Some questions seem too convoluted or complex to answer. But if someone could answer why the so-called “mainstream” media refuses to tell the truth about guns, I knew it would be Stephen Hunter.
Journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Hunter. Photo provided by Stephen Hunter.
If you read thrillers, you’ve probably come across some by Hunter. If you picked up one of his Bob Lee Swagger thrillers, which follow a fictionalized Vietnam War sniper loosely based on the real Vietnam War sniper and U.S. Marine Corps legend Carlos Hathcock, then you’ve no doubt noticed that Hunter knows his guns. Even if you don’t read thrillers, you’ve likely come across the 2007 film “Shooter” starring Mark Wahlberg. That movie is based on Hunter’s thriller Point of Impact.
The thing about Steve, though, is he shouldn’t know what he does about guns. This is what made him the right person to present this difficult question to.
When I first met him, I found him brimming with youthful mirth. He’s cynical and sarcastic. His amusement with human nature flows from his persona and is on all the words he carefully but joyously chooses. He cheerily told me he was once a “leftist hippie with the long hair and all that” and that “he moved by proportions of honesty to becoming a gun owner and shooter.” He said this in such a likeable way I thought even ABC News’ Diane Sawyer would be smiling and approving.
As he investigated the truth about guns, he says he “moved by proportions of honesty” to understanding the truth about guns.Even the Pulitzer Prize committee picked up on his mirth.
In 2003, while he was working for The Washington Post, he won a Pulitzer for movie criticism. The Pulitzer committee said Hunter “is forever suggesting that art can be a good, lusty, happy thing, that doesn’t always have to be an immersion in a new level of human misery.” They got Steve exactly right.
Though Steve grew up in a suburb of Chicago, with parents who not only didn’t own guns but detested guns, as a journalist he thought he should question the anti-gun beliefs he’d acquired from his parents. As he investigated the truth about guns, he says he “moved by proportions of honesty” to understanding the truth about guns.
Steve’s final transformation into a full-bore gun enthusiast came one fine day in 1985 when he saw an ad for a gun—a bright and lovely stainless steel Smith & Wesson Model 645 to be precise. He found this semi-automatic pistol to be intriguing and beautiful, and he wanted one. This contradiction within himself needed a final resolution. After some self-evaluation, he decided: “There was something fundamentally dishonest about my anti-gun views.”
He bought the gun and he took courses on shooting. He found he loved going to the range. It became a part of his lifestyle and became a big part of his fiction.
Meanwhile, at the Washington Post, he says his enthusiasm for guns made many refer to him as “crazy uncle Steve.” He said, “I was irreverent, sarcastic, and gregarious—I was a voice they understood. They thought I was all right even if I did own and shoot guns. I told them when they’re writing about gun control or crime to come and talk to me. I told them I’d save them from technical mistakes and help them with sources. Some took me up on this. During my time at the Post the news side went from raving anti-gun to moderately anti-gun. I had something to do with that.”
So I asked him that hard question about how can we get the reporters and editors with the big urban papers and the networks, cable news shows, and all the rest that conservatives collectively call the “mainstream media” to treat the gun issue more even-handedly.
“Honestly,” he said, “you need a guy like me. Someone who has worked with them, someone they trust. A person they’ve bestowed their major awards on—as they have me—and the gun industry needs to send that person around to speak to them in their own language. I don’t know if such a person exists. I’m sure as hell not going to make a life of that.”“By asking (reporters) to accept gun rights … that’s asking them to violently assault their foundation.” — Journalist, novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Hunter.
I asked him to be more specific. How do we get them to open their minds?
Steve scratched the short-cropped white beard as he pondered this question a moment. He then reached down deep and really tried to articulate the complexity of this problem.
“Liberal reporters believe in consensus,” he said. “They believe in accord and compromise. Individualism, to them, is akin to becoming an outlier, a person fallen from the inner circles of society. If they step away from the accepted ethos, they’ll be shunned; they won’t be promoted. This is often unsaid, but the pressure to conform is profound. Everything they’re taught tells them to look for accepted values, to conform to the group, and that anything outside those norms must be shunned.
“Though as a group they’re mostly well educated, they’re also mostly looking inward. Reporters speak to each other more than anyone else. They reinforce each other’s values and assure each other they’re the smartest people in the room. By asking them to accept gun rights, to really accept the idea that an individual can stand apart from the state on their own two feet and defend their own life with a gun, that’s asking them to violently assault their foundation. Only a few of them have the courage to do that.”
So according to Steve, there is no anti-gun playbook dictating the anti-gun bias in the media, but there is a profound amount of social conformity that requires them to adhere to the accepted anti-gun view. If they don’t they risk being shunned; they might even lose chances at being promoted.
Before I let him go, I had to ask, “What’s your favorite gun?”
“I can’t seem to break the 1911 addiction,” Steve said. “A 1911 in some form or shape gets shot every trip to the range. It's like John Browning had hands my size and shape, that's how well it fits. If I had, for real, folks shooting at me, it would be the one to take to the dance. I shoot it better than all the others.”
His fictional character, Bob Lee Swagger, is also a 1911 man. You can find Steve’s books at Amazon.com and wherever books are sold.