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Outgunned: How The Network News Media Are Spinning...

Thursday, March 30, 2000

At a press conference at the National Press Club, the MRC's Brent Bozell said that the media's treatment of the firearms issue is "hardly what any news observer would call unbiased." NRA Director and broadcaster Oliver North called the network news' bias "A frontal assault on our Second Amendment liberties."

How The Network News Media
Are Spinning The Gun Control Debate
A new study by the Media Research Center proves that the anti-gun bias of television network news is worse than ever.
In a two-year period, anti-gun stories outnumbered pro-gun stories by a ratio of nearly 10-to-1.

BY GEOFFREY DICKENS,
Senior Media Analyst, Media Research Center

During the past two years, television network news viewers have been inundated with tragic images of students running away from gunfire. With every new incident, from Pearl, Miss., to Littleton, Co., the networks have had a reflexive reaction. They blame guns and wonder if more gun control laws aren't an obvious solution.

With school shootings claiming more and more network air time, Media Research Center analysts reviewed two years of news reports through the MRC's News Tracking System on gun control policy for four evening shows (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's The World Today, and NBC Nightly News) and three morning broadcasts (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS's This Morning, and NBC's Today) from July 1, 1997, through June 30, 1999. Not included were numerous stories on the families' grief or crime scene investigations that did not include statements relating to gun policy.

Methodology

To assess the tilt of stories, analysts counted the number of pro- and anti-gun statements by reporters in each category. Pieces with a disparity ratio of greater than 1.5-to-1 were categorized as either for or against gun control. Stories closer than the ratio were deemed neutral. Among statements recorded as anti-gun rights: Violent crime occurs because of guns, not criminals; And gun control prevents crime. Categorized as arguments for gun rights: Gun control would not reduce crime; Criminals, not guns, are the problem; Americans have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms; Right-to-carry concealed carry laws caused a drop in crime. Using this story-angle method demonstrates that even in pieces where the "talking head" count is balanced, reporters' statements can often end up tilting the angle of the entire story.

advocated more
gun laws


opposed more
gun laws

The Big Picture

TV news segments on gun policy

morning news
evening news
combined

Using these criteria, analysts found a dramatically tilted debate in favor of gun control. In 653 gun policy stories, those advocating more gun control outnumbered stories opposing gun control by 357 to 36, or a ratio of nearly 10-to-1, while 260 were categorized as neutral. Anti-gun soundbites were twice as frequent as pro-gun ones--412 to 209--while 471 soundbites were neutral. Gun control advocates appeared on the morning shows as guests on 82 occasions, compared with 37 for gun-rights activists and 58 neutral spokesmen.

When these numbers were combined with the results of a 1997 study of two years of gun policy stories using the same parameters, MRC analysts found that in 897 gun policy stories from July 1, 1995, to June 30, 1999, the networks aired 514 anti-gun stories to 46 pro-gun stories, or a ratio of more than 11-to-1.

Evening News Findings

American TV viewers were bombarded by evening news stories promoting gun control. Out of 300 evening news segments, anti-gun stories outnumbered pro-gun stories by 164 to 20 (with 116 neutral segments), or an 8-to-1 ratio. Talking heads were slanted toward gun control by a 2-to-1 ratio (296 for gun control vs. 150 for gun rights) with 319 neutral spokesmen. ABC and CNN provided the worst evening news slant, while NBC was the closest to fairness--and it wasn't close.

advocated more gun laws


opposed more
gun laws

Who Says Goodnight

p.m. news soundbites on gun policy

ABC

CBS

NBC

CNN

advocated more gun laws


opposed more
gun laws

Worst News Tonight

p.m. news segments on gun policy

ABC

CBS

NBC

CNN

ABC's World News Tonight was the most biased in favor of gun control, airing 43 anti-gun stories to only three pro-gun segments with 24 neutral reports. Within that sample, the talking head ratio matched the overall average of 2-to-1, with 125 gun control soundbites, 62 for gun rights and 120 neutral clips.

CNN's The World Today slanted in the direction of gun-control in 50 stories, compared with only seven having more arguments in favor of gun rights (34 were neutral). CNN's selection of talking heads advocating more gun control was the most disproportionate (98 to 40 with 79 neutral).

CBS Evening News stories promoted gun control 28 times and favored gun rights on three occasions (22 were neutral). CBS had the closest ratio of talking heads with 59 for gun control, 35 opposed and 74 neutral.

NBC Nightly News was the least imbalanced, albeit with a tilt of 5-to-1: 43 anti-gun rights stories vs. eight pro-gun rights stories with 36 neutral pieces. But three of the pro-gun stories came on one night (April 30, 1999). By a ratio of nearly 2-to-1, NBC aired gun control exponents with a count of 130 advocates to 72 opponents (and 24 neutral voices).

The network morning shows were flooded with visually arresting images from shootings. Out of 353 gun policy segments, anti-gun stories outnumbered pro-gun stories by 193 to 15, or a ratio of more than 13-to-1 (145 were neutral or balanced). Analysts counted both morning news reports and interviews.

Morning Show Findings

ABC's Good Morning America ran a total of 92 reports supporting gun control compared with just one that favored the gun-rights defense (51 were neutral).

advocated more
gun laws


opposed more
gun laws

Good Morning, Gun Control

a.m. news segments on gun policy

ABC

CBS

NBC

CBS's This Morning offered 19 stories slanted toward gun control solutions to four against (with 27 neutral offerings).

NBC's Today had the greatest number of segments leaning toward gun rights--10, or two-thirds of the morning show total--but also pushed for gun control in 82 segments (88 were neutral).

Guests

Morning shows were nearly twice as likely to feature a gun control advocate than one opposed to more gun control. Gun control supporters appeared on the live morning shows 82 times, compared with 37 gun rights spokesmen. Another 58 held no pro- or anti-gun views in gun policy segments.

advocated more
gun laws


opposed more
gun laws

Who Comes for Coffee?

a.m. guests on gun policy

ABC

CBS

NBC

On Good Morning America, 33 guests professed a belief in more legislation limiting gun rights, while only eight opposed such measures, with 212 neutral guests.

NBC's Today booked three times more gun-rights guests than ABC with 24, but still invited far more gun control advocates (40), with 24 neutral spokesmen.

CBS's This Morning aired the least interviews, but was the most balanced with just nine guests for gun control, five against and 13 neutral.

The school-shooting phenomenon created both a desirable political and commercial environment for network producers, whose programs advanced gun control at the same time that these dramatic events drew higher-than-average ratings.

THE MEDIA RESEARCH CENTER

Founded in 1987 by L. Brent Bozell III, the Media Research Center (MRC) has a singular mission: to bring political balance and responsibility to the media. The MRC's team of research analysts use the one-of-a-kind News Tracking Service to document liberal bias in the news. The MRC publications CyberAlert, Media Reality Check, Notable Quotables, Special Reports, syndicated columns, newsletters, books and op-eds expose this bias and often force major news outlets to present more balanced news reports. MRC spokespeople regularly appear on radio and television talk shows, and the organization's research is used frequently by the nation's most popular radio talk show hosts and producers of the major network news programs. Additionally, MRC provides editors and producers with information on conservative positions and referrals to appropriate spokespeople to balance liberal views.

As America's largest, most respected media watchdog organization, MRC also operates five projects:

  • CNSNews.com, the Internet Newswire, is one of the fastest-growing news organizations in the country. From bureaus in Washington, D.C., London, and Jerusalem, CNSNews.com reporters provide the hour's top stories, but without the liberal spin. CNSNews.com stories are routinely disseminated by other media, including the Rush Limbaugh Show, the Dr. Laura Show, and dozens of print and Internet-based news organizations.
  • Parents Television Council mobilizes grassroots support to return responsibility to TV entertainment programming, especially during the "family hour." With a star-studded advisory board chaired by legendary Steve Allen, the Parents Television Council (PTC) boasts nearly one-half million active supporters. The PTC produces the popular Family Guide to Prime Time Television, annual list of the Least and Most Family-Friendly Shows, and regular e-alerts.
  • Free Market Project identifies, exposes, and corrects media bias leveled against capitalism, entrepreneurship, and the role of commerce in a free society. In addition to periodic Special Reports, the Free Market Project publishes the newsletter, MediaNomics.
  • Conservative Communications Center offers conservative activists training in public relations, marketing, and other skills designed to assist in delivering their ideas and vision to the American people, unimpeded by the liberal media filter.
  • Montgomery Internship Program offers young conservatives from across the nation the opportunity to gain experience working in all MRC program areas, plus marketing and fundraising.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.