The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The NRA is using Trump’s playbook to attack the news media. It must be getting desperate.

National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch attacked the media coverage of gun violence at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 22, 2018. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: JIM WATSON/The Washington Post)

One of the more outrageous assertions in a week overrun with them was Dana Loesch’s outright lie that journalists relish massacres of children.

“Many in legacy media love mass shootings,” the National Rifle Association’s fanatical spokeswoman charged. “Crying white mothers are ratings gold.”

Wayne LaPierre, the group’s chief executive, joined right in, smearing journalists and gun-control advocates alike.

“They don’t care about our schoolchildren,” he told a fired-up crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference, meeting at National Harbor outside Washington. “They want to make all of us less free.”

They’re wrong, of course. Ridiculously so.

This charge is about as valid as President Trump’s depiction of the media as the enemy of the people, which he repeated Friday.

On the contrary, every journalist I know is sickened, sometimes literally, by the need to cover one mass shooting after another.

“There’s nothing more horrific, crushing, draining & painful than covering mass shootings,” tweeted Matt Ferner, a national reporter for HuffPost.

He added: “I vomited while covering the San Bernardino attack I was so overwhelmed. I often can’t sleep for days after going to shooting sites.”

After spending more than three decades in newsrooms ranging in size from the Niagara Falls Gazette to the New York Times, I’ve never heard a hint of glee about such atrocities — not from reporters or editors, and not from circulation directors or those who track digital engagement.

The NRA is wrong, disgustingly wrong, about this.

They’re even more wrong about the news media as their adversary — a claim that’s certainly not new but now blasted out at higher volume.

Remember, although it bills itself as a defender of constitutional rights, the NRA is a lobbying group whose fundamental role is to protect the business interests

of gun manufacturers.

Should a lobbying group be given as much credence in the national conversation as the NRA has been awarded over the past week — presented, all too often, as a legitimate purveyor of policy ideas?

“I am so outraged that the NRA is being given a seat at the table, whether it’s by the media or by the president,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, an advocacy group seeking gun-control changes, according to The Washington Post.

“We’re acting as though lobbyists have a right to have a say, or to help us write our nation’s gun policies. They don’t.”

It’s an important point. And while it’s hard to deny that the NRA is a major part of this story, because so many lawmakers toe their line, journalists would do well to remind their readers and audiences what the organization actually is and what motivates it: money.

Now those interests have a formidable new adversary: the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 teenagers and staff members were killed this month, according to authorities, with an assault weapon legally purchased by a troubled 19-year-old.

The students’ voices are powerful and persuasive. By Friday, major companies were cutting financial ties with the gun lobby. The hashtag #VoteThemOut was targeting lawmakers with NRA affiliations who oppose meaningful gun-law reform. And Douglas students were vowing to push on.

“Anyone got a list of the biggest private donors to the NRA?” one student activist, David Hogg, asked on Twitter.

No wonder the lobby is borrowing Trump’s moves, learned at the knee of Roy Cohn, his ruthless mentor and legal adviser: Always punch back harder than you got hit.

But the NRA is hamstrung. It can’t punch back with impunity at students who’ve lost their friends or are terrified to go to school.

So the news media will have to suffice.

At CPAC, attendees cheered the attacks on the media as if they were at a Trump campaign rally. The president jumped on board Friday morning, ripping what he called made-up sources, faulty public-opinion polls and dishonest reporting by the mainstream media.

He’s wrong.

Granted, the reality-based media makes mistakes. It’s a flawed institution, run by fallible human beings.

It’s also a necessary foundation of American democracy, one that has been performing quite well under tremendous pressure.

Think of where we’d be, 13 months into the Trump presidency, without news organizations such as The Washington Post, the New York Times, and yes, that favorite Trump target, CNN, among many others.

These rabid attacks won’t end — not by the president, not by the right-wing media, and not by the NRA.

But keep this in mind: The louder and nastier they get, the more you can bet the attackers are feeling the heat.

For more by Margaret Sullivan visit