Gun Policy in the News: Coverage of Guns and Gun Control by CBS News and The New York Times

Harry L. Wilson, Roanoke College

ABSTRACT
The mass media's portrayal of events, individuals and groups influences the public's perceptions in a variety of ways. Charges of bias against the media have been leveled by both the left and the right for several decades. With regard to the issue of guns and gun control, the charges originate almost exclusively from the advocates of gun rights. According to what is mostly anecdotal evidence, the media have a pro-gun control bias that is reflected in both the stories that are covered and the way in which those events are presented. While the negative aspects of guns are covered extensively (particularly shootings that involve children), the positive aspects of gun ownership (particularly defensive gun uses) are largely ignored.

It is also suggested that this bias can be found in coverage of the interest groups that lobby on the issue with pro-control groups receiving more favorable coverage than pro-gun rights groups, specifically the National Rifle Association (NRA). Critics often point to specific stories with charges of bias, but there is a dearth of long-term methodologically sound analyses.

This content analysis examines elite media coverage of guns and gun control in CBS Evening News and The New York Times between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2003 in addition to coverage of the final passage of the Brady Bill in 1993, the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, and the 2000 Presidential campaign.

Each of the stories was coded for the following variables: network, news anchor, length, reporter(s) topic(s), type of story, content bias, tone bias, visuals shown (up to three), experts interviewed (up to three), interest groups mentioned, how those groups were portrayed, if any statistics were used in the story, if the story include children, and if there was any mention of a defensive gun use.

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Updated 05/20/2006