Chris Wallace, the boss would like to see you now.


Every once in awhile, someone on FOX News starts feeling a little dangerous and decides to actually do the news, just to see what it feels like to be a real reporter:

In an unexpectedly lively exchange on Fox News Sunday this morning, host Chris Wallace took on NRA head Wayne LaPierre for his group’s tasteless ad calling Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for having Secret Service protection for his daughters while opposing the placement of armed guards in every American school. “It wasn’t picking on the president’s kids,” LaPierre argued, somewhat futilely. “The president’s kids are safe and we’re all thankful for it.” When Wallace pointed out that “[Malia and Sasha] also face a threat that most people do not face,” LaPierre shot back: “Tell that to the people in Newtown!” But Wallace wasn’t buying the indignation. “Do you really think that the President’s children are the same kind of target as every schoolchild in America?” Wallace asked LaPierre, adding, “I think that’s ridiculous, and you know it, sir.”

When the NRA was pro-gun control

Victoria Kwan alerted me to this piece in The Root by Edward Wyckoff Williams:

It is ironic that the modern-day argument for citizens to arm themselves against unwarranted government oppression — dominated, as it is, by angry white men — has its roots in the foundation of the 1960s Black Panther movement. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale became inspired by Malcolm X’s admonishment that because government was “either unable or unwilling to protect the lives and property” of African Americans, they ought to defend themselves “by any means necessary.”

…The Panthers responded to racial violence by patrolling black neighborhoods brandishing guns — in an effort to police the police. The fear of black people with firearms sent shockwaves across white communities, and conservative lawmakers immediately responded with gun-control legislation.

…As MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry brilliantly described in a recent segment, the Black Panthers may not have been what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they described “a well-regulated militia” taking up arms against the tyranny of the state, but that is exactly what they represented.

The enduring impotence of the Democratic Party

As seen through the microcosm of Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia:

Take Senator Joe “Dead Aim” Manchin of West Virginia. After the shooting in Newtown, the conservative Democrat, who has an “A” grade from the NRA and literally shot a bill with a rifle in a campaign ad, said he would support the assault weapons ban.

A month later, not so much. The New York Times checks in with Manchin today, as he sat down with his constituents in West Virginia, some of whom picketed his office after he announced he would consider such a bill. “A guy can walk through this door right here with your Beretta five-shot automatic, and cut the barrel off at 16 inches, and put five double-ought buckshots in there and kill everybody in here in a matter of seconds,” one voter explained. “And you don’t have to aim it.”

Another offered, “I can take my A.R., load it, put one in the chamber and throw it up on this table, and the only way it’s going to hurt anybody is if I miss and hit someone in the head. The gun doesn’t hurt anybody. It’s the person pulling the trigger.”

That’s pretty much all Manchin needed to hear: “I’m not there,” he told theTimes about the ban. “I’m definitely more inclined to be very supportive of background checks.” And he’s not even up for reelection in 2014, like Democrats in Montana, Alaska, and Colorado, all of whom initially expressed openness to the ban and have since ran it back.

The Democratic Party: never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Did the NRA just jump the shark?


I’d like to think it did, but my instincts tell me almost nothing is strong enough to break the spell that’s been cast on gun rights advocates in this country. Transcript below:

Meanwhile, a shooting in central Pennsylvania this morning has left four dead and three injured.

Who needs gun control?

Certainly not the United States. Anything but that. The dual shooting-related headlines below tell the story. We can’t even get over our last two shootings before moving on to the next one. But remember, guns are not the problem. We know this because the NRA keeps repeating it to us.

Screen Shot 2012-12-14 at 10.52.26 AM

ABC’s Jake Tapper takes on The Newsroom

Actually, he took it on over a month ago, but I somehow missed it until just now. In the pages of The New Republic, Tapper took Sorkin to task:

There’s much to criticize in the media—and TV news in particular. But though “The Newsroom” intends to lecture its viewers on the higher virtues of capital-J journalism, Professor Sorkin soon reveals he isn’t much of an expert on the subject.

So far, so good. But what bothers me about Tapper’s critique is that he dislikes The Newsroom for all the wrong reasons. Here’s the crux of the problem with the show for Tapper:

McAvoy sanctimoniously laments the deterioration of public discourse and the news media’s complicity in it. But if that is the problem, his subsequent actions reveal a commitment to a uniformly partisan solution. McAvoy—and, by extension, Sorkin—preach political selflessness, but they practice pure partisanship; they extol the Fourth Estate’s democratic duty, but they believe that responsibility consists mostly of criticizing Republicans.

See, this is the crux of my problem with Tapper. I have a whole laundry list of complaints about The Newsroom — from the excessively preachy tone of all the dialogue to the half-baked and subpar romantic suplots to the improbably lucky connections the newsroom stuff was able to milk for details following the Gulf oil spill, and a million other things besides.

But if there’s one thing Sorkin doesn’t get wrong, it’s also the one thing that rubs Jake Tapper the wrong way. This is unfortunate, because — as someone who, admittedly, is not as familiar with Tapper’s journalism as I should be — I nevertheless have some unexplained fondness for the guy. But it appears something about Sorkin’s critique struck a little too close to home.

But before I get into that, Tapper’s not finished:

And when McAvoy goes after a National Rifle Association campaign to portray Obama as anti-gun, he insists on depicting it as a moral crusade in defense of the public good. But he never feels the need to question whether—in the midst of crises in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the international economy—it’s really so noble after all to devote one’s limited resources to fact-checking relatively unimportant political attacks. As such, it’s hard not to judge the resulting segment as falling short of McAvoy’s newly idealistic raison d’être—though Sorkin clearly seems to think otherwise.

Tapper goes on to say that McAvoy, much like other cable news stars, is blind to his own ideology. There may be a crumb of truth in that. But aside from the anchor’s comically atrocious disdain for the common people (“we are the media elite,” McAvoy declares on-air, without a smidgen of irony), it seems that the NewsNight anchor’s worst crime in Tapper’s eyes is assigning the truth any relevance at all. There are wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he says, and an economy in crisis. Why not discuss that?

But to those of us who would like to see something more from the news than a mere dash-to-the-bottom for the juiciest new storyline (another suicide bombing in Baghdad! stocks fall 2% in an afternoon!), it really does matter whether the NRA lied about Obama’s alleged anti-gun record. And it really does matter that Michele Bachmann falsely claimed the Obamas’ trip to India cost American taxpayers $200 million per day. (It would appear that even Tapper would agree with this last assessment: he filed a short report about the White House’s rebuttal of Bachmann’s claims.)

Tapper treats the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as completely separate entities from the “relatively unimportant political attacks” to which Sorkin’s Will McAvoy devotes so much of his time. But the aggregate effect of lie after lie being spouted by many vocal Republicans at the time, without any fear of being held accountable by the media, helped to fuel the popular discontent that has rendered Obama a much less effective president on both domestic and foreign policy issues. Political capital is a very real thing.

But that’s not actually the biggest mistake Tapper makes. Indeed, he believes some stories are irrelevant, and yet he and his organization, ABC News, continue to cover them indiscriminately. But the one thing they’ve forgotten to do right — and practically the only thing Aaron Sorkin actually got right — was to nail the coffin definitively on the constant stream of baseless attacks emanating daily from right-wing circles. (Tapper’s tepid report on the India misinformation story, especially given the update he tacked on at the end, leaves the impression this was just another political squabble between perpetually lying politicians. It wasn’t: one side was lying. The other side wasn’t. This matters.)

This isn’t about being ideological. It’s about doing the very thing Jake Tapper thinks he’s doing by focusing on the “moderates and liberals wielding [power]:” holding our elected officials accountable. This is not to say that liberals or Democrats or Obama himself shouldn’t be held to account either. But to simply assume that pointing out one side’s deliberate falsehoods is somehow partisan — without even bothering to evaluate whether the other side is actually guilty of the same crimes and to the same extent — is actually taking sides. It’s taking the side of those who choose to distort and disguise and deny the truth, at the expense of those whose attachment to facts is at least somewhat stronger. (These are all politicians, so we can safely assume no one’s that sentimental about honesty.)

Jake Tapper may be a good reporter, but his attack on Sorkin’s “moral crusade” smacks of New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane’s prejudicial term “truth vigilante.” Sorkin is a lot of things: preachy is one of them, for instance. But being evenhanded — as in a real balance based on facts, not the faux balance based on the terror of appearing partisan advocated by Tapper — is not something Sorkin got wrong. It’s something Tapper didn’t get right.

A smattering of gun control-related links

Over the past few days, I’d kept meaning to post something about gun control in the wake of the Aurora shooting, but I never quite found the time. Meanwhile, the links that I felt added something to the conversation kept piling up in my browser to the point of slowing down my computer.Well, God knows I need my laptop running optimally for appropriate time-wastage purposes, so here is a collection of links relating to the gun control debate that’s been swirling ever since James Holmes’ violent rampage.

First, Boston Globe columnist Brian McGrory wonders when the Massachusetts delegation will start heralding its own sterling gun control record and attempt to expand its success to the national level:

Legislation has been languishing in Washington since last year’s Tucson massacre to outlaw lunatic gun clips that hold more than 10 bullets at a time. Add in the fact that the alleged killer, with his freakish orange hair and absent eyes, was a veritable poster boy for stronger national gun laws. The result should be a hue and cry, far and wide, for the type of sensible gun policies that could save lives.

And in that regard, there’s nobody better to lead on the issue than the members of the Massachusetts delegation. This state has some of the strongest and most successful gun laws in America. We have an assault weapons ban. We have safety training requirements, licensing, registration, and a waiting period.

And we also have something else. Massachusetts has, per capita, the lowest rate of gun-related fatalities of any state in the nation – number 50, with 3.14 annual deaths per 100,000 people. The national average is 10.19 deaths. The worst state, Louisiana, has 18.03 deaths.

Think about this. We are an industrial state with a congested city. We are bordered by Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, states that have no gun controls to speak of. And fewer people die here than anywhere else from firearms. And there’s really a debate over whether stronger gun laws work?

Michael Bloomberg was affiliated with Salomon ...

Meanwhile, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is (admirably, in my opinion) continuing his one-man crusade to take on the National Rifle Association in an op-ed for…OK, for Bloomberg View:

There is one particular fear the NRA manufactures with great success: fear of electoral defeat. Romney has walked away from the assault-weapons ban he once supported, and in nearly four years, Obama has offered no legislation to rein in illegal guns. In Congress, the NRA threatens lawmakers who fail to do its ideological bidding, although its record in defeating candidates is much more myth than reality.

What can be done?

One of the U.S. Senate’s most pro-gun members has paradoxically shown how the battle might begin. Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, also the chamber’s most sincere fiscal conservative, has made it his mission to diminish the influence of another ideological group that has exercised unwarranted sway over public policy: the anti-tax absolutists led by Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform.

To confront Norquist, Coburn identified an indefensible tax — the ethanol subsidy — isolated it and forced a vote on it. His colleagues, many of whom had signed Norquist’s pledge never to raise taxes, were forced to choose between opposing what Coburn decried as an obvious “special interest giveaway” or looking like spineless shills for Norquist. By heightening attention on the vote, the tactic worked. The $5.4 billion ethanol subsidy was voted down.

The Coburn approach could be applied to guns. Elected officials who profess to be tough on crime but who also oppose tougher measures to stop illegal guns can’t be in two places at once — particularly when many law enforcement organizations support basic gun measures that simply don’t exist today. In the same way Coburn pointed out the ethanol-corporate welfare contradiction, a pro-gun senator can point out the obvious: It’s impossible to support police officers and law enforcement agencies and also oppose giving them the tools they need to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

Then, GQ provides a little counterbalance to Bloomberg’s optimism on the possibility of confronting the NRA:

I asked a Democratic legislative staffer for a first-person description of the NRA’s power on the Hill. Here’s the response I got, on the condition that I not provide any further identifying information. It’s pretty breathtaking.

We do absolutely anything they ask and we NEVER cross them—which includes asking permission to cosponsor any bills endorsed by the Humane Society (the answer is usually no) and complying with their demand to oppose the DISCLOSE Act, neither of which have anything to do with guns. They’ve completely shut down the debate over gun control. It’s really incredible. I’m not sure when we decided that a Democrat in a marginal district who loses his A rating from the NRA automatically loses reelection. Because it’s not like we do everything other partisan organizations like the Chamber [of Commerce] or NAM [National Association of Manufacturers] tell us to…

Pandering to the NRA is the probably worst part of my job. I can justify the rest of it—not just to keep the seat, but because I believe most of the positions he takes are consistent with what his constituents want. But sucking up to the NRA when something like Colorado happens is hard to stomach.

And then there’s the tiny little matter of the American people themselves:

Firearms sales are surging in the wake of the Colorado movie massacre as buyers express fears about both personal safety and lawmakers who are using the shooting to seek new weapons restrictions.

In Colorado, the site of Friday’s shooting that killed 12 and injured dozens of others, gun sales jumped in the three days that followed. The state approved background checks for 2,887 people who wanted to purchase a firearm — 25 percent more than the average Friday to Sunday period in 2012 and 43 percent more than the same interval the week prior.

Dick Rutan, owner of Gunners Den in suburban Arvada, Colo., said requests for concealed-weapon training certification “are off the hook.” His four-hour course in gun safety, required for certification for a concealed-weapons permit in Colorado, has drawn double the interest since Friday.

The more things change…