CNN’s Gun Project: Biased Reporting or Solid Journalism?

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Editorials in CNN's Guns Project.  (Photo: CNN)

Editorials in CNN’s Guns Project. (Photo: CNN)

Most gun owners would agree that the mainstream media has an institutional hostility toward firearms. It views gun ownership as a scourge on society. Regardless of whether it’s a criminal on the street or a law-abiding citizen defending his family, the narrative the media perpetuates is that guns are dangerous and access to them should be highly restricted.

However, CNN is attempting to change this perception — at least ostensibly. On Monday, the news network released its “Guns Project,” which was designed to be a balanced examination of “America’s relationship to guns — the lives they save, the lives they take, and the lives they define.”

Basically, CNN looked at gun violence, defensive gun use and gun-related suicides over the course of one day, July 12, 2014. The results are what any shrewd individual might expect: inconclusive.

As CNN states,”After hundreds of calls, we are certain about one thing — we did not capture every gun incident. Despite our best efforts, our methodology is incomplete. There’s no national database of each shot fired. Not every shooting is reported to police. Suicides are rarely covered in the media and often remain private matters.”

Given that the information presented is limited, admittedly so, it’s not really clear what one is to make of the report, which includes stories from that summer day, profiles of various individuals who are intimately familiar with firearms and editorials penned by pro-gun and anti-gun pundits. The question I have is whether CNN’s Guns Project is a sincere attempt at investigative journalism or simply another biased exposé meant to reinforce the traditional media stereotype: Guns are dangerous.

What’s my take on it?

Well, I got a sour taste in my mouth when I read the tagline, “the lives they save, the lives they take, and the lives they define” because as we all know guns don’t do anything by themselves. They’re inanimate objects. The notion that they have human agency — the power to save, the power to kill, the power to define — is a misnomer that gets perpetuated on both sides of the gun divide when the truth of the matter is people kill people and people save people, and if you like, people define people. A gun is merely just a tool. In the right hands, it’s a force for good. In the wrong hands, it’s a force for evil.

The Stories in CNN's Guns Report.  (Photo:CNN)

The Stories in CNN’s Guns Project. (Photo:CNN)

What also bothered me was some of the story lines that CNN features. Many of them are reminiscent of narratives pulled right out of the gun-control advocate’s playbook. For instance, “Firepower escalates deadliest incident: Forty shots. Three dead. Two injured. A gunman uses a high-velocity rifle and pins down police before finally surrendering” is nothing more than a anti-black rifle bromide and “Escape from a grim statistic: The chance of a woman dying in an abusive relationship increases when the man has access to a gun. The story of a woman who made it out alive” hews to the flawed statistic that Everytown for Gun Safety, among other pro-gun control organizations, pushes that “Women are five times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner when a firearm is present.”

Yeah, that seems quite biased to me. We know based on FBI crime data that rifles of any make or model are used in less than five percent of gun-related homicides. We also know that the exact number of times that women use firearms to defend themselves from a domestic abuser is not known, therefore any conclusion drawn about the respective danger they present to women is, at best, a one-sided and incomplete statistic.

Profiles in CNN's Guns Project.  (Photo: CNN)

Profiles in CNN’s Guns Project. (Photo: CNN)

With that said, some of the profiles and editorials in the report are pretty solid. For example, consider this quote from David Thweatt, a school district superintendent in Harrold, Texas. Thweatt was one of the folks CNN profiled.

The critics of our plan will say things like: ‘Guns and kids don’t mix’. They will say things like: ‘It’s a bad decision to put guns in the hands of non-trained people.’ They are people who believe in a police state. They believe that the only people who should be armed are police or military. I think that’s a scary idea at best.

Harrold, Texas, is the kind of place where you depend on yourself first and, if need be on your neighbors. We can’t say, ‘Hey, there’s a rattlesnake in my backyard, get the animal control to come get it.’ We go out and we shoot it, we take care of business. That’s the way we do with the human vermin, as well.

Meanwhile, political commentator S.E. Cupp who wrote an editorial titled, “Let’s Focus on Facts, Not Fear” made this astute observation about pro-gun control advocates, “Yet more often than not, the very people looking to peel back our Constitutionally-protected Second Amendment rights are the ones who can’t answer these simple questions. Whether it’s a pundit who doesn’t know the difference between a semi-automatic and automatic rifle or a congresswoman looking to ban high-capacity magazines but can’t explain how magazines work, shouldn’t language matter?”

Amen to that!

Overall, CNN’s Guns Project is a mixed bag. Some of the information and commentary is insightful, but other elements of it are poorly articulated, limited in scope and perhaps agenda driven. Needless to say, it shouldn’t be substituted for empirical evidence, FBI crime statistics, peer-reviewed studies and the extensive research of honest criminologists. Yet if we are to judge it on the basis of it being a snapshot of guns in America produced by a mainstream media outlet which claims to be unbiased, well then it’s not all that bad. Certainly, there are more agenda-driven and biased reports out there.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Joe McHugh December 10, 2014, 1:12 pm

    Let’s get this straight. CNN admits that its “methodology is incomplete”, but blithely goes on to present a hit piece about gun ownership to show that it is not a hack liberal organization?
    The only thing that one knows for sure is how much CNN disrespects the intelligence of any who would inexplicably tune in to watch attacks on the Second Amendment rights of the people.

  • Rick December 10, 2014, 11:53 am

    Mixing lies with truth or rhetoric with fact is not balance and nowhere near unbiased. If a completely neutral party did nothing but examine and report facts about guns and their use, that party would be called ‘pro-gun’.

    And gun suicides are just suicides! Guns have nothing to do with suicide. Any person committed to killing themselves, will find a way. CNN/gun banners include that false statistic (along with many others) to purposely skew the results.

  • Russ December 8, 2014, 9:17 pm

    CNN is no longer a credible news agency, and isn’t worth any time debating the subject of firearms.
    For all legitimate discussions on ideas for laws and safety concerning firearms, consult the NRA.
    Nobody in the world knows more than them about this.

  • Kivaari December 8, 2014, 4:49 pm

    One word that gets misused too often is “accident”. There are no “accidents”, there is always a person that failed to do the right thing with a gun. Children don’t have gun accidents. Parents, or responsible adults, failing to secure a weapon(s) and ammo, are responsible for children accessing dangerous devices. Same for drugs or chemicals. More children die in toilets and buckets of cleaning water, than die from gunfire. More children die because of co-sleeping with adults than die from negligent gun use. Every thing that leads to “accidental gun deaths” is a failure of humans. Like car crashes are not accidents, they are the result of human screw ups.

  • jimmy December 2, 2014, 5:53 pm

    “One day of gun violence
    Tens of thousands of people die each year from gun violence in the United States.”

    This is how CNN opens it all up. Their bias already shines through.
    CNN keeps using the word ‘violence’ over and over. We never read about knife violence. Knife usage is probably a lot more violent than gun usage as you have to get up close and personal. How many times do people get stabbed??

    The mindless liberal equates the words “gun violence” with criminal gun use. Never mind that firearms are used in suicides, accidents, legitimate defense, police shootings, recreation, hunting, and non-violent uses. Will CNN look for reports where a firearm was used to hold an attacker/criminal at bay without any shots fired?? Doubtful. Will CNN report on the total number of firearm contests through the country? Or the number of animals harvested with firearms? Doubtful. These are all the ways that firearms are used as intended, in a non-criminal way.
    If CNN were to add these all up, then CNN would have much less to write about as the number of criminal uses of a firearm would be overwhelmed by the non-criminal uses. Just like car usage is measured in passenger miles, when trying to “prove” how safe cars are.

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