By David Postman | Seattle Times chief political reporter
The National Rifle Association announced this week it is getting into the news business with an Internet talk show, TV reports and plans to buy a radio station.
But a smaller gun-rights group is way ahead of the NRA. The Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation and its lobbying arm already own four Northwest radio stations. The first was bought in 1990. The most recent purchase came two weeks ago, when the groups acquired an Olympia station that had tried oldies and comedy to stay on the air.
If you turn on your radio tomorrow and hear some of the three-hour-long “Gun Talk,” you’re probably listening to a station owned by the Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. In addition to KGTK in Olympia, they own KITZ in Kitsap County, which reaches Seattle; KSBN in Spokane; and KBNP in Portland.
Portland and Spokane are primarily business-news stations. The others are more traditional talk, leaning conservative but with a few middle-of-the-road types.
“If you had gun-rights talk all day long, you wouldn’t get any listeners,” said Alan Gottlieb, president of the radio stations and founder of the gun foundation. “Like any media, you offer a cafeteria of programming.”
“Gun Talk” and its host are advertised in a seemingly self-conscious way on KITZ’s Web site: “Tom Gresham is the sportsman delight. It’s not a ‘shoot ’em up’ show.”
Through the week, though, you’ll hear plenty of gun-rights advertising. Gottlieb says owning stations allows his groups to air commercials “basically free.” The stations also make money to finance gun-rights work and provide long-term financial stability.
Gottlieb’s groups have 650,000 members and contributors. That’s dwarfed by the NRA’s 4 million. But the Bellevue-based groups are well-known in gun-rights circles.
The NRA and Gottlieb’s groups see their entry into the media in different ways. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told The Associated Press on Thursday it was a way to get around restrictions on political fund-raising and advertising.
Ads supporting President Bush or attacking John Kerry are federally regulated. But, as LaPierre said, “If you own the news operation, you can say whatever you want.”
DeAnna Martin, executive director of Washington CeaseFire, a 3,500-member state group that promotes tougher gun laws, hadn’t heard about Gottlieb’s stations, but she carefully read stories about the NRA’s news strategy.
“In our mind, the NRA is basically appealing to its small, entrenched minority by doing this,” she said. “In media terms, they are kind of narrow-casting and using that approach to perpetuate, really, an extremist point of view.”
Gottlieb says the NRA was likely inspired by his groups’ 14-year effort to build a network of talk stations.
“I think part of it is their way to compete with us, because we have been doing this, and a lot of gun owners who feel like they are misrepresented in the media like having us own our own media,” Gottlieb said.