The Media’s Attention Turns To Guns

By Alex Weprin 

In the wake of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, many TV news programs are turning their attention to the issue of guns. One of the earliest programs to look critically at the issue was CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight,” which has debated gun control and gun violence a number of times since Friday’s shooting, including that evening. On Wednesday the program is planning a “town hall” on gun control.

In The Daily Beast Howard Kurtz argues that the time is right for the media to keep the guns issue fresh in people’s minds:

The time is therefore ripe for the media to lead a national debate on how to prevent such tragedies, when the horror is fresh in our minds.

I don’t care whether you call it an agenda or a fixation or an obsession. And the press should be fair to all sides. But I don’t want news organizations to lose interest a week from now as the Connecticut tragedy starts to fade, or shy away from a divisive subject because it might alienate readers or viewers.

Variety‘s Brian Lowry takes a more cynical view of the matter:

Columnist George Will concluded the practical challenges to curbing such events were insurmountable. “This is a political, not a jurisprudential, problem,” he said.

Will omitted another key factor: a media problem. Because after a few days, those anchors will pack up and return to New York and D.C. And Newtown will join Aurora and too many others on the tragic roster of names in our fast-fading memories.

The Washington Post‘s Danny Hayes takes a statistical view of the issue, and notes that the media is more than just a neutral observer, it affects how people view key issues.

One reason the issue lacks salience is that citizens tend to take their cues from the media. When news outlets devote significant attention to an issue – health care or national security, for example – the public comes to view those problems as pressing. With the deluge of economic news over the last year, it’s no surprise that 64 percent of the Gallup respondents said the economy was the nation’s most important problem.