We might all send this to our local papers and TV stations, or at least get them to do a reality check.
For all news editors:
Making sense of spin in the news
by Dr. Michael Brown
Guns are a sad fact of life in American culture and are a major topic in
modern journalism. A good Journalist has a duty to get involved and make
a difference in this important societal debate. By following certain
guidelines, the concerned Journalist can be assured of having the
maximum impact on this shameful problem.
The first principle to remember is that subtle use of terminology can
covertly influence the reader. Adjectives should be chosen for maximum
When describing a gun, attach terms like "automatic," "semi-automatic,"
"large caliber," "deadly," "high powered," or "powerful." Almost any gun
can be described by one or more of these terms. More than two guns
should be called an "arsenal."
Try to include the term "assault weapon" if at all possible. This can be
combined with any of the terms above for best results. Nobody actually
knows what an assault weapon is, so you cannot be criticized for this
usage. Your local anti-gun organization can provide you with a list of
the latest buzz words like "junk guns," "Saturday Night Specials," and
"the criminal's weapon of choice."
Don't worry about getting technical details right. Many a reporter has
accidentally written about 'semi-automatic revolvers' or committed other
minor errors. Since most people know little about guns, this is not a
problem. Only the gun nuts will complain and they don't count. The
emotional content of your article is much more important than the
factual details, since people are more easily influenced through their
emotions than through logic.
Broadcast Journalists should have a file tape showing a machine gun
firing on full automatic. Run this video while describing "automatic"
weapons used in a crime or confiscated by police. At the least, a large
graphic of a handgun should be displayed behind the on-air personality
when reading any crime story.
Do not waste words describing criminals who use guns to commit crimes.
Instead of calling them burglar, rapist, murderer, or repeat offender,
simply use the term "gunman." This helps the public associate all forms
of crime and violence with the possession of guns.
Whenever drug dealers are arrested, guns are usually confiscated by the
police. Mention the type and number of guns more prominently than the
type and quantity of drugs. Include the number of rounds of ammunition
seized, since the number will seem large to those who know little about
guns. Obviously, the drug dealers who had the guns should now be called
Political discussions on gun control legislation usually involve pro-gun
organizations. Always refer to these organizations as "the gun lobby."
If space permits, mention how much money the gun lobby has spent to
influence political campaigns and describe their legislative lobbying
efforts as "arm twisting" or "threats."
Gun owners must never be seen in a positive light. Do not mention that
these misguided individuals may actually be well educated, or have
respectable jobs and healthy families. They should be called "gun nuts"
if possible or simply gun owners at best. Mention details about their
clothing, especially if they are wearing hunting clothes or hats.
Mention the simplistic slogans on their bumper stickers to show that
their intelligence level is low. Many gun owners drive pickup trucks,
hunt and live in rural areas. Use these details to help portray them as
ignorant rednecks. Don't use the word "hunt." Always say that they
Don't be afraid to interview these people, they are harmless even though
we don't portray them that way. Try to solicit comments that can be
taken out of context to show them in the worst possible light.
Never question the effectiveness of gun control laws or proposals. Guns
are evil and kill people. Removing guns from society can only be good.
Nobody really uses guns for legitimate self-defense, especially women or
children. Any stories about armed self-defense must be minimized or
Be careful about criticizing the police for responding slowly to 911
calls for help. It is best if the public feels like the police can be
relied upon to protect them at all times. If people are buying guns to
protect their families, you are not doing your job.
Emphasize stories where people kill family members and/or themselves
with guns. It is important to make the public feel like they could lose
control and start killing at any moment if they have a gun in the house.
Any story where a child misuses a gun is front page material.
View every shooting as an event to be exploited. Always include
emotional quotes from the victim's family if possible. If they are not
available, the perpetrator's family will do nicely. The quote must blame
the tragedy on the availability of guns. Photos or video of grieving
family members are worth a thousand facts.
Most people will accept the assertion that guns cause crime. It is much
easier than believing that some people deliberately choose to harm
Your story should include terms like "tragic" or "preventable" and
mention the current toll of gun violence in your city or state. Good
reporters always know exactly how many gun deaths have occurred in their
area since the first of the year. List two or three previous incidents
of gun violence to give the impression of a continuing crime wave.
Little space should be devoted to shootings where criminals kill each
other. Although these deaths greatly inflate the annual gun violence
numbers, they distract from the basic mission of urging law abiding
citizens to give up their guns.
Do not dig too deeply into the reasons behind shootings. The fact that a
gun was involved is the major point, unless someone under 18 is
affected, in which case the child angle is now of equal importance.
Any article about gun violence should include quotes from anti-gun
organizations or politicians. One quote should say that we must do
something "for the children." Anti-gun spokespersons should be called
"activists" or "advocates."
If your employer wishes to appear unbiased, you can include one token
quote from a gun lobby group to show that you are being fair. The
anti-gun statements should be accepted as fact. The gun lobby statement
can be denigrated by including text like, "according to gun lobbyist
Fortunately, statements from anti-gun organizations come in short sound
bites that are perfect for generating an emotional response in the
reader or viewer. Gun lobby statements usually contain boring facts that
are easy to ignore.
Feel secure in your advocacy journalism. The vast majority of your
fellow Journalists support your activism. The nation will be a better
place when only the police and military have guns. Remember that you are
doing it for the children so the end justifies the means.
Eventually, the government will have a monopoly on power. Don't worry
about the right to freedom of the press, just contact me then for more
Professor Michael Brown, School of Journalism, Brady Chair, Vancouver
College of Liberal Arts
Political Satire, copyright 1999, Michael Brown. May be reproduced
freely in its full and complete form.