American Guns, Reason, and a Fat Walrus: Which One Did the Media Get Right?

On Friday and Saturday the Drudge Report, under a large picture of President Barack Obama, ran as its headline: “Blames Mexican Violence on U.S. Guns.” It was the sort of headline that makes so many conservatives angry. There goes our president again, apologizing for America and taking the blame for problems that aren’t even ours. There goes Obama, attacking the second amendment again. Click on the link and you find that the British Daily Mail’s headline sounds even worse: “Obama Blames American Guns For Mexican Deaths.” Other news sources, including RealClearPolitics, ran yet more inflammatory headlines: Obama Blames U.S. for Gun Violence in Mexico.”

But what did President Obama actually say? This is what he said:

We also recognize that most of the guns used to commit violence here in Mexico come from the United States.

I think many of you know that in America, our Constitution guarantees our individual right to bear arms. And as president, I swore an oath to uphold that right, and I always will.

But at the same time, as I’ve said in the United States, I will continue to do everything in my power to pass common-sense reforms that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous people.

So the president didn’t exactly “blame” Mexican violence on American guns, let alone on the United States. He simply stated some troubling facts about the rampant violence in Mexico that helps to destabilize the country, and its link to trade in American guns. The president would be wrong not to acknowledge such facts, or to fail to recognize the problem as one for which America should take some measure of responsibility. We would expect the same if terrorists were killing Americans with weapons brought from, say, Iran.

Slate did no better with a different story. Slate ran as a story title on Friday: “Ridiculous Fox News Claim of the Day: Reason Caused the Holocaust. It would, indeed, be a ridiculous claim if someone said that reason caused the Holocaust. What’s the real story? Penny Nance, the CEO of Concerned Women for America, a Christian conservative organization, was complaining that the mayor of Charlotte proclaimed Thursday to be a Day of Reason, at the same time that he declared it a Day of Prayer. During the course of her interview on Fox News she said this:

You know the Age of Enlightenment and Reason gave way to moral relativism. And moral relativism is what led us all the way down the dark path to the Holocaust

Now let’s get it out there right away. It is ridiculously foolish for conservative Christian leaders to be critical of a Day of Reason. I understand the background of the day, and the intent of humanist organizations to use it to criticize the National Day of Prayer as an establishment of religion. But the appropriate Christian response, one would think, would be to praise the day by saying that Christians embrace both faith and reason (we do, don’t we?) and the contributions they have made to this country (we do admit that, right?). Criticizing reason while defending faith is sort of like loading a gun and giving it to a man who has just broken into your home to assassinate you. What was Nance thinking?

That said, Slate’s headline is highly misleading. Nance did not blame reason for the Holocaust. She made a historical reference to a specific historical and philosophical period in western civilization known as the Age of Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, and noted that one of its products was a godless moral relativism. She then drew a line between that godless relativism and the Holocaust. She could have drawn other lines to the great Communist atrocities of the century. Most prominent historians, and many ethicists, draw the same connections. Slate writer Amanda Marcotte might want to start with a standard Holocaust history like The Holocaust, by Robert Dwork and Robert Jan Van Pelt.

It’s media reporting like this that seriously distorts civil discourse in America. Reporters on the right and the left and in the middle need to start focusing on what’s actually happening and what people are actually arguing rather than on what sounds controversial or sensational.

The media did get one story right, however. On Thursday Montreal Canadiens’ forward Brandon Prust called Ottawa Senators’ head coach Paul MacLean a “bug-eyed fat walrus.” MacLean had just blamed the Canadiens for causing their own player’s injury in the previous night’s game, when a Canadiens defenceman had passed the puck to teammate Lars Eller with his head down in a dangerous area, only to see Eller get crushed by the Senators’ Raphael Diaz. Prust was responding to MacLean.

Now that’s news.


About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on May 6, 2013, in Barack Obama, gun control and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on American Guns, Reason, and a Fat Walrus: Which One Did the Media Get Right?.

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