The Media War on the AR-15 Continues

When events like the tragic and senseless mass shooting at the Navy Yard on Monday happen it can be expected the news media will make some mistakes in reporting fast paced breaking news. This is caused by the speed of the modern news cycle, and the tendency that once one news outlet has reported a new fact the others will at times take it without their own independent verification. To lend authenticity to these facts they often cite anonymous sources, or in the Navy Yard case to use unnamed law enforcement officials. More times than not these sources prove to be less than fully credible. This is not always true, but quite often in the race to produce new facts quickly in a breaking news environment some journalist ethics can, and do, fall by the wayside. Some of these mistakes are honest and forgivable as long as corrections are made, but others are not honest and not forgivable.

During the Navy Yard shooting, a few of these mistakes were made, a couple were rather minor, and quickly corrected. Those are the wrong identification of the shooter, and that there were multiple shooters. These mistakes in hindsight are understandable given the situation. However, there is one fact that was wrong which the news media ran hard with, and reported for over 24 hours. That was the report the shooter used an AR-15 rifle as the primary weapon he killed and wounded people with. In fact, the shooter did not have an AR-15, or used one in any way, and that comes from several law enforcement officials, including the FBI, in public and named on the record.

This story is a prime example of liberal bias in straight news reporting. Based on my own media experience, I can envision the television news producers and print media editors licking their chops with another chance to make the AR-15 the monster and not the person who used it. They wanted the shooter to use an AR-15 so badly, they let their bias cloud what should have been their better judgement.

Erik Wemple, on his Washington Post news media blog has two excellent reports (here and here) on how the various media outlets reported the AR-15 story. I credit Wemple with putting together all these different reports that show how the story went viral through the news media. While Wemple does not point out the liberal bias, he is concerned with the anonymous sources used and their reliability, I would like you to look at how they characterize the AR-15 in an attempt to make the rifle appear in the worst possible light. These quotes have been edited for length and to retain focus on the AR-15 subject, as many are long and deal with other subjects, but they are not taken out of context.

CNN:  “A U.S. law enforcement official said Monday that gunman Aaron Alexis unleashed a barrage of bullets using an AR-15, a rifle and a semi-automatic handgun.” The story went on to note, “(The) sources, who have detailed knowledge of the investigation, cautioned that initial information that an AR-15 was used in the shootings may have been incorrect.”

That was from CNN during Monday morning when there was much confusion, and I credit them that at that point they didn’t fully bite on the AR-15 story. But, they did have enough confidence to run it, and by Tuesday morning this is how John Berman on CNN’s “Early Start” reported the story; “This is what we know about him (the shooter) this morning. We know that he had an AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle” and then he added, “It’s believed that the AR-15 was the main murder weapon used from the atrium above. That is also the weapon you’ll remember used by Adam Lanza in the Newtown massacre and James Holmes in Aurora. That’s the Colorado movie theater massacre.”

The reality is, Berman did not “know” the shooter had used an AR-15. He and his show producers just assumed the shooter did without any official verification of it. It just had to be truth, they couldn’t imagine otherwise. Then, they went on air and reported their assumptions as facts. One could almost forgive, or at least make good excuses for reporting this in the heat of the breaking news Monday morning, but this was nearly twenty four hours after the fact. I don’t know what they call this at CNN, but it’s not called journalism by any measure. Here is how other news outlets reported it.

The Associated Press: “(The shooter) carried three weapons: an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun that he took from a police officer at the scene,” and “The AR-15 is the same type of rifle used in last year’s mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that killed 20 students and six women. The weapon was also used in the shooting at a Colorado movie theater that killed 12 and wounded 70.” AP cites this as their source for that, “two federal law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.” They were wrong.

 The Philadelphia Daily News: “THIS TIME, the killer wore blue, and he reportedly used an AR-15 assault rifle and possibly a handgun and a shotgun as he rained down death into an office cafeteria and randomly fired at passers-by in the third-floor hallway.” An AR-15 to “rain down death?” That is quite a statement, I imagine the editor or reporter who wrote that line must have been very proud of themselves. At least until the report of an AR-15 raining down death on anything proved to be erroneous.

The New York Times: “Three weapons were found on Mr. Alexis: an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun and a semiautomatic pistol, a senior law enforcement officer said. It was unclear whether he had brought all the guns with him, another law enforcement official said, or if he had taken one or more of them from his victims.” This idea that the shooter might have taken the AR-15 from someone in law enforcement was reported by several news agencies including The Los Angeles Times. It was not true.

 In an obviously hastily written editorial, The Washington Post asks, “How did he acquire his weapons (an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun and a semiautomatic pistol were reportedly found on him), and how did he bring them onto a gated facility?” Just who did report to The Washington Post’s editorial board the shooter had an AR-15, and why did they believe it, are other good questions one could ask.

Some of those reports seem to be rather innocent mistakes, but why report an AR-15 when they didn’t know for sure, as some clearly didn’t, instead of just saying a rifle? If the media was so concerned with the types of weapons the shooter used, why did they not ask their anonymous sources what type of pistol and shotgun he had? The answer to those questions shows their liberal bias. The media didn’t care about those other weapons, it was all about the AR-15 and driving home the fact that this gun is a killer. This is to leave an impression with the viewer or reader that this particular gun should be made illegal because it is too dangerous to be in public hands. To present supposedly straight news in this way is a classic demonstration of  liberal media bias. It is not reporting, it is editorializing though a news story.

 The most egregious reporting on the AR-15 story comes from CNN’s Piers Morgan. Given his history of reporting falsehoods, this is not surprising. Granted, Morgan is on air for his opinion, but he must use real facts when expressing that opinion. Here is what Morgan said to John Lott, a gun rights advocate and guest on his show; “(Navy Yard) was still infiltrated by a man with a legally purchased AR-15, who just committed the same kind of atrocity as we saw at Sandy Hook, and Aurora. And yet, I’m sure, John Lott, you’re going to explain to me now why the solution is not to deal with that gun which keeps being used to do these atrocities.”

Leave aside whether or not the shooter had an AR-15, Morgan had no possible way of knowing if this gun was “legally purchased.” He had no way of knowing how the shooter acquired the gun, if it was stolen or whatever. Adding to this, several news agencies had reported the shooter took the gun from a police officer, but Morgan suddenly knows the gun was “legally purchased?” Lastly on Morgan, he wanted to say this gun was purchased legally to make the point these guns can be purchased legally which he thinks is wrong. So, he just couldn’t help himself from putting that misleading fact in. Morgan’s solution is to ban the AR-15 because in his narrow mind these crimes would not have happened without it. The only problem with his thinking is that an AR-15 was not used in this crime and it still happened. The Erik Wemple Blog has several other examples of how the AR-15 story was reported, but I have shown enough to prove my first point of bias. Now we can move on to some other important points this story makes.

It is well worth mentioning that the media’s wall to wall breathless coverage of these stories sends a message to possible future mass shooters that they will be nationally famous for committing a similar crime. To find a perceived greatness in an otherwise miserable existence is what some, if not most, mass shooters seek, and the media readily grants them this recognition. Of course, the news media would never admit any culpability for that.

According to the Connecticut Office of Legislative Research, beginning with the Columbine school shootings there have been 49 mass shootings since 1999. That does not include the Navy Yard shooting. AR-15 rifles were used in four out of the now 50 mass shootings. That is an incredibly small percentage, yet the media would have you believe they are the mass shooters weapon of choice in every one of these incidents. The one thing all these shootings do have in common is that the shooter had serious mental problems, but dealing with that is of little concern to the liberal media. It is the gun, and in particular the AR-15, that is the problem, as if without one these people with mental issues will not find some other way to act on their impulses. The evidence shows they usually do find a way to carry out their sick fantasies without an AR-15.

While I am not trying to imply anyone hopes these mass shooting occur, as we have seen before the media does desperately wish each one involves two elements, an AR-15 rifle and a right wing type person using it (They almost never have either). This is because the liberal media and the left in general need villains to advance their narrative. The AR-15 is that villain on the gun control issue and has become the symbol of the pro Second Amendment political right for them. They discount the tens of thousands of people who responsibly own and use the AR-15 in it’s many variants. They have no care of what the Constitution says those responsible people’s rights are. Victory for the left is the destruction of that right and it’s symbol they created, the AR-15. So, with the atrocious reporting of a weapon that was not used in the Navy Yard shooting, the shameless liberal media war on the AR-15 continues.

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