Ethics Alarms returns to the evergreen topic of the journalism ethics defying left-agenda bias of the Mainstream media with the most defiant and annoying perpetrator of all, National Public Radio. Its solemn, cultivated con on this occasion involved, naturally, the news media’s war on guns, which, for those you don’t understand the concept of “fair and objective reporting,” is supposed to be “the news media explicating the left’s war on guns.”
A week ago, NPR’s Chris Arnold reported on the emergence of a “powerful new gun control group,” Everytown for Gun Safety. The organization came out of the union of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group launched by Shannon Watts during the post-Newtown gun control push.
Describing Watts, the NPR feature said:
“Much of the groundswell behind this crusade comes from just regular people pulled into it for their own reasons. For a woman named Shannon Watts, she was drawn in by another mass shooting — the murder of 20 schoolchildren 6- and 7-year-olds in Newtown, Connecticut. Watts wasn’t there: She lived 800 miles away in Zionsville, Indiana. She was folding her kids’ laundry, actually, when the news broke. And she wanted to do something. ‘I was obviously devastated but I was also angry and I went online and I thought, ‘Surely there is a Mothers Against Drunk Driving for gun safety.’ And I couldn’t find anything. Watts had never done anything political before but she made a Facebook page and she called it One Million Moms for Gun Control [now Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America].”
Now, this is how the news media can slant an issue and later say, “Who, us?” This paragraph is designed to send the visceral, lizard-brain-level message “Anti-gun activism GOOD.” The public, especially the college educated, generally well-off listeners of NPR, is rightly suspicious of lobbyists and activists of all stripes, and sophisticated, well-funded efforts to influence public policy. They are most likely to trust the instincts of, well, themselves, or people like themselves, or better yet, “innocents” driven by conviction and unselfish, unsophisticated democratic motives, like, say “Guns BAD’ and “Do something!” Thus the paragraph above describes a hero that Every Listener can identify with, for many of them see themselves as ” just regular people” who “never done anything political before.”
They also melt like lemon drops over activism by moms, because many are moms, and everyone loves mom. This is also why savvy activists like to name their groups after mothers.
You have to love the details NPR chose to include and what they suggest. “Zionsville, Indiana”…might as well be called Everytown. Watts was folding her kids’ laundry when she heard of Newtown. Can’t you just picture Donna Reed or Marion Cunningham hearing the news on NPR, probably with tears in her eyes, getting a that look of determination in her eyes (“I know that look, honey!”) and deciding to, dammit, do something, having never done “anything political” before?
But in the case of Shannon Watts, that was an intentionally misleading image, crafted by her and abetted by NPR to promote sympathy for the anti-gun movement.
Let’s look at NPR’s correction after Newsbusters, the conservative news watchdog, newsbusted the story in a post titled “Dishonest NPR Tells of ‘Regular’ Mom Who Put the Con in Gun Control”:
…This report refers to Shannon Watts as one in a group of “regular people” who began advocating for stricter gun control measures in recent years. After the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., she created the “One Million Moms for Gun Control” Facebook page. It later became “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.” We should have noted that Watts has a background in corporate communications. From 1998 to mid-2012, she was a corporate communications executive or consultant at such companies as Monsanto and FleishmanHillard. Before that, Watts had what she says was a nonpolitical job as a public affairs officer in the Missouri state government.
Our report also states that Watts had never “done anything political” before the shootings at Sandy Hook. We should have noted that Federal Election Commission records show she began contributing money to Democratic campaigns and political action committees earlier in 2012. According to those records, she has made about $10,000 in such contributions, and about one-third were made before the Sandy Hook shootings.
In other words, this was not Edith Bunker deciding to do something about guns. This was a wealthy, experienced, public relations professional who was politically savvy and had contributed to Democratic Party-supporting pacs before Newtown. She is also one who knows how to be deceitful, since calling a job in public affairs within a state government “non-political” is worthy of Hillary Clinton. NPR “should” have characterized Watts more accurately, but didn’t, because it wanted to make an anti-gun activist seem like a just plain folks, and she wasn’t. It revealed only facts that accomplished that goal, and left out facts that would undermine it, and subtly misled the public to buy into NPR’s ideological agenda, as well as President Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s. The grand message: “Ordinary Americans” aren’t the ones supporting gun rights (though they are); its the big, rich, organized, NRA, and standing up to it are courageous wealthy, politically active Democrat communications and PR professionals whose own well-organized groups are underwitten by billionaires like Michael Bloomberg…wait, what am I saying?? Standing up to it are courageous, caring moms like your mom and mine, letting their kids clothes go unfolded to play Mother David to these Goliaths, and save our kids from being slaughtered.
The Washington Post’s own media watchdog Erik Wemple covered the story, and decided to do his own spinning for NPR in the cleverest of ways. As Wemple tells it, NPR isn’t the villain here for, you know, lying and slanting the news. No, the villain is sexism, and the problem is that “stay-at-home” mom is an archaic term suggesting that such a mom can’t also run a public relations and accounting firm out of the place. Oh yes, and of course, the NRA is the real villain. He enlists the help of a PR and communications pro named Shannon Watts to accomplish this pivot.
“Here’s what happens: There’s a story about me and then immediately the gun lobby and the trolls, they try to pick apart who I am,” Wemple quotes Watts as saying. Then she cites a 2014 article in the National Rifle Association publication, America’s 1st Freedom, which challenged the authenticity of her stay-at-home mother guise. How could Watts be a stay-at-home mom, asks the article, when she started her own PR firm and worked as a consultant and did other professional things?
This is called “changing the subject,” and once again, Big Bad NRA is used by Wemple and Watts to make Watts seem like the victim….she’s good at what she does, you have to give her credit for that! Wemple’s story was supposed to be about NPR’s misrepresentation in its original story, and the term “stay-at-home mom” wasn’t even the object of the correction. Wemple was using the unethical device of the straw man, knocking down a tangentially related position that isn’t at issue in grandmaster style. Wemple not only changed te subject and shifted the issue, but he shifted the central figure. How did this get to be about the NRA?
Then Wemple, in his wrap-up, deftly pivots to criticizing NPR’s correction, without ever properly slamming it for intentional deceit. (Oh, you can read the linked Newsbusters’ peice for that, but you know what they are ( Psst! Con-serv-a-tive!), and they hate NPR and support guns, so you know how seriously to take their criticism..)
“Warn your people off the use of terms such as “regular people” or “average Americans.” No one knows what those terms mean — and when they come from news outlets lodged in large metropolises, it’s a fair bet that they’re laced with condescension. As a motivated and educated woman who stays at home while performing chores, contract work or activism, yes, Shannon Watts has thousands and thousands of peers across the country. In its correction, NPR very nearly suggests that Watts’ professional and family pursuits somehow place her outside of the pool of “regular people.” Bag that term, and just explain who she is and what she has done.”
What utter dishonesty! Shannon Watts knows well that the terms “regular people” or “average Americans” are used in political rhetoric because people react to them as if they do know what they mean. NPR deliberately misrepresented Watts, and she apparently aided and abetted them. NPR knew she wasn’t what most of its listeners would visualize when its feature described her as small town mom folding laundry, and that’s why the piece wasn’t straightforward about “who she was and what she has done.”
Never mind that someone can be a stay at home mom and run a sophisticated PR firm…that wasn’t what the story was about, that wasn’t the information that it conveyed, and it didn’t convey this deliberately. Wemple muddied the water and the issue, because NPR is part of the the biased mainstream media club. . The Washington Post, after all, misleads readers this way all the time.
I’m not even certain that Wemple’s deliberate effort to confuse the issues and make the NRA the target when the only one breaching journalism ethics was NPR isn’t more unethical than NPR’s deceit. He’s a media reporter deliberately covering up for journalism misconduct, while posing as an objective referee.