DAVID ROBERTS This is the most we've ever talked about climate change on American TV for years–Just--just ever. We had about six minutes and twenty-three seconds in 2018, which is less than the royal wedding got. We just got seven hours in a row. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD How a climate marathon on CNN advances the conversation about actual solutions. From WNYC in New York, this is On The Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And I'm Brooke Gladstone. And why storm wearied news consumers have followed Dorian with fear and frustration.
JOHN MORALES We deal in probabilistic forecasting but people are used to deterministic forecasts. They want to know is it coming or not. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD And the glaring flaws on reporting on gun violence in America.
LOIS BECKETT we continue to have the same conversation over and over trying to prevent one percent of people from dying and not caring about the other 99 percent. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Some new ideas on an old argument. Coming up after this.
BOB GARFIELD From WNYC in New York. This is on the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And I’m Brooke Gladstone. As Hurricane Dorian slams the United States after ravaging the Bahamas, the effects of climate chaos are, once again, devastating millions of lives. Over the past few months, the mounting impact of the climate crisis has activists clamoring for the Democratic Party to hold a presidential debate on the existential threat facing our planet.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT We want to see a substantive debate on these issues, not just high level talking points and a media spectacle. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE At last month's party convention, party officials voted on the question despite DNC chair Tom Perez's concerns that a climate focused debate would be unfair to candidates who are more focused on other pressing issues.
TOM PEREZ We want to make sure we don't change the rules in the middle of the process. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Party rules state that candidates can't share a stage if there isn't an official debate. So on Wednesday, CNN used an alternate format–a seven hour town hall. Ten candidates, 40 minutes each and some hard hitting questions–not necessarily from the moderators but from an audience of activists and students and professors like this one for Democratic hopeful Julian Castro.
AUDIENCE MEMBER Reports warn that we have 11 years to get off fossil fuels, to have a safe livable future. But as mayor of San Antonio, you welcome the fracking boom. Why should we trust you as president to transition our economy to renewables given your past middle ground approach? [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE From a ratings perspective it was a bust. CNN fell dead last among the three cable news broadcasters for the night. But for activists, including members of the Sunrise Movement which had been pushing for the topic to be front and center, it was an unequivocal win.
DAVID ROBERTS This is the most we've ever talked about climate change on American TV for years–Just--just ever. We had about six minutes and twenty-three seconds in 2018, which is less than the royal wedding got. We just got seven hours.
BROOKE GLADSTONE David Roberts covers energy and climate for Vox and he watched the whole thing. At first, dreading it.
DAVID ROBERTS There aren't a lot of things that we do as humans that we're going to enjoy consistently for seven hours running. But also my experience with cable news and climate change, generally when they cross over, the results are generally not great.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And yet the format, though it was seven hours long, was a blessing in disguise.
DAVID ROBERTS In the end, I think that this event was, on almost every score, way better than a debate would have been. Just way more substantive, way more revealing about the candidates, way more educational for the audience.
BROOKE GLADSTONE One of the standouts of this town hall where the audience questions. Do you agree that this was part of why these discussions stayed on track.
DAVID ROBERTS They were just so good. I was like, 'I could not come up with a better question that.' A lot of them were about personal experience, you know, sorta my house got flooded.
[MONTAGE OF CLIPS]
AUDIENCE MEMBER My family lives in western Pennsylvania where frack gas wells have become a common sight.
AUDIENCE MEMBER Part of having a spinal cord injury means that I can't regulate my body temperature. July was our Earth's hottest month on record.
AUDIENCE MEMBER I have seen firsthand the devastating impact of mountaintop removal coal mining.[END CLIP]
DAVID ROBERTS But then there were also really pointed and well thought out and informed policy questions.
AUDIENCE MEMBER I'm 34. My family is discussing the transition of our dairy farm to the next generation but we're experiencing unprecedented weather events, economic and environmental challenges. And so I am wondering what you can do and what your plan is to bring stability back to the ag sector. [END CLIP]
DAVID ROBERTS Policy questions that are not well-known enough to make it into sort of mainstream debates.
[MONTAGE OF CLIPS]
AUDIENCE MEMBER Are you in favor of changing FEMA rules to encourage retreat from properties that have suffered repeated catastrophic loss?
BERNIE SANDERS Yes.
AUDIENCE MEMBER And if so, how would you implement those changes in a way that's fair and equitable? [END CLIP]
DAVID ROBERTS But are really relevant in the world of climate policy. In a sense it was inspiring to me to see all these, you know, ordinary people coming forward.
AUDIENCE MEMBER You have wavered at times in your stance on eliminating the filibuster. How do you intend to implement the climate policy we need to prevent climate disasters like Sandy if bad actors like Senator Mitch McConnell intend to use the filibuster to block climate legislation? [END CLIP]
DAVID ROBERTS Even if your sole criteria for questions is, 'who's tough?' Even on that score, the audience questions were better. They were tough in a genuine way. Like usually tough just means respond to this Republican talking point, right? Which is just like the dumbest kind of question. And these audience questions were genuinely tough. And the same thing when Biden was up.
AUDIENCE MEMBER Now I know that you signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, but I have to ask, how can we trust you to hold these corporations and executives accountable for their crimes against humanity when we know that tomorrow you are holding high dollar fundraiser hosted by Andrew Goldman, a fossil fuel executive?
JOE BIDEN He's not a fossil fuel executive. [END CLIP]
DAVID ROBERTS To his chagrin I think the standout moment of Biden's--of Biden's time in this thing. That was an audience question.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And one cool thing about that is that CNN knew it was coming, Anderson Cooper was prepared to give the contextual information.
ANDERSON COOPER Let me just inform our audience about some of the details that--that Aaron was talking about. Because I think it's important. I think a lot of people don't know about--[END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE But they didn't feel the need to have Cooper or anybody else grandstand the questions.
DAVID ROBERTS Exactly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE They had had come from the people.
DAVID ROBERTS Yeah, it was really cool. And it just made me think someone at CNN chose those people, right? Like these are not randomly selected people. So whoever that is at CNN clearly knows what a great question looks like when they see one. So it just made me wonder, why is it so often the case that the cable news moderators themselves ask such terrible questions? I don't fully understand the--the motivations of cable moderator, exactly what they're trying to get out of this, but whatever it is they usually do, they did much less of it. I'll say that. There were almost no horse race questions, right? To my great shock and surprise not a single candidate was asked sort of like, 'this is not a top tier issue for the public, so tactically, why are you doing this?' Or like, strategically how are you going to win with this issue? There was almost nothing like that and those kind of things usually dominate political discussion.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Let's talk about Wolf Blitzer's question to Andrew Yang.
DAVID ROBERTS Oh geez.
WOLF BLITZER Are all Americans going to have to drive electric cars?
ANDREW YANG All electric cars, it's not something you have to do. It's awesome.
ANDREW YANG And so over time, yeah, we're going to make it sound like [inaudible.] You feel like you're driving the future. And I did not just say that because he allowed Musk endorsed me just the other week.
WOLF BLITZER So--so, are we all going to have to drive electric cars?
ANDREW YANG Um, we are all going to love--[END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE You know this is something that came up again and again. The idea that the public you be forced to give up something they love. It's like the--it's being stuck in the, 'they're going to take away our guns box.'.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT Regular Americans, we don't have to make many sacrifices. I mean we all like our Amazon Prime. [END CLIP]
DAVID ROBERTS That one was a new one to me. I'm like--.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Yeah.
DAVID ROBERTS --whose climate plan goes after Amazon Prime. Where is that even coming from?
BROOKE GLADSTONE Elizabeth Warren really pushed back.
CHRIS CUOMO But do you think that the government should be in the business of telling you what kind of light bulb you can have.
ELIZABETH WARREN Oh come on. Give me a break. You know--.
CHRIS CUOMO Is that a yes?
ELIZABETH WARREN No. [END CLIP]
DAVID ROBERTS As though if the government got into regulating product safety that would be a new development. Although the government is telling us what kind of products we can have. That's outrageous. Like as though every product in your life is not the result of government regulations in a market that the government's helped set up. The whole thing is so silly. I was so glad Warren laid into him over that. This is what fossil fuel companies want us to be talking about.
ELIZABETH WARREN They want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your light bulbs, around your straws and around your cheeseburgers. When 70 percent of the pollution of the carbon that we're throwing into the air comes from three industries. [END CLIP]
DAVID ROBERTS And that's what Wolf Blitzer and Erin Burnett, all of them, that's what they return to over and over again. Whose taxes that you're gonna raise and what are you going to take away? And I was really glad to see Warren finally challenging the premise.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Regulations are expensive and aren't going to deprive you of the stuff you love.
DAVID ROBERTS Exactly. Exactly. This pollutant that you want to restrict how much is it going to cost to restrict it? How much is it going to slow economic growth to restrict this pollutant? And then on the positive side, what part of nature will be better off? Right? I think this is the tradeoff that most people see. Sort of like you slow the economy in exchange for helping nature. This is what informs questions about environmental issues generally. It's the economy versus the environment. It's the oldest dichotomy in the book. It's the dichotomy that Newt Gingrich tried to write into the foundation of--of D.C. conventional wisdom–and it was largely successful. Cable news moderators still bring that basic frame of reference to this issue.
BROOKE GLADSTONE What do we know now that should have changed those questions?
DAVID ROBERTS Right. I just don't think it's a good model for climate change. Because this is not sort of like one byproduct of one particular industrial process we're talking about here. We're talking about the basis of our entire infrastructure and energy system. We're doing with the basis of civilization. So if you're going to change away to a system that doesn't rely on carbon, you're not just talking about clamping like a scrubber onto your coal plant. Right? Like some old pollution. You're talking about re-industrializing the country on along new lines. So that means like new--not just new technologies, but new practices, new products, new markets, new behaviors. We're talking about fundamentally transforming the way we live on Earth. Right? And that's just a bigger--that's a bigger thing. So for instance, how much is it going to cost when you reflect in on climate change, the danger of climate change, you know, the dangers that scientists are talking about? Like half the world's species going extinct. You know, trillions of dollars drained from our economy every year, giant swaths of the world becoming literally uninhabitable by humans. It's just a more fundamental issue and I don't think that's completely sunk in yet.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Even journalists don't understand the stakes.
DAVID ROBERTS Most I think don't but that's what I think is changing right now. Like that's kind of what's exciting to me. And I think that's what's exciting about the town hall too. Is one chapter of this story is finally, in this primary season, is just an absolute flourishing of people educating themselves on climate change. You know, like CNN anchors writing to climate journalists saying, 'study me up on this stuff.' Like if you remember the debate on CNN, Candy Crowley was the moderator and she sort of famously said, this is something all people in my world remember--.
CANDY CROWLEY I think people are interested in today, I think--.
CANDY CROWLEY AND FEMALE CORRESPONDENT Immigration, gun control and immigration work.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT --and women's issues.
CANDY CROWLEY And women's issues were the three big ones. Climate change, I had that question to all you climate change people. We just, you know, again, it--it--we knew that the economy was--[END CLIP]
DAVID ROBERTS 'Climate people are off worrying about this. It's not a real thing that real people worry about. It's not a real mainstream thing.' That is the way they viewed it then and now, I think, that kind of dismissiveness toward it among the D.C. elite media circles, I think that's going away to the good.
BROOKE GLADSTONE But what about Wolf?
DAVID ROBERTS Except for Wolf. Well, he's gonna be the last--the last one.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Thank you so much.
DAVID ROBERTS Well, thank you. I'm glad--I'm glad you're paying attention to this.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE David Roberts covers energy and climate change for Vox. And he watched all seven hours of the CNN town hall.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD Coming up, let's talk about the weather.
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On The Media.
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On The Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD And I'm Bob Garfield. At 8:35 a.m. local time on Friday, 12 days and 22 hours after the National Hurricane Center first observed a tropical depression forming out at sea, Hurricane Dorian officially made continental landfall, bringing with it gusts, surge and rains over Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. It had been a long time coming.
[MONTAGE OF CLIPS]
MALE CORRESPONDENT Here on mainland Puerto Rico, they dodged a bullet.
MALE CORRESPONDENT Views from space show the hurricane clenching like a fist as it stalks the Bahamas. It now appears the storm could stall there for a few days.
MALE CORRESPONDENT It could go anywhere. It could, like these numbers are showing you, come onshore somewhere around West Palm or Melbourne and then travel right the coastline still a category--
MALE CORRESPONDENT First day, it was going up. The next day was coming at us. Then it's going up and now it might be coming to us again. So it's a wait and see game.
MALE CORRESPONDENT As you know, as I know, this storm has been very unpredictable up to this point.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT It's certainly has--[END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE In lieu of certainty about landfall, there were probabilities, good and bad, streaming out of television sets and emergency radios. And there were also less formal sources–like, for example, the White House, where the president on Wednesday used a Sharpie to doctored one of his agencies' weather maps. This to justify his tweets and statements incorrectly including Alabama in the storms likely path.
PRES. DONALD J. TRUMP The original path that most people thought it was going to be taken, as you know, is right through Florida. Where, on the right, would have been Georgia, Alabama etc.
MALE CORRESPONDENT And that map you took today looks like [inaudible] with a sharpie.
PRES. DONALD J. TRUMP I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Trump is far from the only social media-rologist–as The New York Times reported last weekend. Quote, 'in the absence of a sure fire track for the storm,' The Times wrote, 'some amateur forecasters are sharing misleading information online, sometimes by posting an especially severe model as if it were a definitive prediction.' And so now we turn to the best source of meteorological information for Floridians who spent days waiting and waiting and waiting for a crawling storm system to strike.
MALE CORRESPONDENT We're going to be your station and we're going to be, our entire team of meteorologists, the ones that can, uh, give you the facts without the hype. And keeping the fear and the anxiety as level as possible because I understand, I know why you're anxious. It doesn't turn and you're worried. But it's going to turn. Now back to you guys. [END CLIP]
JOHN MORALES We deal in probabilistic forecasting but people are used to deterministic forecasts. They want to know is it coming or not. And we don't speak that language.
BOB GARFIELD John Morales is the chief meteorologist at WTVJ, NBC 6 in Miami.
JOHN MORALES We give you the probability that tropical storm force winds will strike you, probability that hurricane force winds will strike you. When we look at the cone of concern for a hurricane, we talk about that statistically the hurricane will track through that cone 60-70 percent of the time. Two out of three times and one third of the time, the forecasts will be so off that it will fall outside of that cone of concern.
BOB GARFIELD And if that storm that you just described happens to, I don't know, scoot north or eastward and sparing what was a likely target, you still weren't wrong because there was a 33 percent chance that it would do just that.
JOHN MORALES I've been in the business of weather communications and science communications for almost 30 years. I understand that we need to try to communicate that nuance better so that people can understand that, you know, the forecasts can still be right even though they end up maybe not getting the expected conditions that people think they're going to get.
BOB GARFIELD Well I'm going to assert that, as an industry, as a discipline, you have done a really crappy job of getting the public to internalize that nuance.
JOHN MORALES That's really hard. You know, human nature does not think probabilistically. Human nature sees the danger or it does not. I mean that's part of the challenge of communicating the threat of the climate crisis, right? It's a relatively distant, for most people, relatively distant threat and they just have a very difficult time internalizing that, especially when there are so many uncertainties in that type of forecasting as well.
BOB GARFIELD There's even as a sort of bizarre disappointment attached to having a storm which so threatened you yesterday, passing by you today. You know, people have taken precautions. You know, they're nailing their shutters to the siding. They're evacuating. And then when the storm leaves the area safe, there's a part of them that's not relieved, but mad.
JOHN MORALES We just ran a piece of how to return to the hardware store, the goods that you brought to prepare for a hurricane, which, by the way, you are allowed to return including, you know, plywood and sandbags and all these things as long as you have a receipt. All you have to do is go return it. But yeah, some people do get frustrated.
BOB GARFIELD All that said, as a forecaster, you have processing tools to predict the paths of storms that, you know, even 10 years ago weren't available to you. How much better is the forecasting now than in days of yore?
JOHN MORALES It is remarkably better. The average forecast errors have been cut in--in just about 50 percent, in most of the time periods that we look for verification on, being 24, 48, 72 hours and an even five days out. And, as a matter of fact, as a consequence, the forecast cone of concern from the National Hurricane Center has been shrinking. Even back in the Katrina days, in the year 2005, the cone of concern when Katrina was departing Florida and heading towards the North Gulf Coast, would have encompassed all the way from Houston to the Florida Panhandle. But these days, that cone of concern is much narrower. Where there are still significant challenges, however, is understanding the internal physics of a small, very powerful cyclone like a hurricane. Hurricanes are not big. They're not like winter storms, which cover many, many, many hundreds of miles across. Hurricanes are relatively small systems and the computer forecast models have a difficult time assimilating the internal physics of what's happening there near the eye, where the winds are spinning so quickly and the pressure is so low. So intensity forecasting has improved slightly but not nearly as much as the track forecasts have.
BOB GARFIELD Now one thing that has changed, remarkably, also technological in nature is the--the internet and the capacity for individuals to track the weather on a moment by moment basis and also to pass along information good and less good. What effect has that had on how you do your job? And how is it benefited meteorologists? And how has it caused them grief?
JOHN MORALES Well, it's caused a lot of grief. In my very personal opinion, as a professional in this business for a long time, everybody knows that I'm a ‘just the facts’ forecaster, meteorologists. I fight tooth and nail against exaggeration and overhyping of weather situations. But these days, we have a twofold situation. First, broadcast news in general, as ratings continue to be fragmented with more and more choices, we've got fewer eyeballs watching. And there's a certain level of desperation in newsrooms around the country to have weather carry their newscasts because weather is one of the top reasons that people watch local broadcast news. What you are specifically referring to though is what's happening on social media platforms, which is where everyone's an expert right. Everybody can grab something a screen grab off their computer and put it right up on their feed and claim that this is what's going to happen, when in reality they don't understand the nuances of computer forecast models, which ones are the best, which ones are unreliable. And then us, as meteorologists on media have to cut through the noise so that our audience can be safe and level headed at the same time.
BOB GARFIELD Science is showing ever more that there is more than just correlation between global climate change but actual causation in some of this violent weather activity. The politics, especially in South Florida attached to climate change, do they have a bearing on the credibility of your reporting when, you know, some significant percentage of the population believes the president that all this climate change talk is a hoax?
JOHN MORALES I'd actually invite you to look at some of the Yale and George Mason Universities, they've done separate studies in both locations, on Americans acceptance of the state of the science of climate change. And you'll see that, generally speaking, across the country we're up to 75 percent of the acceptance of global warming occurring and about 60 percent of folks already do understand that it's greatly induced by our human footprints. I can tell you though that what's really driving what is an increasing percentage of those type of viewpoints from those surveys, ok, is precisely these type of events. It's not because a new computer model has come out that says that you know a 3º C of warming is going to cost X, Y or Z conditions. It's because they're seeing what's already happening in real life. That's what's changing people's minds. And just like there are peer reviewed studies in the Atlantic tropical basin that indicate that we are seeing a greater number of hurricanes going through these rapid intensification cycles caused by human induced global warming, people then see a cat 5 sitting over, you know, Grand Bahama and Amoco for 40 hours with winds gusting over 220 miles an hour and a storm surge to 25 feet. And they're realizing that something is happening. Minds are being changed by Mother Nature and Mother Nature is changing because of what we're doing.
BOB GARFIELD John, thank you very much.
JOHN MORALES Thank you for having me.
BOB GARFIELD John Morales is the chief meteorologist at WTVJ, NBC 6 in Miami.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Coming up, what we, the media, and we, most of the public, get wrong about gun violence–and how to fix it.
BOB GARFIELD This is On The Media.
BOB GARFIELD This is On The Media, I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And I'm Brooke Gladstone.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Last month, 53 people died in mass shootings in America. The latest was in Odessa, Texas.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT The people of West Texas held a vigil tonight to grieve together one day after a mass shooting left seven people dead and 22 others wounded.
MALE CORRESPONDENT Odessa is about 250 miles or 400 kilometers from the scene of the El Paso mass shooting exactly four weeks ago. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE The latest rampage prompted another round of public outrage–and maybe enough pressure on the White House and Congress to act.
MITCH MCCONNELL If the president took a position on a bill so that we knew we would actually be making a law and not just having serial votes, I'd be happy to put it on the floor. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE That was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talking to conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday. But have the repeated gun massacres prompted changes in the press? Following the shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote that quote, 'when a mass shooting happens, even when it happens twice in a 24 hour period, even when the death toll soars into the dozens, we reflexively spring into action.'.
MALE CORRESPONDENT People hate hearing these stories. We hate covering these stories and we have to cover them too often.
MALE CORRESPONDENT 'Chaos,' eyewitnesses say. Sheer carnage in Dayton this historic Oregon district.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT I literally just like looked down and everybody was on the ground and it was so loud I, I mean I just freaked out and started running.' [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Sullivan wrote, we describe the horror of what happened, we profiled the shooter.
MALE CORRESPONDENT What else, if anything, can you tell us about the 21 year-old man you have in custody? Have you--have you learned anything about a potential motive?
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT This morning, we're learning some new details about the El Paso shooter. His mother's lawyer tells ABC News that she called police weeks before the shooting concerned about her son owning an AK type fire arm because of his age, maturity level and lack of experience in handling that kind of weapon. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE We talk about the victims lives. We get reaction from public officials.
MALE CORRESPONDENT In El Paso tonight, a little boy is recovering from broken fingers. A baby, his name is Paul. He is two months old and he owes his life to his mom Jordan who, according to the family did what mothers do, they protect our kids. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Sullivan says it's gut wrenching work for journalists on the scene. And then there's the next one and the next one. She says if journalism is supposed to be a positive force in society and we know it can be, this is doing no good. Lois Beckett is a senior reporter for The Guardian and has covered gun violence for seven years. She says that often the mainstream coverage of the issue was misguided because we focused mainly on one type of tragedy.
LOIS BECKETT Our whole gun violence conversation is driven by mass shootings, which are incredibly horrific and statistically, still, even now, very rare events. If you look at the people who are dying from gunshot wounds in this country, it is primarily people dying from suicide, that's two thirds of it, and people dying in every day shootings in local cities and places where there has been concentrated gun violence for decades. And mass shooting victims make up maybe one or two percent. So we continue to have the same conversation over and over trying to prevent one percent of people from dying and not caring about the other 99 percent. Those students from Parkland, Florida were the first gun violence prevention group to really say clearly and explicitly that the American gun control debate has been racist for decades, that black and brown kids were dying outside of school we're not getting the same attention as primarily white kids dying at affluent suburban schools like the Parkland students' school. And then that needed to change that we really needed to have a conversation driven by and focused on the majority of the victims. And that understood that not every solution is going to prevent every kind of violence and that what mattered was doing a lot of different things, trying to make everybody safer not just trying to prevent the kind of shooting that shows up on the news.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Okay so you have, for a long time, been an advocate of solutions in the coverage. How do you propose incorporating solutions?
LOIS BECKETT There are lots of policies that make tiny amounts of difference that can be helpful. And there has actually been a tremendous amount of progress at the state level even as there has been political gridlock in Washington. So when we talk about solutions journalism, I think what we're saying is we want to push back against the inaccurate biases of our readers, of our listeners, that nothing can be done, that nothing is possible. I don't think we need to overstate claims but I think it's really important that we're accurate about what we do know about what works to save lives.
BROOKE GLADSTONE When we examined solutions journalism, one thing that very a strong advocate Tina Rosenberg told us, is that it's not always about solutions that work, sometimes it's solutions that don't.
LOIS BECKETT If you think about the single policy that's getting the most attention right now as part of America's gun control debate it's whether or not the country should ban military style assault weapons and whether there should be even a mandatory buyback of the assault weapons that Americans currently own. Public opinion surveys suggest that a majority of Americans support a ban on assault weapons, even nearly half of Americans support a mandatory buyback–something that, until very recently, was not even conceivable on the political agenda.
BROOKE GLADSTONE In fact we have a clip of Beto O'Rourke advocating that very thing.
BETO O'ROURKE Americans who own AR15s, AK47 will have to sell them to the government. We're not going to allow them to stay on our streets, to show up in our communities, to be used against us in our synagogues, our churches, our mosques, our Wal-Mart's, our public places. [END CLIP]
LOIS BECKETT And the fact is two things are true at the same time. It is undeniable that guns like the AR15 are a fetish object for mass shooters that have been used in one terrible public mass shooting after another. And it is also true that handguns have always been responsible for the overwhelming majority of gun homicides and handguns are actually used in a large number of mass shootings overall. Americans are having fierce and furious debate about whether to ban the kind of gun that is not used in the majority of gun murders.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Even though the AR15 is maybe the most popular gun in the market, at least according to Meghan McCain of The View.
MEGHAN MCCAIN The AR15 is by far the most popular gun in America. So if you're talking about, again I was just in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, you're talking around going and taking people's guns away from them. There's gonna be a lot of violence--.
JOY BEHAR But they lived without them for many years during the ban.
MEGHAN MCCAIN I'm not living without guns. I--I [END CLIP]
LOIS BECKETT Meghan McCain saying that she thinks that a mandatory buyback of assault weapons would lead to violence. This is actually a pretty mainstream conservative view. There was a report in 2009 from the Department of Homeland Security which warned about the dangers of white nationalist radicalization and domestic terrorism. And it identified guns and gun confiscations as central to that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE The NRA suggests that the second amendment includes the right to wage civil war. And, of course, Tucker Carlson says, 'confiscation is basically a call for civil war.'
TUCKER CARLSON You're calling for a civil war. What you're calling for is an incitement to violence. It's something that I wouldn't want to live here when that happened, would you? [END CLIP]
LOIS BECKETT It's really hard to know what might happen if Congress actually passes an assault weapons ban with mandatory confiscation. I think it's certainly true that a lot of people won't comply. They'll bury their AR15s in the backyard. Nobody knows they have them. There's no gun registry. I think it's also true that there are a significant number of law enforcement officials who will not comply with this law. We've already seen that in some states that have passed universal background checks like Colorado or Washington state, that the number of background checks conducted in those states hasn't actually gone up since the law passed. And the suggestion is it's just not being enforced very much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE OK, so you said we have no gun registry. That's another proposal. If we license people to drive cars, why not to use guns. And then of course the common sense legislation that people referred to like universal background checks, there's the red flagging issue, which of these do you think would be helpful or do you think none of them are?
LOIS BECKETT So if we talk about policies that have more science behind them, extreme risk protection orders, which are sometimes called Red Flag laws are really promising. Conservatives are more open to them. The laws are based not on the government knowing when someone is dangerous or not but on the judgment of someone who is closest to a person at risk, whether that's law enforcement, family members, people at school or co-workers. And the idea is that the bar for getting your gun rights removed permanently under federal law is really high. And the thing about extremist protection orders are they don't remove your gun rights forever. The idea is that it tries to line up the law more closely with when people are actually in danger of hurting themselves or someone else. And the second reason that this policy is so good is that it's gotten a lot of attention because of mass shootings but it tends to be used most often to help people who are suicidal. And that's so important because gun suicide is two thirds of all gun deaths in the United States. And so rather than a policy that's just driven by the rarest kind of violence, these extremist protection orders are actually relevant to the most publicized and well-known kinds of violence and the kinds of violence that's actually hurting the most people.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Don't you think though that the media's focus on school shootings and other high death toll tragedies prompt more outrage and potential for change than suicides and domestic homicides, say, that may be less relatable to the people who might push to make changes.
LOIS BECKETT So there's two ways of looking at that. One is more optimistic, one is the fact that, you know, after Sandy Hook there were a lot of suburban white parents who did not think that gun violence was relevant to them at all, who started getting involved in the gun control movement. And as part of doing that, they began to learn that gun violence didn't look like they thought it did. I talked to a woman in suburban Indianapolis who met a black mom from the center of Indianapolis and realized that, you know, the way that that mom's son got shot didn't meet her expectations of what gun violence looked like. And so the fact of people getting involved in activism no matter what brings them in, that you will learn through that. But on the other hand if you were trying to fix a problem and you are fighting for the wrong solutions, that getting more people involved to advocate for things that even might be counterproductive is incredibly dangerous. There is so much tremendous focus on school safety and fortifying schools and surveilling students and adding video cameras and watching what students are doing online. Almost none of this has any evidence behind it. And the best thing that we know is that more police in school and more surveillance in school and spending a lot of moneys to turn schools into bunkers, has actually led to more violence, has made students less safe and it's all being done by parents who want to protect their children and they are doing the wrong things.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You've written about the changes that Columbine made, the err school shooting in our era.
LOIS BECKETT Columbine really fueled a focus on zero tolerance policies in schools and continue to push to put police officers in schools to protect students from extremely rare school shootings. What researchers and activists have found is that that appeared to disproportionately affect students of color, to a fueled the school to prison pipeline. The attempt to make American kids safer by putting police officers in schools seems to have just left a lot of kids in the criminal justice system. And that doesn't make anybody safer.
BROOKE GLADSTONE What about the solution reported by NBC Nightly News earlier this week on a 48 million dollar school that's quote designed to deter active shooters in Fruitport Michigan.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT No more lockers in the hallways, instead short lockers in a common area so teachers can see 900 students at once.
MALE CORRESPONDENT And we also installed these wing walls to provide safety for students to hide behind if there's a threat down the hallway. A grant from Michigan State Police paid for impact resistant film on the windows and a special system to lock down specific sections of the school. [END CLIP]
LOIS BECKETT That kind of credulous coverage that accepts the false belief that children are most at risk of being shot in schools is incredibly dangerous. There are 13,000 American school aged kids who die every year from gunshot wounds, 700 from gun homicides, 500 from gun suicides, about 90 from gun accidents. And if you look at the data going back for decades, schools are actually the place where American kids are least likely to get shot, of all school aged homicides going back for 20 years, less than 2 percent of those are in schools. And so what we have right now is a society in which kids are getting shot in their homes and in their neighborhoods and they're safest at school and our response to that is to design barricaded fortresses of schools. And one of the saddest things is that The Trace, which is an outlet that covers gun violence exclusively, did an analysis trying to find every kid who had been killed in a gun homicide since parkland. And in looking at all of those individual cases, what they found was that more kids were actually killed by their parents in murder-suicides and domestic violence than were killed at school–about twice as many in fact. And so there's just a complete disconnect between the conversation that we have and the fears that parents have about what puts their children at risk.
BROOKE GLADSTONE OK so what do you think the press should be reporting on? What do you want to see in the coverage?
LOIS BECKETT I think one of the things that journalists really can do is focus on solutions, but also focusing on what their individual readers or listeners have the power to do. Because if you talk to longtime gun violence prevention advocates, people like Nicole Hockley who lost her son at Sandy Hook, they will say that the biggest enemy really isn't the National Rifle Association or gun rights advocates. It's the cynicism and exhaustion of everyday Americans who just don't see any evidence that anything can be done to help except maybe buying a gun to protect their own families because there's nothing else that they see that they have power to do. And so I think we not only need to focus more on policy and things that are working but also think more about providing people with information. Like what do you do if you're worried about someone in your life. Because what we do know about mass shootings is that there are almost always red flags that people are nervous, that people thought something was wrong, but people also don't want to hurt someone that they care about and they just don't know who to go to for help. And so I think we need to do a lot more work in trying to think how do we serve not just people who are watching these shootings terrified at home but what journalism are we providing for the people who have a bad feeling in the pit of their stomachs, who think something is wrong and they don't know what to do.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And what about the countless shootings of people of color in communities that are largely invisible to much of the mainstream coverage of this issue?
LOIS BECKETT So what we've been doing at The Guardian this year is focusing a yearlong series on the Bay Area. Because in the past decade, the Bay Area has seen gun homicides drop by 30 percent and in some cities have seen even bigger drops, 50 percent, 60 percent drops. And so we're trying to put sustained attention on what's working to save lives. New York has seen historic drops in gun violence. It's safe like it's never been safe before. Oakland and Richmond, places where there was generational gun violence, have seen real reductions. So part of it is just trying to put the focus there and to remind people that things are always getting worse. And part of it is just investing the time and money to make those stories interesting. And part of what makes our project is that we hired a young reporter from Richmond who's grown up here, who can be a voice in the newsroom, from a community that's been affected by gun violence and provide coverage that she thinks is most relevant for the people who are living with this every day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You mentioned New York and California, I can't help but think part of the reason is that it's really hard to get guns in those states.
LOIS BECKETT One of the challenges here of course is that it's really easy to go back and diagram one particular horrific act of violence and talk about exactly how it played out and really difficult to know when violence doesn't happen, who's responsible or what's responsible. Probably California's and New York's strict gun laws do play some kind of role in the reductions, but at the same time, what we've seen is really dramatic short term drops in gun violence even though there haven't been dramatic gun control laws passed in that period. Our best experts in the Bay Area, for instance, say that they think it's local intervention programs and that really person focused gun violence prevention that's probably responsible for the majority of that 30 percent drop in gun homicides over the past decade.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So what do you think about the action of Walmart's CEO earlier this week?
MALE CORRESPONDENT Largest retailer in America will now discontinue all sales of ammunition for a short barreled rifles and handguns. Walmart is eliminating handguns from stores in Alaska, the only remaining state that still carries them in their stores. And retailer are also asking customers to no longer openly carry firearms in stores where open carry is legal. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE I mean this move followed The New York Times article by Andrew Ross Sorkin. It was an open letter to the CEO Doug McMillon, forcefully asking him to have an impact on this issue. That piece was written right after the tragedy in El Paso last month. What do you think?
LOIS BECKETT I think a lot of gun violence prevention advocates are looking at this and feel really heartened because it is big action by a very powerful entity. And what's fascinating at looking at Walmart's choices is that it is talking about ammunition for AR15s and similar military style rifles. But that Walmart actually stopped selling handguns in most of its stores in 1993 and now it's not selling handgun ammunition anymore. Even though the mainstream media gun control debate is overwhelmingly focused on these military style rifles, Walmart and its policies are actually focusing on changes the kinds of guns that kill the majority of people. So there is a way in which Walmart's policies are actually way more in line with the data on what is most dangerous to Americans than our whole debate is.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Don't you have to assume that they were bottom line considerations in making this decision.
LOIS BECKETT Absolutely. But I think shifts like this do matter in applying commercial pressure when there is a blockade in Congress for passing any gun control legislation. You know, change is possible and one of the facts about the American gun control debate that we don't talk about enough is that gun owners are a minority in the United States. According to a variety of public opinion polls 70 to 80 percent of Americans said that they do not personally own a gun and about 60 percent say that nobody in their household owns a gun. And it's true that there are more guns in America than there are citizens, but that gun ownership is actually really concentrated. And so that when we talk about America's gun culture, its history with guns, we are talking about something that is tremendously psychologically important in this country but that in actual fact most people don't own these guns. So when looking at Walmart's choices, I think it's really important to recognize the fact that really extreme gun absolutists, the people who don't support any new gun control laws, who really think they have a constitutional right to carry any gun they want, in any place, at any time, that they are a minority within a minority. Something like fewer than 10 percent of all gun owners in United States are members of the NRA. Gun owners have been able, through very aggressive and focused and single minded organizing, to control the policy debate despite being a very tiny number of people. If even a relatively small number of people with very different views can organize against them, that could dramatically shape the landscape of this debate. But it's taken a long time for people who are concerned about gun violence to organize in as focused and as dedicated away. But we're definitely seeing that happening now.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So if you were going to issue a guide to journalists covering this issue, what would you suggest the three things they should stop doing and the three things they should start doing?
LOIS BECKETT I think the most important thing for good journalism on this issue is to challenge people's fears and conceptions and to say what violence actually looks like in this country. Fact checking all of these different school safety measures, talking very particular terms about what kinds of guns are actually most dangerous in the circumstances in which people die, that you can look at the coverage and say, is this coverage pushing back at my assumptions about what's happening, my assumptions about what more make the most difference? Does this coverage include solutions? Am I learning about the different things that people are trying to make a difference in this issue?' And also is it honest about when solutions don't actually work that well that not all gun control laws might be that helpful. Is this coverage looking at the big picture? Because that's a real public health approach to gun violence. It's not just about legislative action there are a lot of different methods and approaches to this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You've been doing this for seven years, do you think that's about how long a person can cover this stuff?
LOIS BECKETT Yeah, I mean I think it's about as long as I can cover this stuff. I mean one of the things that's so difficult is that gun violence in America overall is down dramatically in the past 25 years. It's down about 50 percent and at the same time, these relatively rare mass shootings are increasing. And that doesn't mean that more people are dying, but the level of fear and anxiety in this country is tremendous. And then that has real affects. Your ability to feel safe in a public space, the psychology of worrying about your kids at school, all that takes a toll. And so there's also a real limitation to trying to focus on data and sort of the objective facts of what's going on. And one of the frightening things is just the knowledge that with the more violence that there is in the media, with the more focus there is on these horrific acts that we are seeing, that encourages more Americans to arm themselves. And that means that then the rare incidents in which someone misuses the gun that they own with domestic violence or with suicide, that those might be increasing. And so it's hard to look at this and know that no matter what the data says, our fears are going to make us less safe and that there is--what we're seeing now is a continued escalation. And what we really need to do with this whole issue with the media and everyone else is de-escalate and remind ourselves the reasons that we have to trust each other and not be afraid.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Lois, thank you very much.
LOIS BECKETT Thanks for talking.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE Lois Beckett has been covering gun violence for the last seven years, the last four of those for the Guardian.
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BOB GARFIELD That's it for this week's show. On The Media is produced by Alana Casanova-Burgess, Micaha Loewinger, Leah Feder, Jon Hanrahan and Asthaa Chaturverdi. We had more help from Charlotte Gartenberg. And our show said it by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineers this week with Sam Bair and Josh Han.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Katya Rogers is our executive producer. On The Media is a production of WNYC Studios. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD And I'm Bob Garfield.
UNDERWRITING On The Media is supported by the Ford Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the listeners of WNYC Radio.