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Why Burn Bridges that Don’t Need Burning?

In the gun issue, many gun owners are quick to demonize the media without a second thought. I don’t completely blame anyone for a healthy dose of cynicism, but sometimes I wonder where it’s coming from and whether it’s appropriate.

Yesterday, SayUncle noticed that his knowledge of laws didn’t mesh with what an article in the Nashville City Paper claimed on the topic of guns where alcohol is served. The reporter claimed “extensive legal research” provided by a law firm that was hired to challenge the law. Uncle requested the research from the reporter and then I saw Rustmeister’s decidedly cynical comment assuming that Uncle would likely never receive the research at all, even referring to the research in scare quotes. Why assume the worst in this case? I responded that folks should have a little faith, alternative papers are often very reliable for demanding evidence.

But that got me thinking about the deeply rooted hatred for the media that many gun owners have. Many are willing to burn the bridge with reporters without a second thought. Why is that? (I might add that the reporter did send Uncle the data.) Do gun owners seek to live in a world where they truly believe that everyone is out to get them? Or would we be better off balancing a healthy cynicism that only a few people are out to get us with an understanding that this is a complex issue that many people in and out of the media don’t get?

Obviously, I suggest the latter. Yes, the mainstream media is, in general, not friendly to our side of the gun issue. But, we also need to realize that many don’t really have much of an opinion about it or have an opinion that could be swayed to neutral with just a little friendly outreach. Why do some want to assume the worst and burn the bridges to those who we can sway? Does it just feel good? I don’t understand. I want to create a more gun-friendly media, and maybe not everyone shares that desire.

While I’m not saying that gun owners should turn the other cheek if there’s a bad article out there, here are a few things I think folks should consider before assuming the worst (and saying as much) about a reporter:

  • Remember that not everyone knows guns.  It’s okay and not a cardinal sin of journalism to not know the ins and outs of every single issue.  (Remember, in the days of bigger newsrooms, journalists could specialize much more than they do now.)
  • Remember that on the legal side, the gun issue is extremely complex.  Many lawyers don’t understand the complexities in various local, state, and federal gun laws unless they have spent their careers studying gun laws specifically.  We’ve all known other gun owners who get these details wrong, we can’t expect that every reporter is going to get it right all the time, either.
  • The fundamental question one should be asking is whether or not the reporter was fair to the issue or made an attempt to be.  Did they interview both sides?  If they didn’t, were they upfront about any potential biases?
  • Consider the source.  Is the beef with a mainstream newspaper, local television station, web-only publication, national outlet, or alt-weekly?  I would expect more colorful language from some outlets than others, but that doesn’t inherently make one piece more biased.  (I expected a New England alt-weekly reporter who I took to a range to refer to me as a chick.  I did not expect to see the same term to be applied after an interview with the New York Times.)  What about the perceived wrong bothers you, and is it something appropriate or inappropriate to the source?
  • Don’t treat reporters like shit.  I can’t tell you how many gun owners I’ve met who want to try and make reporters covering them feel unwelcome.  I’ve met a few who actively seek them out if they know they are at an event and try to make the most extreme and anger-filled arguments just to make them squirm.  Why?  What purpose does that serve?  Would they behave that way around a new shooter?  If they say no, then why treat the person next to them like that just because of their profession?  Just like being on your best behavior is required for reaching out to new shooters, you should act your best when journalists are around.  It’s simply the decent thing to do.  If you want to grow the community, the same rules apply.
  • Finally, for a pet peeve, before someone starts off on the evils of reporters, make sure the person you’re referencing is actually a reporter.  Before saying an entire paper is outrageously biased in their coverage, folks need to double check the section of paper they are reading.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ll see someone bitching about how biased reporters are or a paper is when they are linking to an op-ed or a columnist.  It’s not a matter of reporting bias if it’s not in the news section.  It’s not inherently a sign of editorial bias if it’s not one of the paper’s unsigned editorials.  (There are other factors here, but the point is just to double check what section you’re reading.)

Going back to the specific case with Nashville’s City Paper, there’s significant room for improvement, but I don’t think the reporter deserved denunciation or assumptions of the worst based on this particular article.  In this case, before the data was even sent there were a few folks pointing out that there were different interpretations of the law that could have stumped the reporter.  Looking at what the law firm compiled, I believe that’s the case based on the laws in the list I do know.  Perhaps more importantly, the reporter did make clear that the firm providing the data was working on a legal challenge to the new law in Tennessee.

In all, I think it’s time to stop throwing all members of the media under the bus in our movement.  We shouldn’t seek to burn bridges that don’t need to be burned.  It’s fine if there is a true sin and bias is far beyond any limits of reasonable understanding, but we should take a moment to ask whether it does cross those limits.  If it doesn’t, try a bit of honey instead of vineagar.  If you make an effort to educate, you could easily find yourself becoming a source to answer future questions the next time the subject comes up.

13 Responses to “Why Burn Bridges that Don’t Need Burning?”

  1. SayUncle says:

    Actually, the guy from the law firm sent me the data.

  2. SayUncle says:

    Well, another reporter in the building gave me the lawyer’s contact info. So, I think your point stands.

  3. Rustmeister says:

    Actually, when I run across a story that appears to be based on ignorance, I do try to keep a civil tongue.

    But, when someone uses obviously twisted data to advance the anti-gun agenda, I will most certainly adopt a cynical tone.

    Like the other commenters in Uncle’s thread pointed out, if you keep your parameters narrow enough, you can get whatever result you want. all you have to do is go from “allowed to carry where alcohol is served” to “allowed to carry where alcohol is served, as long as you are in a shall issue state, carry concealed, and wear a nylon holster.”

    Ok, the nylon holster was my idea.

    In this case, my cynicism may not have been justified, but I’m fine with that. I don’t mind being proved wrong, as long as the truth comes out.

    Speaking of the truth, I really thought they would be foolish to give up that research, as it would most likely show them to be in error.

    Which I believe it did.

  4. DirtCrashr says:

    And the data actually did not say what the reporter claimed? Quel surprise!
    Once burnt twice shy, but after being burned over and over and over again, and far and wide – it’s childish to continue to give them as a group the benefit of the doubt. They need to know, should learn somehow, that they as a group have squandered that kindness.

    • Bitter says:

      No, the data was an interpretation of the larger question. It wasn’t an outright falsehood, and one that legally speaking, could be argued to answer the question. Again, it goes to the expert issue. Keep in mind that when comparing data like this, non-gun state laws also play a big role. It’s not always as cut and dried as we’d like.

      If you choose to write off reporters as a whole, then go ahead and give up your guns right now. We should be actively reaching out to many communities to expand our ranks. And one way they can help is by being neutralized on the issue. And as for being burned on the issue, how many reporters do you reach out to on the issue? I’ve found that when I interact with them, they are very reasonable and open to discussion. I can’t imagine that my experience is completely unique given how many other people I know who share the view.

  5. John A says:

    I agree that a sense of perspective (and of humor) should be maintained. Even where bias is seen it is not necessarily more than ignorance, and may be educable. Yes, point out that “semi-automatic” is not the same as “automatic” etc., but what non-shooter other than collectors/historians really cares about, say, the difference between magazine and clip feed?

  6. ATL says:

    “But that got me thinking about the deeply rooted hatred for the media that many gun owners have. Many are willing to burn the bridge with reporters without a second thought. Why is that?”

    “Samson! The Philistines are upon you!”

    The issue of burning bridges is not that we have burned bridges with the media, but that they have burned them with us. Look, I understand they are a significant mouthpiece, but I do not believe they should be given the benefit of the doubt. The media in this country (even small independent liberal media is alot of cases) has a shown a propensity to distort and obfuscate as much as the Big Networks. I understand what you are saying, but the issue is one of trust and respect. When it comes to gun owners and the media- Those two things are in very short supply.

  7. Making excuses for the folks doing the harmful lying is not a healthy reaction to lies and bias.

  8. Peter says:

    Why not burn a bridge that nobody is using? It blocks the view. To continue the metaphor, the bridge seems to serve as something allowing the reporter close enough to take a couple of photos and then leave without ever having set foot on the other side.

    As well, a bridge suggests two way traffic, of which there is precious little. I’ve lost sight of the times that I have crossed the bridge only to find my footsteps all alone to show that anyone was ever there.

    And it would be nice to write a posting that wasn’t based on an either/or proposition: that we gunnies either like or ‘hate’ the media. I have spoken to media people knowing that whatever I said would get distorted (it was), ignored (that, too) or dismissed out of hand. Mistrust? Yep. Suspicion? M-hmm, that too. Hatred? Puh-leeze, these folks aren’t woth the effort. Contempt, sure: they’ve more than earned that.

    Your point is solid, but it’s way too early to trot out the forgiveness. Let the media first try to repair some of the calumny and lies that they have knowingly and willingly published. Let them do that for awhile. Then, and only then, will it be appropriate to castigate our side for our attitudes, the ones that have been formed over the course of bitter experience.

  9. Harry Schell says:

    Bitter,
    Your comments are very welcome and on point. I have traded emails with some anti-gun (I prefer to say anti-self-defense) newspaper people and civility helped the discussion. Didin’t change any minds but it was much more constructive than tossing epithets…I the gun guy could not be accused honestly of not listening and responding rationally.

    The urge to throttle some reporters is very high (Laura Washington is one) but it just drives ideologues like that further into their fantasy.

  10. Don Johnson says:

    Kudos for your efforts toward bridge-building.
    I am an army brat, enjoy shooting, and was a public radio
    reporter for 20 years (newspapers before that). The issue
    rarely came up, but almost every time when I tried to reach
    regional shooters/2nd amendement supporters, local people
    would not speak. I eventually had to go to PR people from
    some of the state organizations. I would much rather have had
    comments/thoughts from people in the region, real vox
    populi sorts. The antis, of course, were generally more than
    willing.
    Anon, Don

  11. Brad says:

    The Problem with the press

    This goes waaaay back, back at least as far as 1985. The problem isn’t just the press being biased against us, or the press being lazy and stupid. The problem is the press has actively campaigned against gun rights for over twenty years.

    The press has long given up any idea that they should be unbiased witnesses to, and reporters of, the truth. Since at least the Reagan years they believe they have the right to set the agenda for national policy by means of their media megaphone, as an unelected and unaccountable 4th branch of government.

    Just go back to such things as Newsweek’s cover story in 1985 entitled “machine gun USA” which kicked off the campaign against semi-autos. Or Time magazines multiple cover stories attacking guns. And even today, after over twenty years of being corrected by us, how often does the press still confuse semi-auto weapons with machine guns? Look at how the press most recently tried to gin up a new anti-gun hysteria after that month of multiple police killings. That is beyond bias and stupidity, instead the press is the active enemy.

    Now by no means do I intend to condemn ALL the press as the enemy. But the default assumption one should make is that until otherwise indicated, a reporter intends to distort the truth and attack gun rights. Be polite, but be cautious and on your guard. The same way you would act during serving of a search warrant by police.

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