In addition, the coverage of Obama’s promise on Wednesday to propose changes in gun policy was generally more specific in characterizing the challenges he faces. For instance, though Politico buried a brief mention of the GOP-controlled House at the end of its story on the statement and The Washington Post didn’t mention it at all, The New York Times’s Michael Shear noted the “possibility of a bitter legislative battle” with House Republicans in the second paragraph of his story. The Los Angeles Times likewise described the “daunting legislative math [Obama] faces” in the House, while Reuters flatly stated that “changing the rules will be difficult.”

Of course, we should not assume that Obama’s efforts on gun control are doomed; he may be able to broker some limited compromise with Congressional Republicans on a few points of agreement. But reporters should beware of reinforcing Green Lantern-style myths, particularly if the president retreats in the face of Congressional gridlock. Such a failure would likely be attributed by many critics to a lack of will or effort, but journalists should help citizens understand that policy change requires a lot more than presidential leadership.


Brendan Nyhan is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College. He blogs at and tweets @BrendanNyhan.