ABC Fuels Myth Discourse Caused Shooting, Sawyer Astounded by Falling Support for Gun Control

"The country is pretty unified behind the idea that President Obama found the right words, the right tone at the right time," ABC's George Stephanopoulos announced Monday night in touting how a new ABC News/Washington Post poll found "78 percent approve of how he handled" the Tucson shooting, in contrast to Sarah Palin, "not so much, only 30 percent approve of her response."

When Stephanopoulos noted "the support for stricter gun control has dropped over the last few years," anchor Diane Sawyer expressed astonishment: "Stricter has dropped?" Instead of detailing that trend, Stephanopoulos concentrated on some specific policies with overwhelming support.

The ABC duo ignored how their poll advanced a false media narrative in asking: "As you may know, a gunman shot a U.S. Congress member and 18 other people in Arizona late last week. Is it your impression that the political discourse in this country did or did not contribute to this incident?" [PDF rundown of the poll]

By 54 to 40 percent respondents rejected the media-fueled proposition - maybe why Stephanopoulos skipped it - but the ideological split illustrated how the media line last week matched liberal thinking. ABC News polling chief Gary Langer explained in an summary of the survey:

[O]n the Tucson incident itself, 59 percent of liberals and 51 percent of Democrats think the tone of political discourse played some role; 28 percent of conservatives and 27 percent of Republicans agree.

Langer also outlined the falling support for gun control not explored by Stephanopoulos:

Fifty-two percent of Americans in this survey favor stricter gun control laws in general; 45 percent are opposed. That fairly close division is a shift from before fall 2008. In 2006 and 2007 alike, for instance, 61 percent supported stricter gun control. The decrease in support may have been associated with the impending election of a Democratic president and Congress.

The 9-point drop in support for gun control from 2007 to now is mirrored in views specifically on banning semi-automatic handguns, which automatically re-load each time the trigger is squeezed. Fifty-five percent supported banning such weapons then, compared with 48 percent now. Likewise, there has been a 7-point decline in support for banning the sale of handguns overall, from 38 percent in 2007 to 31 percent now.

From the Monday, January 17 ABC World News:

DIANE SAWYER: Also tonight, a first look at our new ABC News poll taken in the wake of the Tucson shootings. For all the talk about political division, some headlines tonight in this poll from George Stephanopoulos. What is it, George?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the country is pretty unified behind the idea that President Obama found the right words, the right tone at the right time. 78 percent approve of how he handled this, the highest of any issue in his presidency. Sarah Palin, not so much, only 30 percent approve of her response. The press gets a medium grade [53%], a majority, just barely a majority now, support the way the press covered this whole tragedy.

SAWYER: And are people adamant about a change in tone in Washington?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, they think the current tone is horrible. 82 percent say the current tone of the political debate is negative, but they are somewhat optimistic, a majority now optimistic the Republicans and Democrats will find a way to work together in the new year.

SAWYER: So sending a signal and a little optimistic it'll be heard. Any changes on the issue of gun control, so much debated.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Actually, the support for stricter gun control has dropped over the last few years.

SAWYER: Stricter has dropped?

STEPHANOPOULOS: With a couple of exceptions. A majority now support, 57 percent, support banning those high-capacity clips like Loughner used and a full 83 percent, 83 percent want more funding for these gun registries to make sure that we can track people with mental illness so they can't buy guns.

SAWYER: So very concrete wishes for Congress. We'll see if Congress acts. Thank you, George Stephanopoulos.

- Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.