By Lee Williams
The Los Angeles Times is a real newspaper, unlike USA Today, which most people step over while leaving a hotel room. During its more than 140 years, the Los Angeles Times has earned 48 Pulitzers. It has a daily print circulation of 1.2 million readers, and a weekly print and digital circulation of 4.4 million.
That’s why it is somewhat surprising that the Times copied USA Today’s ethical blunder by allowing anti-gun activists from the Trace to publish unedited propaganda disguised as real news.
The Trace 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. It operates as the propaganda arm for Bloomberg’s other anti-gun groups, which include Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action.
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. Reporters at the Trace are activists, not journalists. They advocate for more gun control. That’s their job, and they’ve become very skilled at insinuating themselves into legacy media newsrooms.
USA Today once even allowed a Bloomberg anti-gun activist from the Trace to interview a Giffords anti-gun activist, David Chipman. For the Trace, publishing their propaganda in a daily newspaper – especially one such as the Los Angeles Times – is always seen as a real coup.
The Trace’s latest hit piece was published Tuesday in the Times’ California section – a news section. It was titled “Gun ownership data are often limited — and the NRA knows it stands in the way.” It was bylined: Will Van Sant. It wasn’t until the end of story that the Times published a short disclaimer: “Van Sant writes for the Trace, a nonprofit newsroom covering gun violence in America.” The Trace also ran Van Sant’s piece on its website.
The story was everything you’d expect from the Trace. It advocated for the creation of a national database of gun owners to promote “gun violence research.” It also disparaged gun-rights groups, including the Second Amendment Foundation, for opposing the idea.
It was pure propaganda, since anyone with even the smallest shred of common sense can see the potential for harm in establishing a national list of gun owners – especially while the Biden-Harris administration occupies the White House. However, journalistically this story should never have seen print. For The Times’ editors, this story was an ethical hand grenade with a handle.
Gun ownership data are often limited — and the NRA knows it stands in the way https://t.co/TTN0WXLfn2
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) May 10, 2022
The Times updated its ethical guidelines in 2014, and now publishes them on their website. It’s clear the newspaper violated more than a few of its own ethical policies by allowing an anti-gun activist to write an anti-gun story, which was disguised as news.
“In covering contentious matters — strikes, abortion, gun control and the like — we seek out intelligent, articulate views from all perspectives. Reporters should try genuinely to understand all points of view, rather than simply grab quick quotations to create a semblance of balance,” the guidelines state.
The Trace story was one-sided and unbalanced, and included ad hominem attacks on gun-rights groups. There was only one perspective and one point of view – the author’s.
“The work of freelance journalists appears in our publications alongside staff-produced content. Freelancers must therefore approach their work without conflicts and must adhere to the same standards of professionalism that The Times requires of its own staff, including these guidelines. It is the responsibility of assigning editors to inquire about a freelancer’s potential conflicts of interest before making an assignment,” the guidelines state.
Since the Trace reporter was not a Times staffer, he would qualify as a freelancer, and therefore “subject to the same standards of professionalism that The Times requires of its own staff, including these guidelines.” There could be no greater conflict of interest than allowing an anti-gun advocate to write propaganda, which is then disguised as news.
“Credibility, a news organization’s most precious asset, is arduously acquired and easily squandered. It can be maintained only if each of us accepts responsibility for it,” the guidelines state.
Consider the credibility squandered, especially among the gun-rights community, especially those poor souls living in California.
I emailed the Times’ communication department and asked to speak with a representative of the paper about the Trace story and whether the newspaper violated its own ethical policies.
I also called and emailed the Time’s reader representative, whom the paper touts as its point of contact for questions about “journalistic standards, practices and accuracy.”
To date, I have received no response to my emails or calls. This story will be updated if I do. I am, however, not holding my breath. Regardless of the outcome, when it comes to their anti-gun bias, we will continue to hold the legacy media accountable.
The LA Times has never hesitated to lecture gun owners about how we should live our lives, and what we need or don’t need to defend our families, even though none of them have likely ever touched a gun, much less used one defensively. Therefore, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it’s somewhat satisfying to lift the shades and let a little sunshine into their ivory tower. They need to be exposed for what they truly are – nothing but a bunch of pompous, gun-hating hypocrites.
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This story is part of the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project and is published here with their permission.