That's not journalists' job. That's the job of activists on both sides of the gun debate. Journalists' job is to cover how activists and politicians react (and don't) to this latest incident of gun violence. If a national resolve is created — as was the case on legalizing same-sex marriage — journalists' job is to cover that story too.
Rather's idea that the common-place nature of gun violence and the short attention span of the American public have combined to make journalists move on too fast from these sort of incidents isn't borne out by the facts. The coverage of the Charleston church shooting was wall-to-wall and extended for weeks after the incident. Ditto the movie theater shooting in Colorado. And, the Newtown school shooting was the single biggest story (with the exception of the election) — in terms of coverage — of 2012.
In each of those incidents, not only was the crime itself covered but so too was the political debate that ensued. For Charleston that became a conversation about the Confederate flag. Following the movie theater shooting and Newtown it was a broader conversation about gun violence and gun laws.
Neither of those two shootings and the national conversations that followed led to national legislation to limit how people buy guns. That is not reporters' fault.
It is absolutely true that with the rise of the partisan media over the last decade (or so), the line between activism and journalism has been blurred like never before. But, at its root, journalism is about bringing facts to the public — and leaving it up to them to make decisions about how they should be governed and by whom.
Simply because the public doesn't agree with Rather doesn't mean journalists aren't doing their jobs. Rather's argument is much like the one many journalistic watchers make about how to cover Donald Trump. They would relegate the businessman to a sideshow because he doesn't act like a traditional politician, uses at-times incendiary rhetoric and is generally dismissive of the need for specifics.
But, that's not the point. The point is that Trump has built a real national following. Our job as reporters isn't to try to disqualify those followers but rather to understand them and Trump's appeal to them. It's also to fact-check Trump's assertions and make clear when what he says doesn't match reality.
Rather would turn all journalists into gun control advocates. While I abhor gun violence and felt physically ill watching what happened in Roanoke on Wednesday, I don't think my job is to advocate for more gun laws in this country. It's to cover the debate, present the facts as fairly and thoroughly as possible and let the public decide what they think the right next steps are.
Activism has its place in the world of politics and policy. But activism is not journalism.