Photo credit: Josh Hallett via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

A Tale of Two Discussions


Earlier this week I was transfixed by the drama of the White House “listening session” with President Trump and survivors of school shootings. Here were people on different sides of a sensitive, emotional issue, coming together to discuss real solutions and find common ground. Those types of discussions rarely even happen these days, much less produce solutions, but the event gave me hope that gun absolutists on both sides would each give a little to move forward.

Then I heard that CNN was doing a town hall with students and families with local politicians. I was hopeful that this event would be as productive, even more so, than the White House one.

It wasn’t. Not at all.

Where the White House event was civil, the CNN event was vitriolic. Where the White House event was a free exchange of ideas, the CNN event was a hive mind. Where the White House event was constructive, the CNN event was destructive.

Seeing Sen. Marco Rubio and NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch was like watching the someone being put into stockades so the crowd could pelt him with tomatoes, to borrow a line from WMAL radio host Larry O’Connor. For two hours, angry students asked heavily rhetorical, scripted questions that were not aimed at having a discussion but at proving a point. And Rubio and Loesch weren’t even given an opportunity to respond as the crowd jeered and booed.

The hive-minded crowd cheered any statement that talked about banning guns and booed any statement that tried to introduce any sort of nuance into the issue. The local Democrat congressman and sheriff visibly took glee in the venom that was being thrown at Rubio and Loesch. Even the thoroughly creepy Sen. Bill Nelson got enthusiastic applause.

The hive mind got so out of hand that at one point the crowd cheered wildly when Rubio asked – rhetorically – if people wanted to ban all semi-automatic weapons. It became clear that the suburban audience didn’t really know that a semi-automatic gun (scary as “semi-automatic” may sound) just means a gun that fires one bullet with one pull of the trigger. But they heard the words “ban” and “semi-automatic” used together in a sentence and cheered anyway. And as a final show of rage, when “moderator” Jake Tapper thanked the sheriff and Loesch for coming, the crowd booed them both. The sheriff, who is as much a politician as the others and who had been cheered for criticizing Loesch even though he did nothing to stop the killer despite dozens of police visits, was visibly taken aback by the boos.

I cannot begrudge traumatized students and grieving parents for having this reaction. The blame for the destructive event rests solely with the left-wing activists who are exploiting and using these kids to push a political agenda, and CNN for allowing them. Those were not raw, emotional conversations, they were heavily rhetorical questions aimed solely at scoring political points. And now we hear stories that kids who wanted to ask nuanced questions or introduce real solutions other than banning guns were not allowed. Jake Tapper of CNN is relatively fair as far as CNN hosts go, but he did little to guide a healthy discussion other than to chide the crowd a few times to let Rubio and Loesch speak. He should be ashamed.

If we want to move forward and stop school shootings – which literally everybody agrees on – we need to come together to find a solution. Not spew venom and hatred at the other side. A little good faith would go a long way.

Photo credit: Josh Hallett via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Thomas Valentine

Thomas Valentine is a columnist for

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