Fox 11’s Bias Gets Caught – but Not Completely Corrected

WLUK FOX 11 |   9-28-2016


On September 19, 2016, WLUK Fox 11 featured one of its “Fox 11 Investigates” pieces, this time focusing on “The rise in Wisconsin gun sales.”

The story can be viewed in its entirety here:

Let’s address the obvious bias that Fox 11, itself, subsequently corrected after the feature was aired. In the story, Fox 11 quoted a local gun seller as stating he would never sell a firearm to a woman who had not first taken a gun safety course.

This implied that women who had not taken gun safety courses were not qualified to own a gun. In an editor’s note, Fox 11 conceded:

…”Sarto’s original phone conversation with FOX 11 centered around a discussion solely about women and guns, and was not intended to suggest women were treated any differently than men when it came to buying or selling guns. We apologize if such an inference was made”…

Though WMCF commends Fox 11 for acknowledging the fact it failed to provide proper context to the quotes that were being utilized, the bias contained within this story is far more insidious.

Let’s address a few additional instances that can be found.

First, Fox 11 engages in bias by commission in passing along the assumption that gun owners who have not taken safety courses are unsafe gun owners. Though it is undeniable that a gun safety course can be valuable, many learn gun safety from a variety of sources, including friends, parents, spouses, etc. 

Nevertheless, Fox 11 implies that those who own a gun without having taken a safety course are not safe gun owners, which is not necessarily the case.

Specifically, Fox 11 commits gender bias by further implying that though it is important for all to take a gun safety course, it is apparently really, really important for women to take a course.  

Gender issues aside, Fox 11 also engages in bias by spin and context. For instance, Fox 11 states that when conducting background checks, the Wisconsin Department of Justice:

“’makes every reasonable effort to determine whether the person is prohibited under state or federal law from possessing a firearm.’ But the department has five working days to complete the search and makes ‘the best decision based on the information available to us at the time.’”

The reporter gives the impression that the State of Wisconsin is not able to conduct proper background checks by specifically inserting the word “but,” which subtly insinuates that there’s only a limited amount of time to do the background check, and that if there was more time, there might be “more information available.” There is no support for this proposition cited – it is just implied.

Again, spinning things to portray a precarious situation with gun ownership in Wisconsin, the reporter ends the story stating:

“So far this year, less than one percent of the background checks for gun purchases in the state were denied.”

This potentially gives the impression that a greater percentage of background checks should be denied, but aren’t. Nonetheless, the reporter provides no authority for this assumption.  

WMCF wonders  if the reason why the percentage of failed background checks is so low is because people who choose to purchase a gun legally are, in fact, capable of passing a background check?

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