Media misleading us again: House did NOT vote to let the mentally ill have guns

Media misleading us again: House did NOT vote to let the mentally ill have guns

This one is worth emphasizing with a feature post.

If you folks out there haven’t figured it out yet — and I know many of you have — the media have gone into something like a sort of frenzied, hyper-suggestible, mesmerized state.  They seem unable to break a strange pattern of reporting things that manifestly are not true, and are exposed as untrue within hours.

Let’s say, to parse this most accurately, that the media are wording their headlines and introductory paragraphs to mislead the reader — even if they report correct information somewhere down in the body of an article.  They don’t always provide correct information, but sometimes they do.  They repeatedly put misleading headlines and blurbs up front, however.

They have done this again in the case of a House vote on Thursday to undo an Obama regulation that affected eligibility for gun ownership.  The headline sentiments broadcast throughout the infosphere are well summarized in these two:

House votes to roll back Obama rule on background checks for gun ownership (AP)

House strikes down Obama-era regulation that blocked gun sales to mentally ill (The Hill)

But as the indispensable Charles C.W. Cooke outlines at NRO, no such thing happened.

When I first saw headlines like these Friday morning (3 February), I assumed as much.  I assumed the headlines were misleading — that they were lies, in fact — and that this would come to light sometime later on Friday.  So it has turned out.  I never believed the headlines at all.

But such is the power of the simple headline in media-world that many sites, including ours, ran excerpts or provided links to reports that obediently repeated the original, misleading headlines.  This effect in the infosphere is one it is hard to counter or break.  It’s something of a cognitive conundrum: how do you selectively accept some information, and reject other information, from the same source?  Perhaps you can trust AP to tell you how many people were hurt in a drive-by shooting in Denver.  But in February 2017, you can’t trust AP to tell you what the real substance of a vote just held in Congress was.  What is the mind to do with that?

Charles Cooke expresses what most of us would be thinking, on seeing headlines like those above:

And when you saw these headlines you probably thought, “Wow, that seems extreme.” Has the House of Representatives really got rid of background checks? Are Republicans really intent upon putting firearms in the hands of the “severely mentally ill”? What fresh insanity is this!

And, given the way the headlines are written, you could be forgiven for drawing any one of those conclusions. But here’s the thing: None of them is true. Not at all. This was yet another sordid episode of The Press Is Having a Breakdown, coupled with a special installment of Celebrities Tweet Falsehoods Without Knowing It. Contrary to the AP’s suggestion, the background check system remains in place. Contrary to The Hill’s implication, the rule change in question did not repeal the limitations on the “severely mentally ill.” None of that happened.

What did happen?  The House voted to undo an Obama-overreach rule that many of you are aware of: the rule that enables federal bureaucrats to label as ineligible for gun ownership anyone who has ever put his Social Security (or veterans’ benefit) affairs in the hands of a representative payee.  The “ineligible” label goes into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), used for background checks incident to gun purchases.

The worst feature of this rule is that it denies people due process in having their gun rights revoked.  (The similar rule used against veterans has revoked the gun rights of more than 100,000 of them, without due process.)

Due process would require the involvement of both the executive and judicial branches — a human services agency and a court — and would afford the individual his right to argue a case in court, if he wanted to.  But the Obama rule stripped that due process from every beneficiary who designates a representative payee, regardless of what the reason is.

Cooke puts it this way (emphasis added):

The rule would have allowed bureaucrats within one of our federal agencies to bar American citizens from exercising a constitutional right — and on the highly questionable grounds that to be incapable of managing one’s finances is, by definition, to be a “mental defective.”

There were a host of reasons to object to this measure. On separation-of-powers grounds, the prospect of the Social Security Administration playing judge, jury, and executioner is flatly intolerable. On due process grounds, there was nothing to recommend the measure (as the ACLU made abundantly clear in its opposition letter). On statutory grounds, it seems clear that the SSA was acting ultra vires.


The ACLU strenuously opposed the Obama rule, as did the American Association of People with Disabilities — along with more than a dozen professional and advocacy groups on psychiatry, therapy, aging, and the rights of the disabled.  As Cooke observes, it’s a rare day when the ACLU and the NRA make common cause.  But on this matter, both of them were right.  The Obama rule that automatically enters SSA beneficiaries in NICS, without due process, is an abuse of federal bureaucratic power.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media are abusing their power as well, by using it to broadcast false themes.  It is natural to reflexively wait for the media to come to their senses and stop doing this.  But who says they’re going to?

The rate at which they’re being caught in falsehood, on major claims about political events, is very close to 100% in the last week.  Jaded observers will say there’s nothing astounding about this.  But there are a lot of people besides the mainstream media who don’t really know what to do — what things to believe, how to assess what’s really happening — if MSM reporting is untrustworthy to such an extreme degree.

When will we no longer be able to believe what AP tells us about the victims of a drive-by shooting in Denver?  Tough question.  The correct answers about each specific instance — misreported votes in Congress, “hate crime” hoaxes, what President Trump is really doing with sanctions against Russia (hint: not rolling them back), and whether defamatory claims about Trump’s nominees are true or not — those answers are easier to get to than the answer on when we can no longer believe anything from the Associated Press.  We may be at that point already.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.

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