Have you ever heard of The Trace? It describes itself as the “only newsroom dedicated to reporting on gun violence.” It has slick digital packages that are chockfull of stories, photos and videos, so it’s easy to confuse the Trace with an actual news website.
But a news website it is not.
The Trace was founded in 2015 by former New York City mayor and staunch gun-control advocate Michael Bloomberg.
The Trace operates as the propaganda arm of Bloomberg’s anti-gun empire, which includes the astro-turf (not grassroots) groups Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demanding Action, which the New York City billionaire also bankrolls.
Like his other groups, the Trace advocates for more restrictive gun laws, but their message is a lot slicker than the handmade signs carried by Demanding Moms and Everytown employees.
The Trace’s work resembles actual news stories. It was designed that way.
As a result, the legacy media frequently cites The Trace as a legitimate news source without disclosing that it is a gun-control propaganda factory financed by Bloomberg.
The relationship between the Trace and the legacy media got even murkier recently, thanks to the Columbia Journalism Review – once a respected and well-regarded journalism think tank.
According to its website: “CJR’s mission is to be the intellectual leader in the rapidly changing world of journalism. It is the most respected voice on press criticism, and it shapes the ideas that make media leaders and journalists smarter about their work. Through its fast-turn analysis and deep reporting, CJR is an essential venue not just for journalists, but also for the thousands of professionals in communications, technology, academia, and other fields reliant on solid media industry knowledge.”
About a month ago, CJR convened a panel discussion “from across the industry to talk about how to improve gun-violence coverage in the country.”
“We’re here because we have a sense that the way we cover guns needs to be rewritten,” CJR Editor in Chief and Publisher Kyle Pope, who led the discussion, told the online audience.
Pope wrote in a subsequent story that the roundtable, “included conversations with journalists from the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Trace, The Guardian and others to detail what was working, what wasn’t, and what we can do about it. For two hours, we hashed through what the news business can do to cover American gun violence like the public health crisis that it has become.”
In addition to the Trace staffer, the discussion included a gun-control activist from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma – a CJR affiliate, which also receives Bloomberg dollars.
At no point during the discussion did Pope disclose to the audience or to the other attendees that the Trace and the Dart Center were both on the payroll of the country’s wealthiest gun-controller.
Instead, Pope introduced The Trace’s west coast correspondent, Alain Stephens, by saying that “The Trace is devoted full time to gun coverage and understanding the root causes of how the gun industry works.”
“They did this fantastic piece called ghost guns, which are guns that are untraceable that are now becoming a thing that people are turning to,” Pope said.
“You live in the gun world and you watch it,” Pope said to Stephens. “I know what this is like because CJR is also a trade publication.”
It should be noted that unlike The Trace, CJR is not committed to the destruction of the industry it covers.
Pope then asked Stephens how journalists should cover mass shootings. To be clear – he asked an anti-gun activist to dictate national media coverage.
“Tell me about national coverage and what people do and what people should do,” Pope asked.
Stephens bemoaned the lack of diversity and longform investigative reporting at the local level, but admitted that at the national level, “We’re all directed towards the NRA and these mass shootings.”
And then Dart Center’s executive director, Bruce Shapiro, revealed one of Bloomberg’s media strategies, which they hope will help alter the public’s perception about guns.
“The only way this is going to change is if you show us the bodies,” Shapiro said. “What is it going to take to wake America up to a uniquely American public health crisis – if not the bodies, then what?”
Last week, CJR released its “gun coverage commitment.” It’s a pledge the think tank wants all working journalists to sign. The main points came from comments made during the panel discussion – the one that included members from the two Bloomberg groups.
“We’re calling it the CJR Gun Violence Coverage Commitment, and we’re hoping to convince newsrooms across the country to sign on,” the press release states. “Give us your feedback, your thoughts, your concerns. Better yet, sign on to the commitment, as we seek to change the coverage of this uniquely American plague.”
The Society of Professional Journalists maintains a code of ethics for journalists which was last updated in 2014. Every journalist knows the code. Most try to abide by it. A few don’t.
In my humble opinion, Pope’s presentation violated a half-dozen of the code’s key principles.
SPJ’s code of ethics states that journalists should:
- Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.
- Label advocacy and commentary.
- Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
- Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.
- Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate.
- Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
I find it inconceivable that any journalism organization – especially CJR – would convene a panel discussion that mixes media and activists of any kind, and then allow the activists to dictate coverage. It’s neither objective nor fair.
Besides, Bloomberg’s groups have a huge dog in the fight, and they’re activists after all, not journalists.
I find it even more troublesome that neither these gun-control activists, nor their employers or their funding sources were disclosed, and that their ideas were later turned into a pledge that was sent out to the country’s working media.
I wonder if CJR would convene a similar panel discussion with anti-abortion activists or anti-immigration activists, and then ask them to help shape national media coverage. I am pretty sure I already know the answer.
How about a sit down with NRA, GOA, SAF and other pro-gun groups? That, too, would never happen.
Nowadays, public trust of the media is plummeting. The number-one reason cited for this is the media’s biases, of which there are many. Why else would CJR believe they could get away with this unethical lunacy?
We all know that when it comes to guns, the legacy media throws its highly touted ethics right out the window.
I’ve seen it happen.
Standards of accuracy, sourcing and fairness – which are common practice for other news stories – simply don’t apply if the story is anti-gun.
This country needs a fair and objective media because without reporters performing their watchdog role, government can run amok.
We’re seeing that now with the laudatory coverage of the Biden/Harris administration – whom the media believes can do no wrong.
And as to the pledge, in my humble opinion there are far more important things for working journalists to do with their time than to sign loyalty oaths to Michael Bloomberg.
As always, thanks for your time.
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This story is part of the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project, and used here with their permission.