It's often asserted that in general the media companies lean to the left in the US (excepting FOX of course, and the obviously right wing radio programs), compared to where center is of the citizens they serve. I recently suggested a good friend that I consider the Diane Rehm show on NPR to qualify as liberal talk radio, a point they did not agree with. Since I listen 3 or more days a week, I decided to quantify why I thought that way. Today is the first day I went in specifically listening for bias or not, and unfortunately it was obvious.
This morning the subject was gun control, or more specifically the law that was passed to protect gun companies from being sued for engaging in legal commerce. In the 90's there was a boom in lawsuits focused on firearm manufacturers from individuals, local municipalities and state governments. These lawsuits sought monetary damages for crime, asserting that gun companies were culpable for the costs of crime involving guns, including hospital costs of victims of crime.
In general, these cases were thrown out, but were very costly to defend against. The firearm industry suggested it was a concerted effort to drive them out of business. In fact, in desperation, Smith and Wesson signed an agreement with the Clinton administration to keep them out of lawsuits. This turned out to be a bad business move on their part. But the industry was being bankrupted by these continuous lawsuits. A law was passed to prevent them in 2005, the Protection of Lawful Commerce Act, and this was the focus of the show. As part of the law, manufacturers had to include locking devices with all handguns.
But back to the show on NPR. There were 3 guests to discuss the topic, two were advocates of gun control and one was supportive of gun rights. That's not a big deal, as long as everyone gets their say I think you can have an unbalanced guest list and still have a balanced show. It's more about who was chosen that showcases the bias.
Josh Horowitz - Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
Peter Wallsten - The Washington Post
Richard Feldman - Independent Firearms Owners Association
There was also a call in from an NRA representative, but that was only for a couple minutes of the hour long show.
So, on the surface, that seems pretty balanced. People on both sides of the issue. In fact, if you search on Richard Feldman, you'll see he's interviewed a lot by places like NPR, The Huffington Post and CNN. Well, and also this gem as a lobbyist for "Guns and Weed". He is the president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, which is pretty sweet creds for an interviewee. He promotes his group as one that supports gun rights for American citizens, much like the NRA.
Here's the problem though- the Independent Firearm Owners Association is pretty much just Feldman. It's a a brand new organization (less than 2 years old) and it's astroturf. For those not familiar with that term, astroturf is used to describe an organization that plays itself off as being grass roots, but it isn't. It's the creation of one person or one group with money for the sole purpose of advancing an agenda, to make uninformed people think their views have a lot of public support.
Why didn't NPR go with a gun rights organization that has hundreds of thousands or millions of members, like the Gun Owners of America or the NRA as their main interviewee? Well, for the same reason left-leaning media companies interview Feldman quite often- his views are more in line with their own. He supports many infractions on gun rights that aren't supported by the gun rights organizations that actually have members and broad support. He plays off his gun control ideas as if they are widely accepted and supported in the gun rights community. They aren't. He's one man with a bullhorn and delusions of grandeur.
If you weren't well versed on the topic you wouldn't realize this. You'd listen in an attempt to educate yourself on the issues and the middle position between to two groups may seem reasonable. The problem is then you believe that somewhere between middle left and extreme left is the middle. That's the whole point of choosing astroturf organizations for interviews, to mislead the public.
Perhaps NPR, Huffpo and CNN don't realize this. Perhaps they find his new and "moderate" take on gun rights refreshing and that's why they keep calling him back. If that is the case it's shoddy journalism. If it's not, it's being deliberately misleading to have him be the expert interviewed that supports gun rights.
Always research the people who speak to the media. Astroturffing has become increasingly common since Swift Boat Veterans. These organizations pop up out of the blue, push a message to influence public opinion and policy, then disappear. It's an increasingly used tool to push an agenda.