They Already Have Their Conclusion
For more than ten years, I’ve been in leadership of the most effective gun rights organization in the country. For eight of those, I’ve been its President. During my tenure, my organization has shepherded into law 15 pro gun bills that we authored or supported. I say this not to brag, because taking credit for the grassroots work done by the organization’s membership would be ridiculous. I say it to establish, that in this role, I have had extensive contact with media. I am fully aware of their goals and their methods.
As instructors, you may be contacted by media for interview requests. This will typically happen after some high-visibility event such as a mass shooting, or if there is controversial gun legislation pending at the state or national level. And the first question you should ask, is “Why is media contacting me?”
The answer we’d like to believe, is that they’ve already gotten (or will get) the gun-control side from somewhere else, and they’re contacting us to present our side of the argument. This belief is wrong almost 100% of the time with modern media. Modern media is not in the slightest bit interested in presenting an objective view. They are interested in presenting as “reasonable” an argument in favor of gun control that they can put together. And they are not above outright dishonesty and lies to do it. I’ve seen it more times than I can count, and those articles and stories full of blatant lies are still out there.
If this means quoting you out of context, they will do it. If this means misquoting you, they’ll do it. And they will pretend it was incompetence or simple errors that led to the end result of you being used in a ragingly anti-gun media piece. Again, the number of times I’ve seen this is beyond count.
Let’s look at some of the techniques they use. We’ll take a recent example of creative editing. Comedy Central did a gun hit piece, and interviewed Pat McNamara. In the Comedy Central story, we see the “correspondent” ask Pat if he supports universal background checks (I won’t get into the gun-rights / liberty train-wreck contained in that). The response we see, is “I don’t have a problem with that.”
So now Comedy Central has a well-respected, been-there-done-that pro-gun instructor advocating for gun control. Que every gun control advocate in the country losing their minds, and every anti-gunner screaming, “See, even gun people think this is reasonable!”
What happened here?
Pat’s explanation for this is that they asked if he supported UBCs. He said no. They then asked what he thinks of people who do support UBCs, to which he answered, “I don’t have a problem with that.” The middle question was conveniently dropped on the editing room floor. This simple cut of a few seconds of dialogue completely changes the meaning of Pat’s thoughts and intentions. It’s one thing to oppose a concept. It’s another to demean or attack people who have a differing view. Pat did not want to attack people with a differing view, even though he did not support UBCs.
This is not the first time this kind of thing has occurred, either. Katie Couric has found herself on the wrong end of a lawsuit from the VCDL. Interestingly enough, this also was about UBCs. In the interview that aired, Katie asks in the absence of UBCs, how you prevent felons and other persons from obtaining guns. It then shows extended footage of VCDL members just sitting around, apparently stumped. The impression given, is that the VCDL members present, had no clue how to answer that question. And this is what went on TV.
The reality in the VCDL case, is that the members present responded with five full minutes of immediate answers. And this is proven because VCDL was smart enough to record the interview themselves. But instead of airing the perfectly reasonable counters, Couric edited in footage they took before the interview started, of VCDL members sitting around bored, waiting on the interview to start.
These are two examples of how media approaches a story. If there is one sentence in this article that should stick in your mind, it is this: The media already has their conclusion in advance, and they are just fishing for support for that conclusion from you. They are not there in search of answers. They’re not there to learn from you. They walked in the door with the end-story they intend to present, and they’re simply looking for any tiny blurb you may utter that supports it.
How do you protect yourself from this type of insidious “journalism?”
There are really only a few options. The first is to refuse interviews. This is often difficult, because we actually want as much of the pro-gun narrative as possible to go out to the public. Secondly, always record your interviews. Record the entire thing from start to finish. Get every word, even small talk before and after the interview. Also, if you decide to take the interview, you must think quickly on your feet. And then lastly, you may need to go to court to clear your name in the event your interview is butchered the way Pat’s and VCDL’s were.
Additionally, there is a mindset required to give the best interview you can. You have to anticipate that every word you say, can and will be used against gun rights. So before you say it, you have to think of the worst possible context it can be applied and twisted. Every single word must be parsed for possible negative spin before you say it. And that is a skill, that in my experience, few people have. If you don’t have that ability, I would advise against taking interviews, or you can wind up like Pat or VCDL, being accused of incompetence or anti-gun views falsely. By hundreds of thousands.
Finally, keep all answers to questions brief and to the point. I’ve sat in hours of interview, only to have a single sentence run in the final story. TV interviews in particular are the worst for this. I routinely give 30-60 minute interviews, where the final story that airs includes six seconds of my dialogue. The other fifty-nine minutes and fifty four seconds are a verbal fencing match with a reporter trying to trip me up and get me to say something that could be interpreted as anti-gun. Because the goal is always, “get a pro-gun guy to support gun control.”
President, West Virginia Citizens Defense League