More Guns or More Propaganda?

This latest “bespoke” video magazine feature in the BBC’s “Altered States”* series really appears on the surface to be not only a balanced presentation on gun rights and laws, but could actually be interpreted by people not paying attention as being biased in favor of gun advocates. It isn’t, but it’s very cleverly disguised.

Would more guns save more American lives?

Remember the choice of “more” and “more” in this title for later. First, let me point out that this video piece was put together without BBC influence or prompting. It was made by Charles Ledford, who recently became Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He seems to be a recent hire, as he only finished his MA less than two years ago. From what I’ve been able to find online, Ledford is into exactly the kind of new digital media journalism that the BBC has been pushing for the last couple of years, and which many see as the future of journalism, full stop. No problem there, I’m just pointing out why the BBC looked to him for content. It makes perfect sense from a newsgathering standpoint.

(UPDATE: John Boch, from Guns Save Life has posted a comment below.)

Now for the bias. If we judge this piece simply on the basis of how much time is given to each side of the debate, then gun advocates win handily. More time is definitely given to their side. However, Ledford very cleverly undermines all of it.

Ledford was, for reasons unknown (not necessarily devious, just literally unknown to me, and the BBC doesn’t reveal any), doing some video journalism on the issue of gun rights for some time before the Newtown mass murder happened. So this piece was clearly not created with that particular agenda in mind. Was there an agenda anyway? I think so.

The first segment features gun advocates from the Guns Save Life group in Illinois. One of the Directors, John Naese, who seems to be acting as spokesman here, is given uninterrupted air time to explain the group’s positions on gun ownership laws.

The blurb accompanying the video on the BBC website says that Guns Save Life “are arguing for more permissive gun laws”. But are they? Considering that politicians in Illinois and in other parts of the country are always trying to enact ever more restrictive gun laws, one could just as easily say that the group is arguing to protect existing gun rights. But that would be speaking from their side of the argument. The opposite side of the argument is that they want more permissive gun laws. This bias is inherent in Ledford’s production and in the headline provided by the BBC sub editor. “More guns”. Gun advocates don’t necessarily want more guns, they just want to be allowed to keep what they own, and for citizens to keep the rights they already have. That’s not “more”.

The blurb also claims that Ledford’s video provides “an insight into the strongly held beliefs that influence discussion on this topic”. It doesn’t. What it really does is show you one perspective on the people who strongly hold certain beliefs about gun rights. Which is actually the goal of the piece. Naese pretty much just spells out the position on gun rights. There is no insight offered into the beliefs themselves. Nothing new is offered. But to people like Leford and the BBC editor who thought this was great stuff, the key is that they look down on the people who hold those beliefs.

The clever bit, though, comes after the segment featuring the Guns Save Life meeting. At the meeting, we’re treated to a scene of members reading out humorous rhymes about self defense. We then segue to the mother of a victim of some mass murder. Naturally, she is going to hold absolute moral authority, and actually claims it herself.

The first words out of the mother’s mouth are: “I don’t have a sense of humor about deadly force”.

Ooh, cuts you right to the quick, doesn’t it? Just look at those fat, hirsute, rednecks laughin’ about killin’. Pretty much destroys their argument, no? Well, no. The light-hearted scene has nothing whatsoever to do with the real attitude about gun rights, the right to bear arms, the right to self-defense. But that’s the “insight” Ledford wants to show you, and the brilliant point the BBC editor who selected this for publication saw and felt you needed to see. It’s fairly obvious that Ledford (or a student he sent over to do the interview) showed the woman footage of the fat old rednecks reading their little jokes, and asked something like, “So, what do you think of these assholes?”

Then the mother claims absolute moral authority by stating that the joking gun owners don’t know what it’s like to to lose a loved one.

If one goes by the stopwatch or word count, sure, the gun advocates get the lion’s share of the piece. But it’s very obvious where the weight of the feature lies: with the absolute moral authority of the mother who lost her only child. It doesn’t get more tear-jerking than that. The gun advocates are even given the last word, but it’s just more boilerplate, more simple spelling out of their position: banning guns doesn’t help. There’s no insight, no actual argument being made.

This, to the BBC, is the entire argument about gun rights in a nutshell: stupid rednecks who have no clue love their guns, while the reality is that innocents are killed and it hurts all of us. At no point are we given any actual insight into the gun owners’ beliefs, but we are given insight into why some people are against gun ownership. One side is portrayed as serious, based on morality and compassion, while the other side is portrayed as a figure of fun. It’s a biased piece, intended to denigrate gun rights advocates while elevating those on the other side of the argument.

Again, Ledford did this on his own. Or, at least, did part of it on his own and then got a  follow-up quote or two from the Guns Save Life folks after the Newtown tragedy at the BBC’s behest. Either way, the goal is clear, which is why the BBC selected it for publication.

*I hate the BBC’s title “Altered States”. It has negative connotations, implies things have changed, and not necessarily for the better. It’s been a running theme in BBC reporting since we elected a black man as President that the country has become more divisive, more messed up, more racist. This title emphasizes that perspective. Yes, I know it’s a reference to the rather entertaining little sci-fi movie starring William Hurt about a scientist who manages to regress himself back to a primitive state of evolution. It just supports my point.

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22 Responses to More Guns or More Propaganda?

  1. London Calling says:

    In the absence of any agenda, seems we have three interests – the criminals, who have and use guns, the Police, who have guns but are frightened off using them by politicians and lawyers, and the Public, who are left defenseless or imprisoned for using guns.


    • David Preiser (USA) says:

      The police are not afraid of using guns. Not at all. Some would even say that the police in many places are a bit too trigger happy. Nor are the elite afraid of hiring private bodyguards with guns. But that’s all besides the point here.


  2. chrisH says:

    Newsnight tonight had Piers Morgan on with a selected extract from his interview with a gun lobbyist…with no addressing the mans point that legally-pushed drugs like Ritalin and anti-depressants may be killing more kids than those guns that Morgan doesn`t like.
    Now there`s some crap about drugs wars being lost in the USA, as well as an Obama hack telling us why we ought not to have a referendum on the E.U.
    I take it that we`re simply to slaver around Obama unless he`s not got a view…in which case we have to ask Leon Brittain or Peter Mandelson instead.
    How come Savile didn`t kill off the BBC…and would MacAlpine like us to do something for charity so he can kill Newsnight.
    Stratton, Jones, Jenkins, Mason and Prescott-let them find some other vehicles to flex their blowholes….for the “impartial” BBC to give me their Marxist pellets every night is bloody tiresome…
    Oh, the drugs legalising twerp just told us that violent crime goes down if you factor out the “illegality” of the events like drive bys and decapitations.
    So too does murder….if that`s made legal then it too will diminish as a crime of violence.
    The BBC…Bloody Barking Crapola!


    • Guest Who says:

      ‘Newsnight tonight had [predictable producer iPhone list here] on with a selected extract..’
      About sums up the risible nest of vipers’ excuse for a ‘news’ magazine up.
      How this parody is still going is beyond me.


      • noggin says:

        you d have to have a heart of stone …
        morgan/cross the best bit – you fled the UK, yes you had to flee here bub, why don t you tell the folks, about being fired from the daily mirror for fabricating stories in your news paper, or facing the music for the hacking scandal, you re a hachet man


      • noggin says:

        4 mins ….


        • Guest Who says:

          Have to say, the pause from Mr. Ventura’s PoV when our Piers airly claimed (not even sure he was looking in his direction) his views were ‘facile’ (the Morgan poster must be decorating the Flokk training nest), was tantalising.


  3. Bigt says:


    BBC declare that Obama (PBHN) says it bad that UK wants out of Europe..

    No we don’t want out of Europe, we want to be European without paying for all the other members for the privilege…


    • David Preiser (USA) says:

      As usual, the BBC acts as a foreign bureau of the White House press office?


  4. Doyle says:


  5. John Boch says:

    Greeting. My name is John Boch and I’m with Guns Save Life.

    The piece the BBC ran was actually offered to them prior to the Connecticut massacre, along with other outlets.

    The Atlantic, here in the states, ran the piece in its original form. The link to it can be found here.

    Basically the BBC took the piece, deleted the references to my Christmas tree ornament and me talking about right-to-carry coming to Illinois and substituted some chyrons of Naese’s reaction to Connecticut.

    I don’t necessarily view Mary Kay Mace as getting the high moral ground. To my way of seeing it, she came off as bitter and irrational, bordering on a lunatic. I will say that there’s no counter-balance of soft, warm home interview after they deleted the segment with me that was in the original piece.

    Also, for what it’s worth, Ledford did all the work for this, spending lots of hours shooting video at GSL meetings, at our GSL Defense Training classes and on the sign details. He crafted the piece and offered it to various outlets more or less unsolicited.

    You wrote: “What it really does is show you one perspective on the people who strongly hold certain beliefs about gun rights.” That was actually “Stretch”‘s (Ledford’s nickname) stated goal. The piece was about the GSL community, and how “guns” are the interest that bring our community together to do what it is we do.

    From my perspective, you are being perhaps at little too harshly critical of the piece. Compared to the great majority of the mainstream media reporting of our efforts, this was a hugely pro-Guns Save Life piece and we’re pleased with it.

    In a perfect world was it unbiased and utterly neutral? I don’t think you’re ever going to find anyone who will find any story neutral, based upon their personal opinions and beliefs.

    All the best,



    • David Preiser (USA) says:

      Thank you very much for the thoughtful comment and valuable insights. For what it’s worth, I really got very little sense of anything other than a series of caricatures. Ledford did you no favors here. Only pro-gun people are going to come away with a sense that this is even remotely pro-gun, I’m afraid, simply because Naese was given a bit of air time to state your group’s basic position on guns and gun laws. Nobody else is going to be convinced by it. The only real insight Ledford allowed was that you have a sense of humor, one which he apparently didn’t appreciate. Your group was not presented as human by comparison with Mary Kay Mase.

      Also, thank you for confirming that the final product about which I posted was altered according to the BBC’s agenda.


  6. tckev says:

    I’ll ask a simple question – probably get flamed for it – but why is British tax payers, through the BBC, trying to influence US politics (again)?


    • Corran Horn says:

      It’s the other way around, the BBC are using British tax money to influence US politics.

      It’s got nothing to do with the majority of UK tax payers, but a hard core Left wing section of UK society that has been festering at the BBC that feels they are right on every issue and the rest of us are to dumb to be allowed to have an opinion.


    • Guest Who says:

      ‘why are British tax payers, through the BBC, trying to influence US politics (again)?
      Because the Graun showed how well it worked in print with operation Clark County, and the BBC uniquely can’t resist applying a broadcast enhancement to market rate successes?


  7. Deborah says:

    Thanks DP for your well crafted and thought out post.

    But like so much of the BBC it is a full analysis that shows the bias but most people most of the time take what the BBC shows on face value and are subliminally indoctrinated by the propaganda. The BBC’s audience in general do not question – they absorb what they see. It is why this site is so important although of course we are a self selected group who know not to believe what we see.


    • TigerOC says:

      Deborah you highlight the problem and it encompasses a number of situations that are relevant within the way media is run;
      1. Subscription to BBC is compulsory if you own a means to receive it live (a TV).
      2. BBC then tells the public that their services are free but in actual fact this is a lie see 1 above.
      3. There is no impartial editorial control of the BBC. The BBC is not subject to over-site by an impartial regulator but only to the Board.
      4. The Board and its Chairman supposedly protect the licence fee payers (subscribers) but are neither elected or accountable to the subscribers.
      5. The politicians have placed the BBC out of reach of everyone including themselves because of Royal Charter. For evidence see how Patten treated the Media and Culture Committee of Parliament when they tried to hold him to account.

      So relating to the above look at how media strategy has evolved over the last decade. Bill Gates when CEO of MicroSoft said that they had to have the means to push to consumer and not have the consumer pull. What this means is they were not satisfied with consumers having choice of what to receive but they had to have technology able to push stuff at the consumer so that attained a state where the consumer was literally overwhelmed by them. During Gates’ reign it was very successful attaining almost 100% penetration. Their software was designed to follow you and tune itself to your every need.

      The BBC has the same position. If you own a TV you have to pay the BBC and receive the BBC. The average Joe Public does not question what he is told. The BBC has created the impression that they tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth all the time. Joe does not realise that he is only getting half the truth half the time because the BBC editors don’t think he should be told the other half. Joe Public only starts to think when things like Jim’ll Fix It happen.

      Unfortunately we are the pull and have to wait for Joe to ask questions and start seeking answers. Sadly the our politicians, or the people that pretend to be our politicians, have neither the will nor the means to tame the beast they have created. The only tool they have now is to reduce the licence fee to zero.


      • Deborah says:

        TigerOC – it is the non-questioning by Joe Public of what is on the BBC that concerns me most – even some of what passes for the most intelligent of people not questioning the BBC is what makes it so powerful and so dangerous. Having my Oxford graduate nephews sneering at me that the ‘science for climate change is settled by consensus’ a couple of years ago and I had to explain that I had searched out the evidence and then made my own mind up produced a look of shock on their faces (but I don’t think it made them do the same). We have only to see the BBC’s meeting of experts that wasn’t and the latest from the Met Office to show why questioning the position of the BBC on Climate Change was ‘the right thing to do’ (sorry Yvette Cooper and David Cameron).


      • Guest Who says:

        ‘1. Subscription to BBC is compulsory if you own a means to receive it live (a TV).
        OTish, but as we barrel down on a crunch I hope you’ll indulge me.
        We have a variety of CRT, plasma and LED screens around the house that can do just this.
        If things, as I fear they will, come to a head, we’ll be canceling the TVL DD, along with the SKY sub.
        However, we have no intention of getting rid of any kit we’ve paid for, not least because we still need them for any PC duties or to watch DVDs.
        Please tell me those lovely Capita chaps have to at least prove we are still watching live TV on top of owning the means.


  8. chrisH says:

    And the same old junk from an Obama adviser for Britain to stay manacled to the EU Project even made it through the night, so Naughtie could pluck his dentures out of it all this morning.
    Utterly laughable efforts to shapeshift for both the EU and for Obama(PBUH)…but was cheesed off to find Dominic Raab sandwiched between some EU cheerleader and Douglas Alexander…you know, so the BBC get to set their agenda and ensure we get that same agenda as the last word.
    I`d have thought that Raab is a Government MP-and so HIS word ought to matter far more than some Shadow Scot from history…the “Government ” used to always get the last word when it was a Labour one..why so different these days then?
    Need I even ask?
    Still-Bernard Jenkin hoisted Today up by its red braces yesterday…and with him, Raab and Mark Reckless..I do see some hope for the true Conservative yet…here`s hoping!


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