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A Million Media Minutes Overblown coverage of violent crime helps fuel the press's much-beloved Million Mom March

Issue: "Sad stories, bad laws?," May 27, 2000

Donna Dees-Thomases repeatedly told reporters that she came up with the idea of the so-called Million Mom March from watching TV news coverage of a shooting at a day-care center in California. In many ways, the march is a natural outgrowth of the saturation coverage television news networks now give isolated shootings in the United States. But are these isolated shootings, and is this saturation coverage, representative of reality? In its promotion of the march, Time magazine reported that the number of Americans killed by guns fell almost 20 percent from 1993 to 1998, and the number of children killed by guns dropped 28 percent from 1994 to 1997. But a recent Time poll showed 70 percent of Americans feel violence in schools has increased. To explain the discrepancy, look no further than the package Time wrapped around these facts: photographs of grieving mothers who lost their children in shooting deaths. While no one favors random violence, school shootings have been a political and commercial bonanza for the corporate liberals running the television networks. At the same time that they feed a liberal hunger for gun legislation, they spike the ratings with sensationalistic interviews with terrified children and grieving mothers. The complete collision of the truth of declining violence and increasing media coverage doesn't seem to bother the media's professional instincts at all. The march evolved, in part, because all of the media breast-beating in hundreds and hundreds of gun-policy stories did not result in the immediate acceptance of the anti-gun lobby's proposed solutions. When Newsweek interviewers pressed President Clinton that "some people" thought he hadn't done enough, he answered, "Look, what happened is, you can't pass a bill in Washington in three days or three weeks. That's the real problem." The media's favoritism toward the Million Mom organizers was most obvious in promoting two highly conflicting claims: that this event was largely apolitical, and if it worked correctly, it would spawn a lobby that would crush gun-control opponents like the National Rifle Association. The public heard and read repeatedly that organizer Donna Dees-Thomases was just an apolitical suburban housewife. According to NBC's Tom Brokaw, she was "a mother who'd never been politically active until she saw this [shooting footage]." Mrs. Dees-Thomases told Us Weekly that "Before that I wasn't politically active. I'd throw my sneaker at the TV, but did I get off my couch? No." She told People about starting up the march: "At first, I didn't know the Brady bill from The Brady Bunch." But reporters often didn't explain the full background of Mrs. Dees-Thomases. From 1979 to 1983, she served as a press aide to two Senate Democrats from Louisiana-first Sen. Bennett Johnston, then Sen. Russell Long. From 1987 to 1993, she was a spokesperson for the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, years when Democrats heavily promoted the Brady bill. She later married Jeffrey Thomases, the brother of close Clinton pal Susan Thomases, and last year she contributed twice to Mrs. Clinton's Senate campaign. These facts were easily available to reporters, but their supposed skepticism about all political players was nowhere to be found. When Mrs. Dees-Thomases first appeared on CBS's morning program to promote the march last September, she belied her own claim of Brady-bill ignorance: "I've heard the Sarah Bradys of the world fight our battles and I'm like, 'Go, Sarah,' but I've done nothing." But CBS didn't even mention that she had been a CBS employee. All this stands in stark contrast to coverage of conservative Christian activism. The annual March for Life on the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade abortion decision can't attract 30 seconds on the evening news anymore. Promise Keepers brought no legislative laundry list to its 1997 Washington rally, but the media picked it apart for its exclusion of women, and its alleged desire to promote pro-life and "anti-gay" politicians. The Christian Coalition offends media stars like Dan Rather, who presume the group thinks it speaks for all Christians, and therefore deserves a "so-called" tag before every mention. But the media didn't find in the Million Mom March any pernicious political agenda, any sexist exclusion of men (unless they wanted to be "honorary mothers"), any offense in claiming to speak for all mothers, and no adjectives like "so-called," even if the marchers would never number anywhere near a million.

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