Million media march


Bob Barr



     I'm not a mother. But I am a father who cares deeply about protecting his children and grandchildren. And I'm sick and tired of the national media telling me that supporting gun control is a moral imperative for caring parents.
     In the past, protest marches welled up at the community level and earned media coverage on their merits. Today's media world has spawned a new strategy. Professional publicists organize marches whose only reason for existence is to play the national press like a fiddle. The success of your march is not based on how many people show up, or how right your argument is, but on what Dan, Peter, Wolf and Tom say about you on the evening news.
     Observers looking to see this process in action need look no further than this month's Million Mom March. The march started as a press release, and has snowballed to a story hook of monstrous proportions. It says a great deal that this entire effort was generated not by a mother working as a grocery clerk or a corporate officer, but by a former Democratic Senate staffer — Donna Dees-Thomases — who is currently a publicist for the David Letterman Show, and who has familial ties to Hillary Clinton.
     However, you have to give her credit for being a good publicist. According to one news database, the national press has already churned out an amount of promotional coverage telling mothers how to get involved in the march that is remarkable even by today's saturation standards. Organizers are described again and again as devoted parents, hardworking mothers struggling to balance the needs of employers, families and political protests to protect the lives of kids everywhere. Diane Sawyer recently "interviewed" three march organizers on "Good Morning America," asking such piercing questions as: "How did you link up?" and "What's your biggest hope for the day?"
     If you want to see a different tone of coverage, think back to all those men who came to Washington and pledged to change their own lives as part of the Promise Keepers march a few years back. The national media gleefully trumpeted scurrilous accusations against them as fast as left-wing activists could think them up. By contrast, those who dare to question gun-control marchers are alternately treated as bad parents or circus sideshows (if they are covered at all).
     By and large, the moms organizing counter-demonstrations have gotten exactly such treatment. Articles have referred to them in such obviously pejorative terms as "pistol-packin' mommas." The message the media is sending is subtle but effective; supporting gun-control is a maternal duty, and women who oppose it are unworthy of the responsibility of motherhood. This is poisoning the well with a vengeance.
     The justification for the level of coverage spawned by this event exists only in the hype-generated universe created by people with a direct interest in raising the red herring of gun control as a solution to youth violence. All of these people are getting something from the Million Mom March, and it isn't the warm fuzzy feeling of helping others.
     Internet startups targeting moms sponsor the march to gain traction in a crowded market. A publicist at the Letterman show is tired of standing behind the spotlight and wants to shine it on herself. Rosie O'Donnell wants to dress up an otherwise frivolous television program with the mantle of political relevance. The national media need content, and the march gives it to them. While all these people are looking after their interests, the facts are conveniently swept under the rug.
     What are the facts? According to an unusually balanced report on the march from the Colorado Springs Gazette, a child's odds of being killed in school are about one in 2 million. Youth homicide has dropped by more than 50 percent from 1993 to 1998. A child over the age of 6 is 6,000 times more likely to poisoned than to be killed by a firearm. The National Rifle Association spends more money than any other group in America teaching gun safety to kids.
     It is understandable when parents touched by tragedy or concerned about their children let their emotions guide them to advocating simple solutions that won't do a thing to stop criminals from using guns. However, if the national media are even remotely as rational, sober and objective as they say they are, they have an obligation to report emotion in the context of fact. Sadly, this kind of reporting is getting remarkably scarce.


Bob Barr, a former U.S. attorney, serves on the House Judiciary Committee and is a member of the Speaker's Bi-Partisan Working Group on Youth Violence.



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