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I don’t usually write opinion columns and I wasn’t planning on writing one after Wednesday night’s CNN town hall, but the more I thought and reflected on it, the more I became convinced of one ugly truth: the media is failing the Parkland students.
We’re doing so in three ways.
1) We’re lying to them about the political process. Two moments from the CNN town hall, which represented a WWE cage match more than a conversation, offer clear examples.
The first came when Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio pointed out that a truly effective assault weapons ban, one without loopholes, “would literally ban every semi-automatic rifle that’s sold in America.” The students on stage and in the crowd erupted in applause.Anybody with a working knowledge of the political process knows a ban on semi-automatic weapons will never happen. I say weapons here because it’s not just about rifles. Dylan Roof used a pistol to slaughter several church goers. The reality is that semi-automatic weapons of any stripe could be used to commit such atrocities.
Due largely to impracticality, Congress isn’t going to ban semi-automatic rifles in America. Rubio voiced the idea as an example of a fairy tale. It will never happen. Full stop. Journalists on both sides of the aisle know it won’t. Or at least we should. And yet reporters indulged the fantasy anyway, playing up the exchange as a “win” for the students and a “loss” for Rubio, as if cheering fairy tales makes them more likely to come true.
The second moment came when a student, Cameron Kasky, confronted Rubio about donations from the NRA and used his classmates’ deaths to demand Rubio denounce the NRA’s support. “In the name of 17 people, you cannot ask the NRA to keep their money out of your campaign?” asked Kasky.
Attacking the NRA has been a consistent theme of the student campaign for gun control. The idea, encouraged by journalists and liberal activists, is that NRA donations are the reason Republican politicians (and many Democrats) aren’t going to ban most rifles or (as some would like) ban guns outright.
The truth is the NRA supports members who already support the Second Amendment, rather than the reverse. Further, the organization’s campaign donations make up a tiny drop in the bucket of political spending. The actual money carries nominal weight compared to the millions of NRA members who vote for politicians who represent their beliefs and values about the Second Amendment.
That roughly half the country supports these congressmen gets to the heart of the matter: the political process is fundamentally about compromise. If the gun control crowd wants to achieve substantive goals, they’re going to have to find points of compromise with those millions of NRA members — the same members they are, much to the glee of their fans in the media, smearing as child murderers. Has anybody bothered informing these kids of how the political process works?
We’re setting them up for further hurt and disappointment by giving them false hope of political goals that aren’t going to happen.
Look no further than the Florida legislature’s vote on banning assault weapons on Tuesday. The bill immediately died in the House. The truth is the vote was a political stunt. Democratic state Rep. Jared Moskowitz admitted as much Wednesday and chastised his Democratic colleagues for playing “procedural games” with the vote. Did the students watching in the gallery know it was all just a game? Judging by their grief-stricken faces, it sure didn’t look like it. But at least Florida Democrats got a day or two of good PR from CNN.
Congress has real options at its disposal to curb gun violence, such as improving the background check system or exploring gun violence restraining orders. But if these students are expecting their protests to result in Washington banning the vast majority of rifles in America, they’re going to be deeply disappointed. And anyone who allows them to play up that fantasy is doing them a profound disservice.
2) We’re failing the Parkland survivors in another way: by indulging and applauding grieving teenagers’ worst impulses.
These teenagers (and adults as well but especially the teenagers) are hurting and searching for answers. I don’t blame them for being angry — they’re in tremendous amounts of pain, it’s a natural reaction — but I do blame the adults goading these teens on as they lash out in anger, accusing people who had nothing to do with a mass murder of being responsible for it.
It may make a 16-year-old boy feel good for a moment to blame Dana Loesch for his friends’ deaths, but it’s not really going to make his pain go away. Again, has anybody mentioned that? Or has everybody been too busy ooh-ing and ah-ing as they share viral clips of grieving teenagers totally “DESTROYING” the NRA?
When all is said and done, when the next scandal or tragedy is dominating the news cycle and rifles are still legal, these poor kids will still be searching for answers that yelling at the NRA won’t give them.
3) Which brings me to my third point: we’re exploiting the Parkland survivors. We may not be doing so intentionally but the fact is we are. For if the media aren’t operating with the students’ best interests at heart — and the first two points make clear that’s not the case — then we’re operating with some other primary motivation.
It’s no secret that the people cheering on these pained and suffering students just happen to share the same political goals (and enemies) as the students. It’s a lot easier to cheer somebody on when they’re skewering your political opponents as child murderers.
And then we have traffic and ratings incentives for the media, which are to package these teenagers’ hurt and confusion into segments and clips to be aired over and over again, turning their real pain into reality TV for the rest of us.
When CNN executives give the order to put emotional and vulnerable teenagers front and center all day, do we really think their thought process is guided by what’s best for the teens? Is Jeff Zucker all of a sudden an altruist?
The more likely and more uncomfortable truth is that networks are putting their own interests first (as networks tend to do) and rationalizing it away as a public service. You can rationalize exploitation any way you want to, but it’s still exploitation.
The ugly truth is we’re lying to the Parkland survivors about the political process, enflaming their pain and exploiting their grief. May God have mercy on us all.