MediaWatch: March 1997

Vol. Eleven No. 3

N.Y., L.A. Shootings: Tragedy...

...Or Big Opportunity?

In the wake of the Empire State Building and Los Angeles bank robbery shootings, some networks were quick to pull the trigger of blame on weak gun control laws.

CBS aired a total of 10 stories on the Empire State shooting, three of which offered pro-gun control solutions. On the February 24 CBS Evening News Dan Rather focused more blame on Florida's gun control policy than the killer. Rather announced: "He killed one person and wounded six others before taking his own life, all with a semi-automatic handgun that could not have been easier to buy. That, as correspondent John Roberts reports tonight, is bringing new calls for tougher handgun control laws."

Roberts reported how Ali Abu Kamal bought his weapon at a Florida gun shop after using a hotel address and waiting three days to pass a background check. Roberts noted: "Whether Kamal had intended to shoot up the observation deck of the Empire State building, or just take his own life, no one yet knows. But it has prompted angry calls for a national handgun licensing system."

CBS went to Dennis Henigan of Handgun Control Inc. and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani for what were hardly "new" gun-control quotes but offered no time to the gun-rights side. On the February 27 CBS This Morning, Mark McEwen interviewed brothers and friends of wounded victim Matthew Gross and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), who pushed stricter laws. Gun rights groups were left out.

NBC aired a total of 14 stories on the Empire State shooting. Four times they aired a gun-control soundbite from Mayor Giuliani, as well as one in-studio interview. Not once was Giuliani balanced with an opposing guest or soundbite. On the March 2 Today, co-host Jodi Applegate interviewed the Gross brothers who advocated gun control. Once again the pro-gun rights side was ignored.

The LA firefight brought reruns. On the March 1 CBS Evening NewsPaula Zahn introduced John Blackstone's story: "And in Los Angeles today the sound of yesterday's gun fire has been replaced with volleys of praise for the police and more calls for gun control." Blackstone echoed Zahn: "From Los Angeles to Washington, the shootout has raised new calls for a ban on assault weapons."