By Lee Williams
The senior leaders at Gannett’s flagship newspaper, USA TODAY, have surrendered their objectivity, independence and impartiality to an anti-gun group that wants to strip law-abiding Americans of their constitutional rights.
After Joe Biden’s ATF nominee, David Chipman, was rejected by the Senate, these editors allowed their newspaper to be used by Chipman’s supporters – who are working in their own newsroom – to rewrite the narrative of Chipman’s aborted confirmation, and the editors are not letting their highly touted journalism ethics get in the way.
For USA TODAY, this is nothing new. It’s all part of an incestuous partnership the newspaper has with the Trace – the propaganda arm of billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun empire.
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 site it is not. The Trace supplies propaganda for Bloomberg’s other anti-gun groups, which include Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, as well as any members of the media willing to cut and paste their stories.
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 supporters. Reporters at the Trace are activists, not journalists. They advocate for more gun control. That’s their job.
In June, we revealed how the unethical relationship between the Trace and USA TODAY produced a biased investigation, which targeted law-abiding gun dealers. The Trace supplied two editors and five reporters for the project, which was widely panned even before it was published.
We also showed how USA TODAY allowed Bloomberg’s activists to continue to write stories for the newspaper, which were biased, anti-gun hit pieces falsely labeled as news.
Now, the ethically challenged USA TODAY editors have allowed one of Bloomberg’s own anti-gun activists to interview Giffords’ most infamous anti-gun activist, Chipman, for a glowing puff-piece the newspaper titled: “Biden nominated him to head gun oversight. He went down in flames – but he’s not done fighting.”
The story was written by USA TODAY reporter Nick Penzenstadler and Brian Freskos, a staff writer for the Trace who’s based in Chicago. According to his bio, Freskos’ reporting at the Trace “has primarily focused on gun trafficking and community-based violence prevention.” To be clear, even though he shares a byline on the story with an actual newspaper reporter, Freskos is paid by Bloomberg as an activist, a position he’s held since 2016, when he graduated from Columbia University.
In the story, Chipman lashes out at everyone, including the White House and the Justice Department. He blames everyone but himself for the fact he became a laughingstock and the greatest meme generator since Joe Biden.
The story portrays Chipman as heroic, and claims the “ugly and personal confirmation process hardened his resolve to focus on gun safety and push back against the industry’s outsize influence on the agency — even if he has to do so from the outside.”
“Chipman said his political fight was minor compared to what victims of gun violence have experienced, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who endured brain injuries from an assassination attempt in 2011,” the story states. “I have the choice of buying a lake house somewhere and turning off social media and saying I give up. What am I going to tell Gabby? She’s still getting out of bed every day. What do I say? ‘This is too hard for me?’ I wasn’t shot in the head.”
In the story, Chipman accused the ATF of becoming too friendly with the National Shooting Sports Foundation – the trade association of the firearms industry. The NSSF, Chipman claimed, prevented the ATF from holding “bad gun dealers” accountable.
NSSF spokesman Mark Oliva is quoted in Friday’s USA TODAY story.
Oliva explained that the NSSF urged the Biden administration to pick “an individual who can administer the laws and regulations governing the firearm industry and the exercise of Americans’ God-given Second Amendment rights without bias or predisposition.”
Oliva told the paper that Chipman “was not that person.”
Oliva said Friday this wasn’t the first time he was interviewed by USA TODAY reporter Nick Penzenstadler.
“He contacted me last summer about the gun dealer story, but he never mentioned he was working with the Trace,” Oliva said. “He called later, before his Chipman follow ups, and it became evident he was working with the Trace. He never offered it. He never denied it. He seemed matter-of-fact about it.”
The NSSF does not participate in interviews with anyone affiliated with the Trace, Oliva said. He responded to Penzenstadler’s calls for Friday’s story only because Chipman has lashed out at NSSF senior vice-president and general counsel, Larry Keane, and he wanted to set the record straight.
“Chipman is definitely making the rounds,” Oliva said. “He’s throwing everyone under the bus, not just us. He threw the White House under the bus. He’s only validating why he is unfit for the job.”
Oliva, who reported for Stars and Stripes as a Marine, described the close relationship between USA TODAY and the Trace as “incestuous.”
“It is beyond the pale of any kind of objectivity when it comes to journalism. It is more embarrassing for Gannett than anyone else that this partnership happens with such a blatantly obvious anti-gun group,” he said. “The Trace is pushing an agenda and Gannett is allowing them to use their newsrooms to do it. It is completely devoid of any kind of objectivity.”
At the end of their story, the newspaper describes the Trace as “a nonprofit investigative journalism outlet focused on firearms.”
“That is obviously untrue,” Oliva said. “The Trace is nothing but a mouthpiece for gun control and Mr. Bloomberg’s agenda to strip gun rights from law abiding citizens.”
Second Amendment Foundation founder and executive vice president, Alan M. Gottlieb, said he has known for years that USA TODAY and its parent company Gannett harbored extreme anti-gun rights views.
“Now, by partnering with the Trace, they have proven it,” Gottlieb said. “The problem for them is that by allowing Bloomberg’s activists to participate in the reporting and editing process, their work product can no longer be called news. It is propaganda – anti-gun rights propaganda.”
Maribel Perez Wadsworth, president of the USA TODAY network and publisher of USA TODAY, did not respond to emails seeking comment for this story.
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This story is part of the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project and is published here with their permission.