Chart of the Day: How Long Before we Forget Newtown?

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Ben Cohen
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News_Attention_Span

The graph above displays data from a LexisNexis search of news stories that contained the phrase “gun control” from more than 500 news outlets in the weeks surrounding the shootings from the April 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, the January 2011 Arizona attack on Gabby Giffords, and the July 2012 attacks in Aurora, Colorado (h/t Danny Hayes, WaPo).

There has been an extraordinary amount of attention on the Newtown in the media, and it does sound qualitatively different from other massacres. But the trend is pretty clear - there will be other news stories and Newtown will be forgotten. That is unless there is a sustained effort to keep it headline news for as long as possible. Hayes adds:

If gun control remains in the headlines a month from now, it will likely be only because Obama and the Democrats have taken up the political fight.

The media find it difficult to construct a compelling narrative around consensus, so policy issues tend to receive sustained attention only when the parties are engaged in loud, public conflict.

It's not the most pleasant analogy, but I'd suggest the Obama Administration does a '9/11' on the Newtown massacre and exploit the tragedy for political purposes by keeping the nation in a state of constant fear and grief. The Bush Administration managed to build public consensus around invading the wrong country after 9/11 by relentless propaganda and fear mongering. Surely the Obama Administration can then use Newtown to pass meaningful gun control legislation.