For its efforts, the NRA is generously rewarded by the gun and ammo industries from which it is increasingly difficult to separate. This NRA-industry nexus understands that its financial future will be secured by evangelizing and enshrining the social acceptability of assault weapons, as well as the marginalization of gun control as somehow "un-American".
This effort received a media assist with last week's premiere of Ted Nugent's Gun Country, which solidifies Discovery's claim on being the NRA Network of basic cable. Nugent, an NRA board member, admitted as much in an interview with NRA News, saying the show was major platform for promoting his side of the "culture war." Nugent's side of the culture war is a place where "real Americans" are defined as "white motherfucking shit kickers," Democratic politicians can "suck on my machine gun," and the possibility that the country may have benefited from Confederate victory in the Civil War is one meriting serious consideration.
This stuff plays well to the kind of NRA member Discovery appears to be targeting. At last year's NRA convention in St. Louis, I was present when Nugent told a story to wild applause in which he described the inhabitants of inner city Detroit as "sub-human animals." Outside in the convention hallway, banner ads for tactical assault rifles hung alongside billboards advertising Discovery's gun programming.
Gun companies do not sponsor Ted Nugent's Gun Country or the channel's other gun shows. They don't have to. Like the NRA-industry complex, these shows are infomercials in thin disguise, both for gunsmoke-flavoredkulturkampf and its commercial products. Nugent's premiere last week focused around the LaRue line of tactical assault weapons, in particular the PredatAR, which Nugent referred to in one of many bald plugs as "the ultimate weapon." During another scene, Nugent field-tests ammunition including his own branded line, Ted Nugent Ammo. Several shots feature the product's distinctive red, white, and blue packaging.
If history is any guide, Nugent's show will give Discovery reasons to duck future press enquiries, as their spokesperson ducked mine. In their hunt for backwoods authenticity, the channel has a record of hiring people prone to embarrass publicity departments. Take the comments made by Renee Wyatt of American Guns, who told a reporter in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado, massacre, "If a member of the audience in a front row of that theater was carrying a gun and had the ability to effectively use it, that gunman could have been neutralized before he could get a second round into the crowd." Discovery issued a statement distancing itself from Wyatt's comments, which echoed similar comments made by Ted Nugent. Both statements reflect an antipathy to common sense and the data record. A recent analysis of mass shootings by Mother Jones shows that during 30 years of rising massacres and spreading conceal-and-carry legalization, not one mass shooting has ever been stopped by a civilian with a gun.
Discovery's transformation into the NRA Network is a harrowing example of " network decay." Discovery isn't the only channel to be subject to this critique, but the arrival of Ted Nugent on their roster is a new low suggestive of just how much more socially destructive television can become. The station's trajectory is also a lesson in what can happen to educational content companies when they are subjected to the pressures of the bottom line and shareholder value.
Discovery began as the Cable Educational Network Inc. in 1982. It launched under its current name three years later after securing $5 million in backing from New York Life Insurance, Allen and Co., Inc., and Group W Satellite Communications. In a New York Times piece published in 1985, " A channel with a difference," Discovery founder and CEO to this day John S. Hendricks claimed to draw inspiration from successful high-quality public television fare like Nova. Toward this end he inked access deals with foreign public stations such as the BBC, the CBC, and the National Film Unit of New Zealand. This was reflected in an inaugural week full of shows on the science of ice floes, the ancient Egyptian king Akhenaten, volcanic activity, and a 12-part look at the continental-drift theory. Hendricks compared Discovery to magazines as Scientific American and Smithsonian, and described the channel as being "for what we call the lifelong learners. [People] who maintain a curiosity about the world, and who want to come away from a program enriched as well as amused."