Outgunned: How the Network News Media Are Spinning the Gun Control Debate

Executive Summary

Over the last two years, network TV news viewers have been inundated with tragic images of students running away from gunfire. With every new incident, the networks have blamed guns, and wonder if more gun control laws aren’t an obvious solution. In a study of 653 morning and evening news stories on ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC from July 1, 1997 to June 30, 1999, MRC Senior Media Analyst Geoffrey Dickens documents how:

1. TV News Has Chosen Sides. Stories advocating more gun control outnumbered stories opposing gun control by 357 to 36, or a ratio of almost 10 to 1. (Another 260 were neutral.)

2. Evening News Shows Favored the Anti-Gun Position by 8 to 1. Almost 60 percent of stories (184) favored one side. While 89 percent of those (164) pushed the liberal, anti-gun position, only 11 percent (20) promoted the pro-gun position. ABC’s World News Tonight (43 anti-gun stories to three pro-gun) and CNN’s The World Today (50 to 7) were the most slanted evening shows.

3. Morning News Shows Favored the Anti-Gun Position by 13 to 1. More than half of morning news gun policy segments (208) tilted away from balance. Of those segments, 93 percent (193) pushed the liberal, anti-gun position, while only six percent (15) promoted the pro-gun position. ABC’s Good Morning America (92 to 1) was the most biased morning show.

4. News Programs Are Twice as Likely to Use Anti-Gun Soundbites. Anti-gun soundbites were twice as frequent as pro-gun ones—412 to 209. (Another 471 were neutral.)

5. News Programs Are Twice as Likely to Feature Anti-Gun Guests. In morning show interview segments, gun control advocates appeared as guests on 82 occasions, compared to just 37 for gun-rights activists and 58 neutral spokesmen.

6. Pro-Gun Themes Were Barely Covered. Themes like the decline in federal gun prosecutions under the Clinton administration, the positive use of guns in self-defense, and successful pilot prosecution programs like Project Exile in Richmond, Virginia, drew tiny story counts in the single digits in the 653-story sample.

Dickens recommends that the networks present more debates and fewer lectures; take time to explore pro-gun themes in an effort to balance their anti-gun tilt; and provide factual context instead of emotional anecdotes to let viewers make up their own minds.