Is Teaching Propaganda Ethical? Columbia School of Journalism's Dart Center partners with Bloomberg
A workshop titled “Covering Gun Violence” is being offered in Phoenix by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma to “help journalists and news organizations in the Southwest improve their reporting on guns and gun violence.” That sounds reasonable and helpful. Surely the Dart Center, a project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism could help improve the state of reporting on the firearms issue, especially in light of the way reporters seem to call every pistol a Glock, every rifle an AK47, and every gun an automatic.
But there’s more to the story. The workshop is being funded by Mike Bloomberg’s anti-rights advocacy conglomerate Everytown for Gun Safety, and the very general description of the “experts” who are going to be presenting the training sounds very much like the same “experts” that Bloomberg and his associates rely on to push their biased and misleading “research” and reports. Even the call for applicants itself leads off with an anti-rights propaganda rant, quoting misleading statistics and discredited claims straight out of the Everytown propaganda playbook.
When I noticed that only 30 individuals will be selected to attend the workshop, and that 15 of those will receive a stipend of up to $350 to offset travel and lodging expenses, I had visions of the Everytown team going through the applications and picking which journalists would attend, but a quick email to Dart calmed that worry. Bruce Shapiro, the Dart Center director, informed me that all applicants are reviewed and selected by Dart Center staff, independent of any program funder. Okay. But he didn’t go into any detail about the selection criteria. He also said that the presenters and program are selected by Dart rather than the underwriter. Even so it seems a safe bet that deep-pockets Bloomberg will make sure a good selection of his “experts” will be engaged for the program.
Shapiro insists that the idea for the workshop originated with Dart and that when they offered to fund the project, Everytown agreed that they had no say in any aspect of the content or participant selection. That may be so, but based on the inclusion of inflammatory Everytown propaganda in the call for applicants, and the timing, location, and regional focus, it appears that, at a minimum, Everytown has some strong supporters within Dart. The workshop is aimed at Southwest reporters and producers, and is being held in Phoenix, Arizona in a year when Everytown has just gotten a ballot initiative introduced in neighboring Nevada and has announced plans to push a similar measure in Arizona year.
Maybe that’s just a coincidence.
The Everytown ballot initiatives are presented as expansion of “background checks,” but the objective of the proposals is to force all legal private transactions to go through licensed federal dealers in order to create a paper-trail for every lawful firearm transfer. In plain language such a scheme is known as registration. Registration has been proven to be ineffective at keeping guns “out of the wrong hands,” while putting law-abiding citizens in jeopardy of prosecution for inadvertent technical violations and opening the door for future confiscation of any firearms that legislators decide are too dangerous or scary-looking for citizens to own.
Everytown is pushing these measures through voter initiatives because they’ve been unable to get traction in Congress or state legislatures. As ballot initiatives, they depend on low-information voters for passage, and for that they depend on multi-million dollar ad campaigns and a lapdog media that will echo their talking points while dismissing opposition.
With all of that in mind, this workshop on “Covering Gun Violence” certainly has the appearance of a prestigious journalism school lending its name – and its reputation – to a program to train journalists how to do a better job of presenting Bloomberg’s anti-rights propaganda.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but while I have no doubt there will be much said in this workshop about the horrors of “gun violence,” and the common sense of “universal background checks,” I would be very surprised to learn that there was anything presented about the positive benefits of gun ownership or the arguments against Bloomberg’s backdoor registration scheme.
Over the past several months, I have presented a series of columns highlighting the lies and distortions of the anti-rights lobby, and I’ve commented on the way the majority of media blindly accept and regurgitate anything that comes out of groups like Everytown, The Brady Campaign, and the Violence Policy Center as absolute fact, while casting a skeptical eye on anything that comes from pro-rights groups like the NRA, Gun Owners of America, or The Firearms Coalition. While I have no problem with, and in fact encourage, the media challenging the output of pro-rights groups, their unquestioning acceptance of anti-rights propaganda violates the simplest rules of media ethics. A quick web search for the names of anti-rights organizations will bring up press releases or “studies” that are published verbatim as hard news. No such deference is ever given to information of a pro-rights nature, regardless of its source.
There is an old saying that a real reporter is so skeptical that he’ll believe his mother loves him – as long as he has a second source. Reporters are supposed to apply that skepticism to all claims from politicians, government agencies, corporations, and special interest groups. Instead, we have today’s news organizations openly or stealthily advocating for or against particular issues, and serving as propaganda organs for their favorite causes.
Columbia School of Journalism, and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma might prove me wrong with this workshop. I hope they do. I would love to regain some faith in journalistic ethics and integrity. If they allow their name to be used to provide legitimacy to a political advocacy organization’s propaganda training, they might as well replace the word “journalism” with the word “shilling” in their names.
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