How the Media Blew the Gun Control Debate
With the total and complete defeat of gun control legislation late Wednesday afternoon, the media learned something they had obviously forgotten since pushing Obama over the reelection finish line: They do not run the country. And from what we are seeing across the media landscape since the handing down of this defeat (which was followed by a full-blown presidential hissy fit), this realization has been quite a slap to the face.
The first mistake the media-complex made was the decision to immediately make the National Rifle Association the "Newtown Bogeyman." This happened even before the bodies had been removed and was an immediate "tell" into the media's motives. This wasn't going to be about protecting children; this was going to be yet-another culture war launched to marginalize the dreaded NRA and hand Obama a win.
This was also a media so full of its own power, they simply assumed they could exploit another tragedy into yet-another another Us vs. Them cultural victory. Out of the box, though, the plan was tactically stupid.
But the media's first fatal error wouldn't come for another week.
Wisely, the NRA refused to make any kind of statement until a week had passed after the murders. During that time, as they always do during their partisan crusades, the media ordered up and reported on polls showing that they and Obama happened to be right about everything related to gun control, and the NRA was "out of touch."
The media trap had been set and the knives sharpened. Either the NRA would compromise its beliefs or the Second Amendment civil rights group would face a savage media campaign that would push it into the margins. The media were sure they had a win-win on their hands. But what the media forgot is that Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President and long-time public face of the NRA, is nobody's fool.
In a masterful speech carried live across the cable networks, LaPierre completely caught the media off guard by refusing to budge an inch on America's Second Amendment civil rights. Immediately, the objective, unbiased, not-at-all-liberal media collectively bared their corrupt backsides on Twitter, spewing the kind of partisan hate you might expect from a Daily Kos blogger.
Then LaPierre delivered his masterstroke: a federal plan that would ensure that someone armed and trained to stop a spree-shooter, like the one at Newtown, would be on guard in every school across the nation.
Caught completely off guard, and having no idea how to respond, the media moved into the default position they always assume against all-things conservative --which is that we can never do anything right. And what followed was the media making an unbelievable spectacle of themselves, from which they would never recover.
Blinded by frustration, rage, and an insufferable sense of entitlement, and before finally getting a grip on themselves, the media as a whole would spend the next thirty-six hours mocking, marginalizing, and publicly pushing back against ... guarding schoolchildren against madmen with guns.
Just a week after learning 20 elementary schoolers had been gunned down, the American people watched as the media savaged a common sense proposal to ensure a Newtown couldn't happen again -- simply because the NRA proposed it.
It was during these 36 hours, and before tens of millions, that the enraged media got way out over their partisan skis. Anyone who hadn't already figured out the media were using these dead children in the most mercenary of ways certainly did now. Poll after poll would quickly show that Americans favored the NRA plan. Suddenly it was the NRA on the right side of Newtown, and the media out of touch.
And with that, the slow-motion train wreck got fully underway.
Now that they had fully exposed themselves, and polls were starting to show that the American people were slowly coming to their senses on gun control, an increasingly desperate media changed tactics. The new offensive was a two-track attack -- one fraught with risk -- but one the media obviously thought was worth taking.
Track One -- Emotional Blackmail: As personified by NBC's Joe Scarborough and CNN's Piers Morgan, shameless demagoguery was employed. You either agreed with them on gun control or you wanted children to die and the terrorists to get guns.
Track Two -- Fabricate Reality: As personified by NBC's Chuck Todd and the two days CNN spent lobbying for stricter gun control, the idea was to narrow-cast the news onto a single subject and direct it at fewer than 600 people -- the lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Like the media did with ObamaCare, a propaganda bubble was manufactured to convince lawmakers that gun control was The Most Important Issue In The History of the World.
The risk I mentioned above was eternal damage to reputation, which all involved ultimately suffered, especially CNN.
Meanwhile, Democrats only made the media's job harder. As polls turned against gun control, the actual legislation became increasingly watered down until it was practically nonexistent.
Off the table (other than symbolically) was the assault weapons ban and all the rest. What remained was the tiniest tweaking of background checks.
But again, faced with this, the media made another tactical error -- and this one would be fatal mistake number two.
Rather than report on the reality of what was happening -- that Obama and Democrats had lost the country on their sweeping gun control proposals -- the media (specifically NBC) moved the political goalposts and immediately went into divisive partisan mode again, this time with the absurd and totally false claim that Obama's push for gun control was always about strengthening background checks, and not the rest…
Therefore -- and this is key-- passage of these stricter background checks would still represent a huge political win for Obama (and by extension the media) and a historical defeat for the NRA.
Other than the obvious politicization, what the media failed to understand here was that the American people were witnessing Obama and his media place all their chips on a law that would do absolutely nothing to stop another Newtown. Suddenly gone, as though it didn’t matter, was anything having to do with mental health or media violence.
In other words, all we had left was a nothingburger bill designed only to deliver a symbolic political defeat to the NRA, the GOP, and America's law-abiding gun culture. The Us vs.Them media campaign was unrelenting, but it was also spiraling out of control and into outright farce.
Though Senators Manchin and Toomey provided a day or two of hope with bipartisan legislation on background checks, by now the writing was pretty much on the wall. And it was at this point that the media's desperation became even more desperate.
The news-cycle went 24/7 into Track One and Track Two propagandizing. But as we all now know, rather than being effective, the bias, demagoguery, and outright lobbying drifted into self-parody.
As the Chuck Todds and Joe Scarboroughs and Piers Morgans sanctimoniously raged about their silly and flawed 90% polls, out here in the real world, the media's stupid decision to make this a culture war only managed to ensure that 96% of Americans had tuned out and moved on.
As I have written before, and as Charles Krauthammer said Wednesday night on "Special Report," as a Senator I personally would have voted for the Toomey-Manchin bill. But the media blew it.
Had the media chosen to unite rather than divide, educate rather than propagandize, debate rather than shout down opposition, and cared more about 20 innocent children than one Barack Obama -- things might look entirely different today.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC