The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

The Mainstream Media Doesn’t Grasp the NRA’s Troubles

Attendees at the National Rifle Association annual meeting in Indianapolis, Ind., April 27, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Today is the first day of May. You know what we call May Day in the free world? “Wednesday.”

I Know This Will Shock You, but the Mainstream Media Doesn’t Grasp the NRA’s Troubles

Everybody and their brother is weighing in on the troubles of the National Rifle Association, with a lot of conflation of their current financial and legal problems with their overall pro–Second Amendment stance. Jill Filipovic, writing at CNN:

There’s a bottom line to worry about if the group loses its nonprofit status — those tax breaks are nice — but the group should be more concerned about the growing national distaste for people being murdered in houses of worship, concerts, movie theaters and kindergarten classrooms.

This is what happens when you send a gun-control advocate to analyze a story about financial improprieties. The tax breaks aren’t merely “nice.” If the New York attorney general Letitia James found sufficient cause and evidence that the NRA was violating the rules and regulations governing nonprofits, she could attempt to force the dissolution of the organization. This would undoubtedly set off a massive legal fight and ironically, be one of the most galvanizing threats the NRA could ever want. You want to get a lot more donations and renewed memberships? Argue that the New York state government is attempting to destroy the organization.

A more likely scenario is that James puts the organization through the wringer, legally, exposing every bloated contract, every dubious expenditure, and every violation of state regulations. She may not dissolve the organization, but she is likely to attempt to impose a massive fine, crippling the organization’s already-shaky finances. What’s more, depending upon what the investigation found, it could dispirit many NRA members, exacerbating existing concerns among some members that their membership dues and donations are being spent on luxuries.

In other words, what the NRA is being investigated about has very little to do with gun laws.

The NRA’s board of directors is operating in extraordinarily tight-lipped manner but referred certain matters to their internal ethics committee Monday. As discussed this weekend, if they did want to remove an officer such as executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, it would take 15 days and a hearing, and three-quarters of the board’s 76 members would have to agree.

Two years ago, at the NRA convention in Atlanta, LaPierre was on top of the world. Donald Trump, once a supporter of certain gun-control proposals, had been elected president with resolutely pro–Second Amendment stance and the help of the NRA. Neil Gorsuch was on the Supreme Court, and a pro–Second Amendment majority on the nation’s highest court appeared secure. A pro-gun GOP majority controlled the House and Senate.

LaPierre has been executive vice president of the NRA — and the guy really running the show day to day — since 1991. His watch has seen the enactment of the Assault Weapons Ban and its expiration, the Columbine shootings and our chilling ongoing era of school shootings, the enormously consequential Heller decision at the Supreme Court, booming gun sales during the Obama years, and the formation of new, exceptionally well-funded gun control groups by former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg. He’s seen the gradual extinction of pro-gun Democratic elected officials, particularly in Washington. After Trump won, some wondered if he would ride off into the sunset and let someone else take over the NRA.

After this past week, he may wish he had.

Special Counsel Mueller, If You Have Something to Say, Speak up

This is a little irksome.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III wrote a letter in late March complaining to Attorney General William P. Barr that a four-page memo to Congress describing the principal conclusions of the investigation to President Trump “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of Mueller’s work, according to a copy of the letter reviewed Tuesday by the Washington Post.

Justice Department officials said Tuesday that they were taken aback by the tone of Mueller’s letter and that it came as a surprise to them that he had such concerns. Until they received the letter, they believed Mueller was in agreement with them on the process of reviewing the report and redacting certain types of information, a process that took several weeks. Barr has testified to Congress previously that Mueller declined the opportunity to review his four-page memo to lawmakers that distilled the essence of the special counsel’s findings.

A day after Mueller sent his letter to Barr, the two men spoke by phone for about 15 minutes, according to law enforcement officials.

In that call, Mueller said he was concerned that media coverage of the obstruction investigation was misguided and creating public misunderstandings about the office’s work, according to Justice Department officials. Mueller did not express similar concerns about the public discussion of the investigation of Russia’s election interference, the officials said. Barr has testified previously he did not know whether Mueller supported his conclusion on obstruction.

When Barr pressed Mueller on whether he thought Barr’s memo to Congress was inaccurate, Mueller said he did not but felt that the media coverage of it was misinterpreting the investigation, officials said.

In their call, Barr also took issue with Mueller calling his memo a “summary,” saying he had never intended to summarize the voluminous report, but instead provide an account of its top conclusions, officials said. Justice Department officials said that, in some ways, the phone conversation was more cordial than the letter that preceded it, but that the two men did express some differences of opinion about how to proceed.

Mueller has a spokesman. The special counsel’s investigation rarely offered public statements, but once in a great while they did, like when they called that BuzzFeed report out for being factually incorrect. Apparently, Mueller’s objections to Barr’s letter are important enough for him to write to Barr, but not important enough for him to issue a public statement or appear before cameras and do a press conference or sit down for an interview.

You may have noticed that many people’s opinions of Mueller shifted rapidly during the investigation. When he was investigating the president, many Trump fans derided Mueller as leading a partisan witch hunt, and many Democrats believed he was the hero who did things right. Comedy shows like Saturday Night Live and James Corden portrayed Mueller as the ultimate tough-guy lawman who always gets his man. Shortly before Mueller’s probe wrapped up, Adam Schiff started to complain that Mueller had been willing to rely on written answers from the president, and suggested that Mueller wasn’t investigating thoroughly enough. After months of furious denunciation, once Trump saw the initial conclusions of Mueller, he declared that he acted “honorably.”

Mueller clearly prefers the Sphinx-like approach to his job. He doesn’t disclose any information that is not required. At a time when so many people in Washington are competing for time in front of the television cameras, the former FBI director wants minimal publicity. Many find that stoic approach professional, dignified, humble, reassuring — a throwback to an earlier era of quiet competence.

But there’s a consequence to that approach. If Mueller wants the public informed of his perspective, there’s no one who can tell his perspective better than he can. If Mueller fears the public is getting the wrong idea from news coverage, he ought to come out and inform the public himself.

Who Watches the Watchmen Who Are Watching the Other Watchmen?

Over at Poynter.org, the International Fact-Checking Network has put together a list of “UnNews,” what they’re calling “an index of unreliable news sites” — and 515 web sites are on their current list.

The good news is that NationalReview.com hasn’t been listed. (Yet, I suppose.) The bad news is that by putting any site they deem “biased,” “unreliable,” “clickbait,” “conspiracy,” and “satire” on the same list, they’ve muddied the waters about sites that are maliciously dishonest, sites that are attempts at humor, sites that are run by people who are unhinged, and sites that are run by people who have a clear point of view. A site being openly conservative or liberal does not automatically make it “unreliable” or in the vaguely-Orwellian term, “UnNews.”

For example, satire sites like ClickHole and DuffelBlog are completely different kinds of sites compared to George Noori’s CoastToCoastAM, which specializes in “paranormal news.” (Do you really need an “International Fact-Checking Network” to tell you to be wary about tales of ghosts and UFOs?) All of those sites are quite different from what you’ll find on DavidDuke.com.

I’d argue that putting redstate.comdailycaller.comdailysignal.com, MRC.org, the Daily Telegraph  – and Daily Kos! – on the same list as pravda.ru, prisonplanet, InfoWars, etc. does more harm than good when it comes to sorting out what’s unreliable and fake news.

ADDENDUM: An even more awesome than usual episode of The Remnant: If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to listen to Jonah interview his wife, writer (and frequent ghostwriter for high-profile Washington figures) Jessica Gavora, here it is.

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