In the wake of Sandy Hook, U.S. media outlets have brought to press a flurry of critical stories on the NRA, rightfully placing the pro-gun behemoth in the spotlight. However, far too many news organizations have attempted to advertise such stories by using gun imagery in the titles.

Such titles, while intended to be witty and sharp, in truth have worked to undermine the very stories and columns being promoted.

These titles are not cute. They are not witty. They are not the product of a responsible journalistic ethic which treats the titles — the promotions — as an important part of a story’s trajectory.

Below are three such examples and my thoughts on them.

1) Portland Press Herald: “The NRA Shoots from the Hip in Blaming All Media for Culture of Violence

This story, written by staff at The Washington Post, appeared in The Post under the title “NRA links violent media to mass shootings, but researchers are skeptical.” The story itself is an important one in that it contradicts NRA claims by noting that in the past 20 years, violent crimes have decreased approximately 20 percent while video game sales have tripled.

So if video games don’t increase violent crime, what’s the big deal if a newspaper decides to make its title playfully violent? It’s not as though the title will lead to a mass shooting, right? Of course not. But such subtle sensationalism by a news organization in its crafting of a witty, gun-centric title doesn’t just cheapen the story. It trivializes the image of someone fingering a gun and shooting from the hip, thus desensitizing us from the very story being reported.

2) ABC News: “NRA Takes Fire for Stance on Mental Illness

Yes, the NRA was way out of line to characterize violent criminals as “insane” and “lunatics” in the wake of Sandy Hook. And yes, it was incorrect to assert that mass shootings are the work of those with mental illnesses when only 4-5 percent of violent crimes are committed by those suffering from such an illness.

But do we need the image of a personified NRA taking rounds of gun fire based on its damaging, ridiculous statements? No more so than we need the NRA’s violent policy positions posturing as principled American values.

3) The Sun Sentinel: “NRA Shoots Self with Brazen Response to Sandy Hook

Do I agree with Michael Mayo’s angry response to the NRA’s shameful press conference last Friday in which it doubled down on the need for assault rifles to dot every corner of this country?

Yes.

Do I agree that using the image of a self-inflicted gun wound – perhaps suicide – in the title helps to drive home this shameful doubling down on potential violence by the NRA?

No.

There are countless other examples of mainstream newspapers and outlets trying to advertise its NRA-themed columns and articles with gun imagery in the titles. (For example, recent editorials by the Denver Post and Palm Beach Post titled “NRA Fires Blank on Gun Violence” and “NRA Returns Fire to Protect its Real Constituents.”)

And all of them do a disservice to the stories they are trying to tell by using gun images as one would a toy AK-47: playfully and without regard for the underlying message.

Follow David Harris-Gershon on Twitter @David_EHG


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