CNN Vs. The NRA: Ethically, It’s No Contest

1. Let us begin with this. The National Rifle Association is an advocacy organization. Advocacy organizations operate exactly like lawyer representing clients, and their ethical obligations are similar. They must be loyal to the interests of the object of the representation. They must be zealous, honest, and they must avoid conflicts of interest. In this regard all advocacy organizations, regardless of where they land on the ideological or partisan spectrum, are the same. They have a mission, and a job, and a duty to do it well. The ACLU exists to be an advocate for absolute integrity of the Bill of Rights, particularly the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Ninth. The NRA has a similar mission regarding the Second Amendment, because the ACLU has never been zealous about that one. FIRE advocates for free speech on college campuses, which is often not a First Amendment issue.

NARAL is a zealous advocate for abortion rights, in absolute terms. Most advocacy groups adopt absolute positions which often seem unreasonable to moderates. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is an advocacy group for business—I once worked for them—and opposed government regulations. The Association for Justice—I worked for them too–is an advocacy group for plaintiff’s trial lawyers, and fights any efforts at reforming the tort system, such as capping damages or punishing frivolous lawsuits. All of these and more take the extreme position on one side of a controversy to balance other advocacy groups that take extreme positions in opposition. In this they are very much like opposing lawyers in a trial, except the public is the jury. This is how democracy works, and it is the only way democracy can work.

Condemning and demonizing an advocacy organization because one does not agree with or dislikes the position it advocates is, in my view, exactly like condemning a lawyer for effectively representing an unpopular client—and a lot of ignorant Americans do that, too. Citizens have a right to have an effective organization promote their views and opinions in the court of public opinion, just as citizens have a right to have a competent attorney to represent their interests in a court of law. Attacks on this principle are unsustainable, unethical, and undermine democracy.

2. CNN, and other segments of the news media but especially CNN, has been aggressively attacking this principle since February 14, when Nicholas Cruz opened fire. CNN is NOT an advocacy organization, or is not supposed to be. It is a news organization, and its job and duty is to present facts to the “jury” without trying to influence it one way or the other. On the gun issue, CNN has completely abandoned objectify and its duty to inform, in an unethical effort to advocate for anti-gun interests antithetical to journalism standards.

3. Here is a stunning admission by the New York Times, which has been almost as shrill in its call for gun bans as CNN, in a front page story (Bolding mine):

To many of its opponents, that decades-long string of victories is proof that the N.R.A. has bought its political support. But the numbers tell a more complicated story: The organization’s political action committee over the last decade has not made a single direct contribution to any current member of the Florida House or Senate, according to campaign finance records.

In Florida and other states across the country, as well as on Capitol Hill, the N.R.A. derives its political influence instead from a muscular electioneering machine, fueled by tens of millions of dollars’ worth of campaign ads and voter-guide mailings, that scrutinizes candidates for their views on guns and propels members to the polls.

“It’s really not the contributions,” said Cleta Mitchell, a former N.R.A. board member. “It’s the ability of the N.R.A. to tell its members: Here’s who’s good on the Second Amendment.”

Wait, what? If this is true, and it is, then why did CNN anchor Don Lemon and guest Joan Walsh keep describing the NRA—not its individual members, but the advocacy organization, as essentially bribing Paul Ryan with “millions of dollars” (And why did pro-Second Amendment advocate Rich Lowry never clarify what the Times did? My guess: He didn’t have the facts himself. Incompetent advocacy.) And why did moderator Jake Tapper allow a Democratic Congressman to falsely announce to the audience in CNN’s “town hall” that “No matter how much money the NRA spends on political campaigns, millions and millions of dollars spent trying to convince people that representing the interests of gun companies is more important than standing up for the safety of the people of America..”? The suggestion that the NRA funds “political campaigns” is at best deceit that an ethical, neutral, informed moderator would be obligated to correct.

And why was Tapper silent when one student hectored Marco Rubio, saying, ” So Senator Rubio, can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA in the future?” and “in the name of 17 people, you cannot ask the NRA to keep their money out of your campaign?” Rubio receives no “NRA money.” Of course, Senator Rubio, had he not been the proven incompetent under pressure that we know him to be, could have specifically debunked the falsehood himself instead of vaguely speaking about how “people who agree with his policies supporting the Second Amendment’ contribute to his campaign.”  That is where the donations come from: not the NRA but individuals.

4. Here’s cynically exploited, self-aggrandizing anti-gun demogogue-in-training David Hogg on Brian Stelter’s “Reliable Sources”:

But there’s a much bigger problem in Washington where they say they want — here’s what Dana has been saying as a spokesperson for the NRA. She wants to continue to pass laws, she wants people in Congress to pass laws that help out with mental health and things like that and she says she can’t do that. Are you kidding me? You own these politicians. You’ve passed legislation that enables these bump stocks, which by the way aren’t allowed at NRA shooting ranges because they’re too dangerous, that’s how bad they are. But continuing on with my point. She wants Congress to take action and says that they won’t. Are you kidding me? She owns these congressmen. She can get them to do things, it’s just she doesn’t care about these children’s lives….I agree that the Second Amendment is important, but I think we should have limitations on it in the same way that we have limitations on the First Amendment. For example, I’m still allowed to speak here today, I’m allowed to speak to the press, but I can’t yell fire in a crowd theater in the same way you shouldn’t be able to get an AR-15 if you’re mentally unstable 19-year-old.

Stelter, who continues to debase the concept of media ethics watchdog with every show—this one began with Dan Rather as a guest…Dan Rather on a program called “reliable Sources.” Think about that, did correct Hogg earlier, when he said that Dana Loesch was the CEO of the National Rifle Association, but he didn’t have the wit or integrity to correct…

  • “You own these politicians” and “She owns these congressmen. She can get them to do things.” Loesch doesn’t “own” anyone, and neither does the NRA, as the Times made clear.
  • “You’ve passed legislation that enables these bump stocks…” False. There has been no legislation on “bump stocks,” enabling them or otherwise.
  • She doesn’t care about these children’s lives.” This is demonization and demagoguery.
  • “I’m still allowed to speak here today, I’m allowed to speak to the press, but I can’t yell fire in a crowd theater in the same way you shouldn’t be able to get an AR-15 if you’re mentally unstable 19-year-old.” Admittedly, this is so confused and ignorant that it would be hard for Stelter to fix it without a 15 minute break. Yet that’s what happens when a child is presented as an authority worth listening to on a news show. Sure you can shout fire in a crowded theater, if there’s a fire. Justice Holmes’ much-misunderstood analogy is something Hogg probably read someplace and doesn’t understand, although Rather–who was still on hand, nodding—and Stelter should. [Here’s Ken White’s wonderful exposition on the quote.] Hogg’s analogy is terrible anyway: one is an example of conduct that is not protected under the First Amendment when engaged in by anyone, and the other is a specific class of individuals having their Second Amendment rights stripped from them based on age and illness, and acceptance of “pre-crime,” a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Oh, I know, he’s just a kid. It’s unfair to expect him to comprehend such nuances and details—except that he’s being used by CNN to attack the NRA with bad facts and false analogies.

5.  Saving the most despicable for last, I give you CNN commentator Van Jones, who argued last week  that a “whole generation of young people”  regards the NRA as the equivalent of the Klu Klux Klan because the organization  “has played a net destructive role for people who are trying to solve this problem,”  adding,

“There is a sense of fear and terror among people who are in elected office that if they even entertain certain notions that the NRA is going to drop a ton of bricks on them…we haven’t had the kind of innovation, experimentation, trying of things—I don’t know of any of the things being proposed would make any difference at all yet, but we should know more than we know right now. We should have been able to try things and we haven’t been able to….You have a whole generation of young people who essentially see the NRA as their enemy…To them the NRA is like the KKK; it’s just some hostile force that is against them, that’s risking their lives.”

Jones is a handsome, charming, articulate and reasonable sounding race-baiter that no ethical news source should employ.  Here, he is guilty of…

  • Blaming the NRA for the false image of the NRA projected by hostile news media, like CNN, and dishonest pundits, like him.
  • This is Cognitive Dissonance Scale abuse and viciousness, linking an organization to one with the lowest possible scale ratings in order to smear it. The KKK was a terrorist organization and racist. The NRA is neither.
  • The NRA can’t drop a “ton of bricks” on anyone. It’s members and other citizens who do not support draconian limitations on the ownership of guns will vote against politicians who do. That’s called democracy.
  • Jones’ logic is historically perverse. As the site Bearing Arms correctly points out,  the original gun control efforts were designed to disarm blacks in the Jim Crow South….all the better to lynch them. The Klan was pro gun control.

 

The NRA is no different from the NAACP, NOW or any other advocacy organization, except that it is more effective than most. It has extreme and sometimes irresponsible positions: all absolutist advocacy organizations do.

CNN is contrast, is a journalism and news organization behaving as an advocacy group…an unusually dishonest one.

And that’s unethical.

 

44 Comments

Filed under Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement

44 responses to “CNN Vs. The NRA: Ethically, It’s No Contest

  1. I’m glad for the students to participate here, ethics should be a key part of education. I think their participation here is also great *practice* in rhetoric and argumentation. I think, when arguments they present are valid and logical, they should be considered with seriousness. But that means the argument should be listened to because of it’s validity…not because “listen to the children”.

    Anytime the topic of “listen to the children” is ever raised with seriousness as the valid reason to consider the argument, and you have to argue against it in a post, you should use this picture:

    • Well, in all manner of image embedding failure…that was supposed to be an image of Lord of the Flies boys, shirtless, faces painted with spears, standing before a jungle ablaze…

      Now I can’t even try to repost the correct link without getting a “duplicate comment” warning.

      Oh well.

    • The reason I play in this sandbox we cal Ethics Alarms is that my ethics education was almost nonexistent. I sopped up some with moral teaching at church growing up, and in college Engineering ethics was ‘don’t build a bridge that will fail.’

      • I think the greater community in the past could afford not to teach ethics in public school because society had other active institutions pumping children with enough ethics to get them started in life.

        Those institutions have been broken or discarded in the mean time.

  2. I’d wager that the point on $$$ contributions from the NRA is a complicated one. While any given politician might not receive a lot of money directly to their official campaign, I think we’d have to consider the NRA influence on any given election. Did they contribute to PACs, did they drop a lot of advertising in support of a candidate, or against a candidate’s opponents. While any one of them might be able to say “I haven’t been bought…directly” I’d say a few of them might know their political future if they rock the boat in an inappropriate way. With that said, I posit this as the reason those $$$ assertions haven’t been properly challenged.

    “My campaign has not received money from the NRA” might be technically true, but it’s misleading if the campaign has also benefited greatly by the advocacy and support of the NRA.

    • I’ve seen the angle of attack on the internet regarding campaign donations and the 2nd Amendment increase in volume inexplicably.

      At the end of the analysis, the NRA represents individual donors, those individual donors, contributing money to the NRA are collectivizing their Freedom of Speech in support of the 2nd Amendment.

      How is this controversial?

      • I don’t think it is controversial. It would be ineffectual for Rubio or Ryan to downplay the NRA’s influence on their campaigns as it relates to Direct Contributions alone. I’m more or less critiquing Jack’s post above, as I think he was reading too quickly.

        I’m pondering the phrase of “The organization’s political action committee over the last decade has not made a single direct contribution to any current member of the Florida House or Senate.”

        I need more context but after hitting the article, the perspective for me is that members of the Florida House and Senate are state legislators and this statements excludes analysis of contributions to members of the US House and Senate from Florida.

        Thus after that statement, Jack says: Wait, what? If this is true, and it is, then why did CNN anchor Don Lemon and guest Joan Walsh keep describing the NRA—not its individual members, but the advocacy organization, as essentially bribing Paul Ryan with “millions of dollars”

        Paul Ryan isn’t a U.S. Congressman from Florida, but rather Wisconsin. I’m not sure what his direct NRA contributions have been over the last decade, but the linked NYT article does state that for the 2016 election cycle, the NRA did contribute $1.1 million directly to candidates for federal office. It would make sense that Paul Ryan received some contribution directly. (Comcast by comparison directly donated $12.7 million.)

        This would actually be of interest to me. I don’t know a lot of the ins and outs regarding campaign finance and talking about them now feels like I’m a HS student talking about firearms for the first time in my life. I need an education.

        • Let’s assume that the NRA gave Paul Ryan’s campaign direct donations every election cycle (every 2 years) since the 1998 election. Let’s also assume the contribution limit has been the 2018 contribution that entire time ($5,000). Then 2018 will be the 10th election cycle for Paul Ryan and his total contributions from the NRA multi-candidate political action committee can not have exceeded $50,000. So…how do we get to “millions”? Or the assumption that these campaigns are fully funded by the NRA? I get that the NRA could give $5k to a candidate in every house race (435) every 2 years at a cost of $2.175 million, but that’s still only $5K per candidate. In 2016, they spent half that for federal offices, which also includes a batch of Senators and President.

        • I know you don’t think it’s controversial. But the essential attack by the media on the NRA is that donations (which are inevitably protected speech) essentially buy off politicians. But that attack makes no sense if political donations are protected as speech.

    • But that’s not the same as being bought, or bribery. The CNN argument has been that legislators do the NRA’s bidding for the money. The Association of Trial Lawyers (now the Association For Justice) is the same way: it’s members give, because its members vote, and those they vote for candidates that support the interests of trial lawyers. That process can’t be fairly describes as “Vote for our agenda, or you won’t get these millions from our organization any more.”

      Also the phrase “give to your campaign” is factually misleading. If I write about why I think someone should vote for Corey Booker, I’m still not part of his campaign.

      • Which means that the “the NRA gives so much money that its support is bought” narrative is factually false. It spends money to let Second amendment supporters know who does and soesn’t support the Second Amendment—like every other advocacy group does with its own issues.

    • Rusty Rebar

      Just for the record…

      NRA spent $5.1M on lobbying in 2017 (https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=d000000082)

      Compare that with

      Pharmaceuticals/Health Products: $277,784,999
      Insurance: $160,235,585
      Electronics Mfg & Equip: $144,761,270

      https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/top.php?indexType=i&showYear=2017

      Commercial Banks: $66,200,676 <– #20 on the list, still 6 times more than all of gun rights lobbying

      Gun Rights: $10,180,732

      (all these numbers are for 2017)

  3. This is Cognitive Dissonance Scale abuse and viciousness, linking an organization to one with the lowest possible scale ratings in order to smear it. The KKK was a terrorist organization and racist. The NRA is neither.

    If Van Jones feels free to make this comparison, then I feel free to make another comparison.

    Not many people know this but the “the KKK began as a gun-control organization…” As The Wall Street Journal acknowledged, “It was a constant pressure among white racists to keep guns out of the hands of African-Americans, because they would rise up and revolt.” While in 2003 the book “The Challenge of Crime” acknowledged that felons or “second-class citizens,” own the majority of stolen or illegally owned guns many who I suppose have been imprisoned for drug offenses.

    – Andy Gill

    Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/andygill/the-war-on-guns/#CC5s2IXQZxzWeBlO.99

    Van Jones, and those like him, continue the work of Nathan Bedford Forrest.

  4. …representing the interests of gun companies…

    This is one of my “favorite” bogus charges against the NRA. It’s often presented in other variations such as “The NRA is controlled by/paid off by/does the bidding of firearms manufacturers. It looks after the interests of gun dealers, not its members.” etc., etc.

    One simple example shows that just the opposite is true: those in the firearms industry look to the NRA for direction in political matters, and ignore the organization and its members at their peril.

    In 2000, the familiar American firearms company Smith & Wesson, under British ownership at the time, chose to disregard the preferences of their customers and the NRA and throw in with proposed Clinton administration legislation that, among other things, included restrictions on magazine sizes, and limits on the sales and distribution of firearms. The NRA started a boycott.

    To quote Business Insider:
    Consumers began refusing to buy S&W products and the market became flooded with used S&W goods that people wanted no part of. Gun enthusiasts saw the company as breaking solidarity with them, as a traitor and perpetrator of gun control.

    S&W’s revenues plummeted, it was driven nearly into bankruptcy, and was snapped up by another owner.

    That being said, even if the idea of the NRA advocating for the firearms industry were true, my response would be “So what?”. What, exactly, is wrong with an advocacy group concerning itself with the welfare of the producers of the products which are the main focus of its members interests? What such group wouldn’t do just that in its own field?

  5. Arthur in Maine

    I’m beginning to wonder if we’re not cutting young Mr. Hogg too much slack here. I just heard the end of an interview with him and another Stoneman student and he made the claim that installing bulletproof glass at schools would “save thousands of lives” and “be good for the economy because of all the jobs it would create.”

    The show was “On Point,” which is produced at WBUR in Boston and syndicated nationally on NPR stations. The host was Jane Clayson, who took over the show (at least temporarily) from Tom Ashbrook, who was recently fired by WBUR for being the kind of arrogant screaming asshole of a boss just about anyone over the age of 35 who doesn’t work in a progressive bubble has survived at least once.

    In fairness to Clayson, it WAS the end of the show. But her sympathetic tone suggested that she wouldn’t have pinned his ears back for those two whoppers even if she had had the time.

    Hogg, I suspect, is approaching the point of shark jumping. He seems a little too enamored of his newfound spotlight and a bit too delighted by his own wisdom.

    • Oh, AIM, I think he’s jumped a Mako, a Tiger and a Thresher already. It’s despicable for adults to let him get extended like this. He’s either going to be insufferable, or wake up some day wanting to cgange his name and get plastic surgery.

  6. I agree with most of the post, but wonder about this part:

    “Condemning and demonizing an advocacy organization because one does not agree with or dislikes the position it advocates is, in my view, exactly like condemning a lawyer for effectively representing an unpopular client—and a lot of ignorant Americans do that, too. Citizens have a right to have an effective organization promote their views and opinions in the court of public opinion, just as citizens have a right to have a competent attorney to represent their interests in a court of law. Attacks on this principle are unsustainable, unethical, and undermine democracy.”

    Does this include any advocacy group? I would think there has to be some balance to this. The first group that comes to mind is “Black Lives Matter”, and have we been wrong to condemn them so often on this blog if they’re considered an advocacy group?

    To get more radical, what about the KKK or white supremacist groups?

    What makes, or doesn’t make, an advocacy group? And at what point can we condemn them if we do not agree or dislike the position it advocates?

    • If BLM was a genuine advocacy group for eliminating police bias and brutality against black citizens, it would fit the defintion. It’s isn’t. It has no integrity or honesty. It’s a racist power group, falsely representing itself as an advocacy group.

      I agree that some objects of advocacy are unethical.

  7. Chris

    I don’t think the NRA is an “absolutist” organization. For example, they rarely defend the Second Amendment rights of citizens killed by the police for exercising it, as Radley Balko has aptly documented here:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2017/07/11/how-the-nras-allegiance-to-cops-undermines-its-credibility-on-gun-rights/

    • Not one of Radley’s best. An officer shooting a gun-wielding suspect in self-defense has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. He’s ostentatiously anti-cop, and that’s what this is. Or is not getting involved in every case evidence that an advocate’s position isn’t absolutist. The NRA generally opposes all restrictions on Second Amendment rights.

      • Phlinn

        “An officer shooting a gun-wielding suspect in self-defense has nothing to do with the Second Amendment.” That’s a little strong in my opinion. When the courts use the known presence of a legally owned gun to justify no knock raids over credit card fraud, that at least implicates the right to bear arms. That link was from Radley’s article, and I think he has a point generally. Philando is not the best example, but it was topical.

      • Chris

        Not one of Radley’s best. An officer shooting a gun-wielding suspect in self-defense has nothing to do with the Second Amendment

        Putting aside the fact that the officer who killed Philando Castile could not be credibly said to have acted in “self-defense,” there were many examples in Radley’s piece of citizens being killed by cops for using guns for their own self-defense, responding entirely to threats that the police themselves created. It isn’t self-defense for an officer to intentionally terrorize someone into pulling out a gun to protect themselves and then shooting them for it—which is what many of those cases show.

        If the police aren’t a threat to the Second Amendment, then nothing is.

        • Again, police action in response to what they perceive is not infringing on a right to bear arms. The shooting is based on what the officer believes the citizen is about to do with the arms “If the police aren’t a threat to the Second Amendment, then nothing is.” is just silly.

          The Philadro Castile tragedy was a failure in communication and a badly trained cop. The video clearly shows that after telling the officer that he had a gun, Castile reached into his pocket and began pulling out his wallet as the obviously panicked officer shouted at him not to pull out his gun. The video proves that the officer was unfit to be a cop, and it shows that he was in fear of his life and why. He could not be convicted of murder on that evidence.

          If he shot Castile for saying he had a gun, the episode would have some relevance to Balko’s stretch, but still not much.

  8. TheShadow

    Can we have a post on the “mentally unstable” aspect?

    It drives me up the wall to hear this repeated over and over. If “mentally unstable” is adequate to take someone’s rights away, why not take away their due process, free speech, right to vote, right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, etc.

    Additionally, who defines “mentally unstable”? Someone who is religious (according to Joy Behar)? Someone who disagrees with you politically (according to the lunatic fringe on both ends)? Or, like pornography, they just know it when they see it?

    • Someone who has been committed to a mental institution.

      • John Billingsley

        Or has been adjudicated as a mental defective.

        • So we need a judicial hearing, with a fair chance to present evidence of sanity and to challenge the evidence of insanity?

          • John Billingsley

            Yes. The process in Florida for committing an individual to a mental institution requires that two psychiatrists petition for placement. Then there is a hearing before a judge with both parties represented by attorneys. The patient is encouraged to be present but may waive that right. The patient may have witnesses to testify on their behalf and is allowed to request an opinion by another psychiatrist. All testimony is under oath and there is a court reporter. The hearings I have participated in were not shams and the judge ordered some of the patients released after the hearing.

  9. trumpgurl42

    This is telling.
    Arming teachers will just get teachers killed.

    “It bothers me to think as a father of two young boys to tell them to not be aggressive to your teacher,” said Sen. Oscar Branynon (D-Miami Gardens).
    The lawmaker told the Sun Sentinel that he and other black fathers across Florida will now have to include teachers when talking to their children about how to act around armed authority figures.
    “Please don’t make it dangerous for children who look like my children to go to school.”

    Teachers have enough of belligerent students to deal with without having to worry about this accepted culture of challenging authority for challenging’s sake.

    Either the teachers will get jumped or the teachers will have to shoot one of these deviants to protect themselves…a sure fire way to finally kill public education. Hurrah for the voucher-nuts.

    Rather, fund public education as privates and charters are, AND allow public’s to kick out trouble makers as privates and charters can do.

    We should take a listen to the Jewish Schools. They have secure campuses. We need to do the same.

    It will cost money. But, it will be cheaper than voucher. And we can’t afford otherwise.

  10. Let’s ignore Dan Rather’s deserved fall from grace in 2005 and focus on the reality of his media heavyweight status for decades, being considered, with Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw as one of the “Big Three” from the 80s to the 2000s.

    His fall from grace is even more starkly apparently sitting at a table with this David Hogg, who would have been 5 or 6 when Rather exited stage left. This juxtaposition really emphasizes Rather’s irrelevancy, when there’s a very good likelihood that David Hogg flat out has no idea who he is other than “some important news guy from awhile back”.

  11. Jack, this is way off topic, but this is the most recent post touching on the 4th Amendment, so I’ll nest this here as a pointer:

    http://www.wral.com/to-find-suspects-police-quietly-turn-to-google/17377435/

  12. Bravo. It bears repeating that the NRA is a civil rights organization (not a RICO-style criminal enterprise). [I am probably way left of most people who call themselves Liberals and I belong to the NRA, the ACLU, NARAL & Planned Parenthood: all for the same reason. The reason is, a threat to any one right is a threat to all rights.] Mencken hit the nail on the head: rights don’t defend themselves, and most governments don’t defend them either; they are defended if at all by small groups of fanatics. So, two cheers for the NRA. Two cheers for the ACLU.

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