The National Rifle Association and the Media: The Motivating Force of Negative Coverage

By Pease, Edward C. | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview
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The National Rifle Association and the Media: The Motivating Force of Negative Coverage


Pease, Edward C., Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


The National Rifle Association and the Media: The Motivating Force of Negative Coverage. Brian Anse Patrick. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2002. 226 pp. $22.95 pbk. It is an intriguing premise that Brian Patrick offers in his study of media of the National Rifle Association. he argues that, the "anti-gun bias" of the "elite media" mobilizes Americans to join and support the NRA. It is because of negative press coverage of the NRA that the group is so powerful, Patrick asserts. But how can it be that the more the press opposes guns and supports gun control, the more Americans support the NRA?

Patrick argues that because the media have made such a big deal about guns and gun violence, gun-lovers have come out of the woodwork. If it weren't for the knee-jerk anti-gun press, Patrick says, guns, the NRA and America's pervasive gun culture "would not be where [they] are today."

A former political and communication consultant, Patrick is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Toledo. he points out that even though surveys show that most Americans-including gun owners-favor suffer gun-control laws, the NRA's public support and influence among lawmakers continue to grow. So what's going on here? There is more negative press coverage of the NRA than the other four other political lobbying groups in the study. Patrick concludes that press attacks on guns actually mobilize support for the NRA.

It is a tantalizing argument, this return to a kind of reverse hypodermic needle, maximum effects model of press power. Patrick's content analysis of hundreds of newspaper articles published in the 1990s finds that the "NRA is treated negatively compared to analogous interest groups." This negative coverage, he argues, results in a "mobilization effect" that means increased support for the NRA. "NRA membership increases as a result of negative coverage," Patrick says. "The more negative coverage the NRA receives in the elite newspapersand the elite press have been very obliging in this regard . . .-the more NRA mobilizes."

The NRA focuses its own PR on the "liberal media" and negative gun stories, Patrick says, in order to galvanize the faithful. The NRA's PR strategy, Patrick says, is to frame itself as a media scapegoat. And the press seems to play into the NRA's hands, which portrays itself as a media victim.

This study content-analyzes 1,498 articles appearing from 1990 to 1998 in the New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times.

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