Fox News Bans Gun-Safety Talk, Even Though Boss Supports New Gun Laws (VIDEO / TRANSCRIPT)

Author: December 19, 2012 2:30 pm
Blonde Fox News anchors image from Women in the Media.

Blonde Fox News anchors image from Women in the Media.

Last Saturday on December 17th, media mogul Rupert Murdoch tweeted a pro-gun control message that swiftly went viral: ““Nice words from POTUS on shooting tragedy. But how about some bold leadership action?” But Gabriel Sherman from New York Magazine reports that the top brass at Fox News — a subsidiary of Murdock’s News Corp. conglomerate — didn’t “get the memo.” According to Sherman’s sources, Fox’s Executive Producer David Clark told producers that reporters and on-air personalities were not to discuss gun control policy on the air. “This network is not going there,” Clark reportedly wrote in an email to a producer on Saturday night.

Sherman adds that the announcement wreaked havoc amongst some of Fox’s producers and pundits. A panicked political panelist protested that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was scheduled to appear the next day on Meet the Press to discuss the Newtown, CT Shootings and gun legislation, and Clark responded: ““We haven’t buried the children yet, we’re not discussing it.” Another producer went over Clark’s head and asked Executive Vice President For News Editorial Michael Clemente to reverse the decision, but Clemente upheld Clark’s ban. According to one of Sherman’s sources, “We were expressly forbidden from discussing gun control.”

Paul Bond from the Hollywood Reporter later wrote that this report — along with ones that quickly followed from the Huffington Post, Daily Beast, and Politico — were premature. Bond pointed out that Fox’s weekend programming did, in fact, several discussions about the Sandy Hook shootings and new gun legislation, most notably in two lengthy segments on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. Last Sunday, Wallace interviewed Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) about the tragedy in his state, talked with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) about the growing issue of gun control laws; and also featured a counter-argument from Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who claims that “it’s not guns that kill, but rather people” who … um … kill people … lots of people … with a little help from their fast-repeating assault weapons. Bond adds that insiders informed him that Clark’s supposed edict was an email that was only sent to three producers, and said (in regards to a specific show), “Gentlemen, it is too soon to talk the politics of gun control. The victims’ families still don’t even have the bodies of their loved ones. Let’s leave it for another time. Thanks.” Because, of course, Fox News is renowned for exercising gracious restraint when it comes to controversial and potentially sensationalist news coverage.

However you interpret last weekend’s Fox News flap, a general consensus has emerged that it sheds light on a growing distance between Murdoch and Fox News Chairman (and top executive) Roger Ailes. In Tess Arcilla’s interview with Georgetown University Journalism Professor Chris Chambers for RT America — a nonprofit news organization based in Russia.

Chambers is certain that Fox News’ avidly pro-gun stance comes straight from Ailes:

“I mean, this is policy that’s come down from above — not from Michael Clemente, the editorial director — but from [Fox News President] Roger Ailes. And, you know, you have to understand that there’s a couple of things at work here. Ailes and Rupert Murdoch don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, and, as a matter of fact, Ailes is probably seeing Murdoch drift a little bit. He’s facetiously even blamed that on Murdoch’s wife, Wendy, who’s a young, supposedly progressive person, he’s blamed it on Murdoch’s son James, whom he views as a bean counter … But, it’s basically, you know, Ailes calling the shots [pun probably intentional].”

Chambers also explains that although Murdoch is conservative, he doesn’t always share the same views as American conservatives, because he’s from Australia, a British Commonwealth country. Australia and Great Britain enacted some of the “toughest gun laws in the world,” after Scotland’s Dunblane Massacre and Australia’s mass shootings in Tasmania in 1996.

In the UK [...] they outlawed most magazine-fed weapons of any kind, and because of that, in Australia it’s a flat ban. This is where Murdoch has cut his teeth in the media, and Ailes does not identify with that, and he looks at that from a different orientation that the boss has. And all Murdoch is saying is what most people of common sense are saying: Do people need a .223 caliber Bushmaster to hunt squirrels. No, you use it to hunt people.

Chambers also introduces an interesting new angle that seems to have been overlooked by other journalists and pundits: Fox News’ aggressively conservative stance on political issues — including gun control — is an integral component of their business model:

“They have a message, they have a narrative. That narrative has to percolate through their delivery system, — [which] unfortunately — are their very competent, very wonderful anchors and reporters. … but they’re still set up as the delivery system for the pundits, for the host-driven shows, where you have the right wing mentality come in, rehash, and get shot back out, you know, in these various media outlets, where their pundits feed into this system, like Laura Ingram.


This is their message machine at work. Their message is also mental health, they also say, ‘well, you can’t guard against crazy people.’ Well, what they don’t say is that the people they support politically, the people they have on the show, have pushed back against Obamacare — which is mandated mental health parity — and they don’t cover cuts in mental health services by state and local governments, so what you see is the picture of Lanza, or the shooter in the Batman theater. You see his crazy face plastered, boom, boom, boom, boom, but you do not see the children, you do not see any reference to the children, their parents, or the deaths of these children, you see crazy person, crazy person, crazy person, crazy person. That is the message.

SO you know, that is just the meme and the theme that they have to fire on to fit their business model. It’s nothing more complicated than that.”

You can see the video of Arcilla’s interview with Chambers here:

And you can read my transcript of the interview here:

Arcilla: Today the nation continues to grieve the deaths of 26 people, most of them young children, after the massacre at Newtown, CT.The tragedy has ignited a debate over gun control in the US. Even those with staunchly pro-gun views had come forward saying that the time has come to take a serious look at the country’s gun laws.

Many are saying this latest massacre of young children is a turning point for a call to action. Even Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul whose companies are known for being conservative tweeted his support for some kind of change on Friday:

“Terrible news today, When will politicians find courage to ban automatic weapons? As in Oz [Australia] after similar tragedy.”

And from Sunday:

“Nice words from POTUS on shooting tragedy, but how about some bold leadership action?”

Despite all this, Fox News — one of Murdoch’s companies — apparently mandated that their employees refrain from talking about gun control all together. New York Magazine reports that the executive producer in charge of weekend coverage said “This network is not going there,” and “We were expressly forbidden from talking about gun control.”

Well, when a country’s embroiled in a debate over the role of guns in our culture, how could you ignore it? To discuss [this], I’m joined now by Christopher Chambers, journalism professor at Georgetown University.

Chris, great to have you here. So first off, I guess, what do you think? Has fox done a disservice to the public?

Chambers: [laughs] Um … Yes, in a nutshell. I mean, this is policy that’s come down from above — not from Michael Clemente, the editorial director — but from [Fox News President] Roger Ailes. And, you know, you have to understand that there’s a couple of things at work here. Ailes and Rupert Murdoch don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, and, as a matter of fact, Ailes is probably seeing Murdoch drift a little bit. He’s facetiously even blamed that on Murdoch’s wife, Wendy, who’s a young, supposedly progressive person, he’s blamed it on Murdoch’s son james, whom he views as a bean counter …

But, it’s basically, you know, Ailes calling the shots. So when you get this situation where — from the top down, from Ailes to Clemente, to the anchors — from Brett Byers to the actual — where the magic happens — on the guests and host-driven content — on the theme that they keep hitting again and again. And that spreads out, because so many of their contributors also write for conservative magazines, websites, etcetera, etcetera. So it’s basically spreading out like an octopus and at the head of the octopus, you HAVE to have a unified message.

“This is their message, and it happens to diverge with what the chief wants.”

Arcilla:  ” Now, we heard, because of this mandate, apparently Fox was virtually silent over the weekend, [although] they did mention the issue today. Let’s play a clip.”

Actually, several clips with news footage

Clip #1: One of the things that we’ve seen it as a side story, if you will, is this reignited debate in this country.
Clip #2: The president should take the lead on the issue, at the very least push for reinstating the assault weapons ban.
Clip #3: Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, author of the original assault weapons ban says she has been working on this bill for more than a year and that it will be ‘carefully focused to protect the rights of gun owners.’ The NRA will soon start pushing back, and sources close to the industry told fox news they won’t know, just for starters, but Columbine happened in 1999 smack in the middle of the ten year period when this country had an assault weapons ban.

Arcilla: “Okay, so now they’re starting to talk about it today, and I was watching yesterday, and on the evening talk show, they had mentioned that now is not an appropriate time [to discuss gun control] in the wake of the tragedy, but if you think of things … ”

Chambers: [interrupts] “Those are the talking points coming from the NRA. The politicians that are enmeshed in the NRA and conservative causes, I mean that’s no speculation on my parts, that’s politics in Media 101 for the last 15 years. They have a message, they have a narrative. That narrative has to percolate through their delivery system, — unfortunately — are their very competent, very wonderful anchors and reporters. … but they’re still set up as the delivery system for the pundits, for the host-driven shows, where you have the right wing mentality come in, rehash, and get shot back out, you know, in these various media outlets, where their pundits feed into this system, like Laura Ingram.

This is nothing different than what they did two weeks ago to Bob Costas — and one of their own employees Jason Whitlock — when Costas and Whitlock talked about guns, with respect to the Kansas City Chief who killed his girlfriend and himself. And they unleashed this entire pundit machine, that was a lot more hard-edged and a lot nastier. Now what you’ll see isn’t the nastiness and hard edge, it’s just the message that ‘well, we had an assault weapons ban and Columbine happened. Well, somehow they got those guns.’

This is their message machine at work. Their message is also mental health, they also say, ‘well, you can’t guard against crazy people.’ Well, what they don’t say is that the people they support politically, the people they have on the show, have pushed back against Obamacare — which is mandated mental health parity — and they don’t cover cuts in mental health services by state and local governments, so what you see is the picture of Lanza, or the shooter in the Batman theater. You see his crazy face plastered, boom, boom, boom, boom, but you do not see the children, you do not see any reference to the children, their parents, or the deaths of these children, you see crazy person, crazy person, crazy person, crazy person. That is the message.

SO you know, that is just the meme and the theme that they have to fire on to fit their business model. It’s nothing more complicated than that.

Arcilla: “Now, obviously, a lot of Americans are devastated and grieving over this tragedy, this massive tragedy … and we’re seeing that these views on stricter gun laws are the highest — if we can pull up — there was a poll that was taken by the Washington Post, if we can pull that up there — it shows that stricter gun laws — the views on [supporting] stricter gun laws are the highest it’s been in five years. And views on gun control measures have also increased. And this is in the wake of the tragedy, 59% support a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, and 52% support a ban on semi-automatic weapons. We see that most people do not support a ban on handgun sales except to law enforcement. So, Chris, we’re not talking about disarming the American right. But we are seeing that Americans are in favor of doing something.”

Chambers: “And that’s — ironically — what Murdoch (whom I don’t usually agree with about a lot of things, whether it’s media or politics) — I think that’s what he was hitting on, because you also have to understand this disconnect between him and Ailes. Murdoch comes from this milieu of the United Kingdom and Australia, which have some of the toughest gun laws in the world. In the UK he mentioned the OZ massacre [in Tasmania, Australia, 1996] [and the 1996 Dunblane] massacre in Scotland, and they outlawed most magazine-fed weapons of any kind, and because of that, in Australia it’s a flat ban. This is where Murdoch has cut his teeth in the media, and Ailes does not identify with that, and he looks at that from a different orientation that the boss has.

And all Murdoch is saying is what most people of common sense are saying: Do people need a .223 caliber Bushmaster to hunt squirrels. No, you use it to hunt people.

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