that a crime of this magnitude could have been done by one person.
LAXALT: But as of right this moment, it is still a single person operation. And, you know, dealing with this horrific tragedy here in our great city, it has been a real shocker for all of us, but people have really pulled together to try to get some answers that we know that we want, and the country as a whole want.