On the March 2 Today, in an effort to advance his gun control legislation on Capitol Hill, Bill Clinton blamed the NRA for gun-related deaths.
"All I can tell you is we have a higher percentage of people in jail than all the other advanced countries, and they have a lower gun death rate. Why is that? That's because they don't have an NRA in their country and they take sensible steps to protect children and society as a whole from people having guns who shouldn't havethem, doing things they shouldn't do with them. You've got to keep guns away from criminals and children if you want to save society."
None of the networks except NBC followed up on Clinton's insulting linkage of the NRA and gun-related deaths. (Today invited NRA leader Wayne LaPierre to respond the next day.) When the NRA took out ads defending itself and its members from this charge and accusing Clinton of exploiting recent shootings for political gain, the NRA became the villain of the story.
A review of the morning and evening shows of the big three networks and CNN's The World Today from March 10th to 20th revealed that a total of 28 stories or interviews were aired on the the war of words between the NRA and Clinton. ABC aired 13, followed by NBC with eight, CBS with five, and CNN's The World Today with just two. Of those 28 segments, just one mentioned Clinton's March 2 attack, and that was only because NRA President Charlton Heston put the quote on a sign he held up for Maria Shriver to read on the March 20 Today.
Heston declared: "I wasn't aware of any media outrage at that time. Where was that? When we responded to you guys, you spent the week beating up on Wayne LaPierre." Later in that interview, Shriver started echoing Clinton's NRA-kills line: "Well words do hurt people because they prevent compromise. And people have said unless we get compromise on this issue nothing will get done and people will continue to be killed on a daily basis. Even Gerald Ford weighed in on this debate recently, saying that the hard line of the NRA is a complete loser. Where do you find compro-mise? Where is the end going to come here, Mr. Heston?"
Shriver kept coming back to the liberal beliefs of "many people" in asking: "Well you keep talking about prosecution and many people believe that the fact that we can't get anywhere here is because the NRA keeps stopping anything that would give us any progress."
In response to Heston's insistence that federal gun law prosecutions were declining, Shriver concluded the interview: "We should reiterate once again that the White House maintains that prosecutions are up."
The networks mourned that the gun debate reached a new low with the NRA's "personal attack," ignoring what the President said to prompt it. The March 15 Nightline aired this Clinton insult: "I really regret that the NRA leader, I guess he was frustrated, and sometimes when you, when you don't have a defense for your position, the best thing to do is just attack your opponent. And that's what he did." Clinton has routinely blamed gun-rights advocates for violence since the Oklahoma City bombing, but to the media, there's apparently nothing "personal" in all these attacks. - Geoffrey Dickens and Tim Graham