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As Interest Fades, Will the Media Keep the Gun Debate Alive? | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

As Interest Fades, Will the Media Keep the Gun Debate Alive?


Joe Biden and Barack Obama announce gun control proposals earlier this month. (Reuters/Larry Downing.)

Not so sure it’s that simple, but a piece yesterday at the Washington Post site makes case that the post–Sandy Hook national “debate” over gun violence, proliferation and culture has not faded as quickly as in previous cases because the press has kept it alive, with an assist from the White House.

[E]ven the murders of first-graders couldn’t compete with the issue attention cycle—at least initially. Just two weeks after the shooting, gun control looked like it was headed to the dustbin of history again. In particular, the fiscal-cliff debate (and the attendant congressional f-bombs) sucked almost out of the oxygen out of the Washington media air. In the week surrounding the New Year, “fiscal cliff” appeared in the news four times as often as “gun control.”

But coverage shortly moved on to a third phase. Whereas gun control had evaporated from the news within about a month of the earlier shootings, in the case of Newtown, it surged back in mid-January.

They even supply graphs to prove their point. I’m wondering how truly “alive” it really is but it’s an interesting piece for sure.  However, here’s the key conclusion:

But the media tend to be reactive, “indexing” their coverage according to the political debate happening within Washington. The surest way for an issue to stay in the news is for politicians to fight about it. (It doesn’t hurt when the president mentions it in an inaugural address.) When political elites publicly push for legislation, as the Democrats are doing now, journalists take notice. But if policymakers stop publicly arguing over gun control—either because legislation appears moribund or because debates over fiscal and spending issues crowd it out—the news media are likely to stop caring about it, too.

So, as usual, it’s in the hands of our Democratic friends in Congress, in state legislatures, in the White House.

To show how far we have to go: Pro-gun advocates yesterday heckled the father of a 6-year-old Sandy Hook victim at a state hearing in Connecticut: “When Neil Heslin, who was holding a picture of his deceased son, Jesse Lewis, during his testimony, asked the state senate why Bushmaster-type assault rifles should be legal, several gun enthusiasts in the audience reportedly shouted him down, yelling ‘The Second Amendment!’ ” Somehow he kept his composure.

Then there's this:  Police in Seattle yesterday witnessed a weapons sale--the sale from one civilian to another of a military surface-to-air missile launcher.

On the other hand, last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart welcomed NBC’s Bob Costas, promising to talk sports, but started on guns and they never got off in the segment that was aired (they then talked sports when they went to overtime). Costas, who took heat for days after a brief and rather gentle commentary on gun culture in the NFL during halftime of a televised football game—before Sandy Hook—stood by, even heightened, his criticism, last night, labeling those who oppose a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity ammo magazines, and widening of background checks, as “insane.”

In a gut-wrenching story for today’s paper, a New York Times reporter talked to seven Newtown police officers, some for the first time, about what they found after they entered the school in Sandy Hook. And after they found two teachers and entered the classroom… It’s a story that should never be repeated. But it will be if things don’t change.

One thing to keep in mind in reading this: The teachers and staffers, guarding children behind locked doors, refused to let the cops in, fearing they were bad guys, and officers had to rip hinges off to get in some rooms. If the teachers had been armed—would they have blasted the rescuers, who were in a frenzy, shouting and screaming and yelling “open the door!” when they started banging on the doors? Then there’s this:

The stories also reveal the deep stress that lingers for officers who, until Dec. 14, had focused their energies on maintaining order in a low-crime corner of suburbia. Some can barely sleep. Little things can set off tears: a television show, a child’s laughter, even the piles of gifts the Police Department received from across the country.

One detective, who was driving with his wife and two sons, passed a roadside memorial on Route 25 two weeks after the shooting, and began sobbing uncontrollably. “I just lost it right there, I couldn’t even drive,” the detective, Jason Frank, said.

Does America care? I’ve tried to bring national attention to the recent murders—sadly illustrative—in Albuquerque, when a kid easily took rifles from unlocked closet and killed his mom and dad and three very young siblings, two of them younger than any that died at Sandy Hook. But the national media barely raised a whisper.

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