Todd Spangler, the Detroit Free Press’s Washington, DC, correspondent, wrote a great piece prominently featuring the conflicted position of Democratic US Rep. John Dingell, who, as Spangler noted, is a former member of the NRA board of directors and a member of the task force looking into proposals to curb gun violence. While the Freep had “been asking Dingell’s office for weeks where he stands” on gun control proposals, Dingell withheld comment until the day of Obama’s press conference, then saying that he’d “look over the president’s proposals carefully.” In other words, as Spangler explicitly pointed out, Dingell “declined to give [the proposals]… overt support.”
Spangler also talked with US Rep. John Conyers, noting that Conyers “would play a role in getting any gun control legislation passed as the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.” (Conyers appears on board.) Altogether, Spangler did an excellent job laying out the basics of Obama’s proposal—both what the president can do on his own and what will “require Congressional action” (more on this point to come)—and localizing the story via Michigan’s influential national leaders, fertilizing the ground for future coverage on an unfolding story.
They simplified it—sometimes blurring facts. For example, per the above-mentioned Plain Dealer piece, the Ohio gun store owner “disagrees with the sentiment that teachers should be given weapons”—which, in context, implied this is part of Obama’s proposal, when of course it is not. The National Rifle Association, which initiated that “sentiment,” was not mentioned in the piece.
Another example: the shorthand in the same Plain Dealer story suggested Obama announced a “plan” to be enforced rather than explaining that Obama announced both executive actions he intends to take on his own (like nominating an ATF director) and recommended legislative actions he will push Congress to take (confirming his nominee for ATF director, for one). While the Plain Dealer offered readers a fuller picture with a pre-press conference overview and a next-day story featuring reactions from local mental health experts, readers may see just one segment of the coverage. Lest readers take away a muddled view, reporters should bring precise language to each piece. (For what it’s worth, the Plain Dealer was hardly alone in failing to make clear that Obama’s proposal included both executive actions and recommendations for legislative action: some national reporters “muff[ed] the terminology” even worse, as Slate’s Dave Wiegel pointed out.)
There will be opportunities for reporters in this region and beyond to do better; the debate over gun policy goes on.