The night before the March for Our Lives, Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson argued that we shouldn’t be listening to the logic of teenage gun control activists who organized the march. Then he vocalized the exact anxiety of gun rights groups:
Journalists agree with Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, so they’ve slapped them on the cover of Time magazine and declared that they’re heroes and you’re not allowed to disagree with them.
Carlson articulated exactly why Fox News was on its heels. The network has generally been critical of this gun control debate and the teenage activists behind it. But it couldn’t ignore the massive amount of attention this march was getting, nor could it outright loudly disagree with their message while hundreds of thousands of people marched on Washington.
So there was a tightrope Fox News had to walk while covering this march. And it did so by finding ways to reframe the images of these huge and passionate crowds.
It did this in three steps: First, it limited coverage in the ramp-up to the march. Then it reframed this debate to be about the Second Amendment, not gun control. Finally, it put young gun rights activists, some of whom were school shooting survivors, front and center to counter the message of hundreds of thousands of people were shouting onscreen.
1) Fox News kept coverage of the march to a minimum
Normally, gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association combat the gun control movement in the aftermath of mass shootings by waiting activists out — staying quiet until the fervor goes away and things go back to the status quo. But this latest gun control conversation is lasting far longer than previous ones, and the teenage activists are continuing to keep gun control in the national conversation.
There was no way Fox News could ignore this march entirely. But it certainly limited coverage of the event:
In both the lead-up to the start of the march and during the event, Fox News talked about this protest less than the other cable networks.
The camera was still on the crowds for much of the event on Saturday, March 24. But there were far fewer mentions of key words describing the event — such as “march,” “shooting,” and “protest,” as well as “gun control.”
And after the peak of the protest, Fox News didn’t linger on gun control. It quickly moved on.
Now, you could be forgiven if you flipped to Fox News during the march and you thought it sounded like any other network — reporters on the streets talking to protesters, long shots of the crowds, and occasional cuts to the speakers. But if you stayed on the channel long enough, those segments were often contextualized by pundits and gun rights activists who tried to recenter the event and cast themselves as the voice of reason.
2) Fox News framed the coverage around the Second Amendment
For a long time, gun rights groups could control this debate because they were on offense; they were arguing for something, rather than against something, and that led to a kind of “intensity gap” on the issue of guns.
But this gun control debate is shifting that dynamic. As my colleague German Lopez writes, it’s making people more passionate about gun control. This is something we saw during the debate around arming teachers and the subsequent backlash, and Fox News couldn’t avoid talking about guns. Instead, it continued to talk about the issue — but reframed it in the context of the Second Amendment and gun rights.
And this is exactly what it did again during the protest.
There was a massive spike in mentions of the “Second Amendment” or “Constitution” during the peak of the march, and most of those mentions came from pundits and guests on the network.
For example, during the march, Fox News hosted Spencer Brown, a spokesperson for Young America’s Foundation, argued that the school walkouts and this march are excuses for liberals to take away guns from law-abiding citizens:
What we see in DC and across the country at this March for Our Lives is just the latest chapter in just the sad history of liberals trying to scapegoat responsible gun owners for the crimes committed by people committing crimes. ... It’s not a failure on the part of the Second Amendment.
3) Fox News brought on other people to push back against the teenage activists
Brown wasn’t the only young person who came on Fox News to disagree with the message of those marching.
The day before the march, Fox & Friends hosted Kyle Kashuv, a Parkland shooting survivor, to show that not all survivors of the shooting are for more gun control and to make the case that the media is biased:
Then it hosted Cabot Phillips, media director for CampusReform.org and a young pro-gun activist. He said:
The more people I talked to, there was certainly a consensus, where everyone said, we want to see action, we want to see legislation passed, we’re here for that, to tell Congress that’s what they want. And when I asked people, “What do you want, what do you want to see?” There was very little knowledge of what they were actually advocating for.
Later that night, Fox News host Jesse Watters had pop singer Kaya Jones on the show to say that the “left” want to “take this country over and force its hand into the world order.” Then she said liberals are using Parkland survivor David Hogg to push their narrative:
Carlson pointed out that it feels like gun rights activists can’t disagree with these Parkland shooting survivors. So instead of having pundits and NRA spokespeople push back, they had lots of other people — mostly young people representing a younger generation — to make that argument for them.
I’ve said this time and again, but Fox News is responsible for shaping reality for a huge portion of American voters. It is the main source of news for 19 percent of 2016 voters, including 40 percent of Trump voters. Not just that, but it is likely the main source of news for the president — to the point that there’s evidence the hosts see their jobs as advising him.
As the activists said time and again, they don’t want to ban guns. Rather, it’s a push for specific gun control measures.
But Fox News is painting this as a much larger war, waged by liberals and the media, to take away people’s guns. It is, again, leaning into the fractures of this country and triggering the anxieties of its viewers.