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The Problem of Bias Ruining Your Story

When most gun owners think of bias in the press, they think of the mainstream media reporters who only sometimes bother to grudgingly show up to their assignments covering pro-gun rallies or events. There’s even a joke that’s pretty common in serious gun circles that if you go to a pro-Second Amendment event and wear a suit or otherwise look normal, there’s no way a reporter will talk to you. However, if you deck yourself out in camo and carry crazy-sounding signs, they’ll line up and then claim you’re a spokesman for the entire movement of gun owners.

But bias happens on our side, too. Case in point, last month’s “Letter from the Editor” in America’s First Freedom by Mark Chesnut assumes that nearly everyone with a press identification badge covering the NRA Annual Meeting and all of the activities associated with it are looking to demonize NRA members or miss out on what he considers the real story of the yearly NRA event.

While taking a break in the pressroom during the recent NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in St. Louis, I overheard some members of the press lamenting the fact that they couldn’t find a good protest to cover.

One mentioned he had walked several blocks attempting to find a planned protest, but never found it. Another mentioned that she, too, had walked all the way around outside the convention center in hopes of running across protesters, but she, too, had come up empty-handed.

They looked demoralized. Their quest for the Holy Grail of the NRA meeting–rabid anti-gunners vehemently protesting the hated “gun lobby”–had ended in failure.

There’s just one problem with his premise about these people looking to promote the anti-gun agenda while ignoring the rest of the story of NRA’s weekend events. The woman he mentions? That was me, a life member of NRA and volunteer with both ILA and the Foundation. The guy? Thirdpower, an NRA endowment member and volunteer for the Illinois State Rifle Association, the NRA state association in his home state. In fact, with a quick peek at our press badges or, even better, a quick question as a reporter, he would have found out that his assumptions about what he overheard were actually the complete opposite of what the conversation was actually about.

How can we be sure that Mr. Chesnut was listening to us? Well, his description fits perfectly if you take out his misinterpretation of the full conversation. Also, the descriptions fit since both Thirdpower and I did retreat to the press office to sit down for a bit with some hot coffee (for me) to warm up after running around in the rain. We also know for a fact that the only mainstream media photographers assigned to cover the story of the protests left the premises after the anti-gun groups failed to show. We know this because we talked to them and even worked together for a time to try and find the protest.

So why would Mr. Chesnut assume we “looked demoralized” if we weren’t actually looking to promote anti-gun causes? I’d say it probably had something to do with the fact that running about a quarter mile around the outside of the convention center in the rain may have left us looking a little less than perky.

If he detected any disappointment, it was largely in jest. Though I’ve been covering protests at NRA conventions since Pittsburgh in 2004, so I do have an appreciation of the entertainment value of protests. Not to mention, it’s a little frustrating when anti-gun groups spend weeks promoting an event and then fail to show up due to a little rain when more than 70,000 NRA members managed to handle the drizzle. We wanted to get the real story to share with readers, that’s why we tried to find the protesters. When no anti-gun people showed up, we were happy to share it with readers. We did provide the real story when mainstream media relied on press releases and spokesmen.

So while Mr. Chesnut may have been trying to make a point about bias in mainstream coverage of the NRA event, his targets and facts were misplaced because of his own assumptions and biases. He only chose to hear half the story instead of stopping to talk to actual NRA members and supporters who were taking the time to report the full picture. A lesson in media coverage indeed.

Thirdpower’s story about his longer walk down to the Arch and back is here.

10 Responses to “The Problem of Bias Ruining Your Story”

  1. Matthew Carberry says:

    You don’t mention it in this post but I assume you have sent a copy to Chesnut, the Editors, the publisher, and anyone else you think might be interested.

    It’d be interesting to see what kind of response they give you, whether they offer a mea culpa, and whether they print a correction.

  2. Shootin' Buddy says:

    “all of the activities associated with it are looking to demonize NRA members or miss out on what he considers the real story of the yearly NRA event.”

    For every 1 of those stories, there are 1,000 about bias against us.

    As a matter of fact I have experience with media bias this year in St. Louis. At the Annual meeting while I was at the CLE seminar, my father on the exhibit floor talking to fellow USAF vets from the Midwest was interviewed by Reuters about Fla. v. Zimmerman.

    My father said that we should wait and see what the evidence showed at due process takes time and can be different than what is initially reported. The editor deleted his comments but used the . . . less than reasoned comments from others.

    If we are defensive, then it is with good cause.

    • Bitter says:

      True. But ignoring facts – or in this case, refusing to even try and get them – to create a false narrative doesn’t exactly do much for the movement, either. Point being, there are enough people working against gun rights that I don’t think the editor of an NRA publication needs to make up boogie men from his own allies.

  3. Andy B. says:

    Almost every “cause” these days, including ours, seems to thrive on playing the “victim” card — usually in terms of screaming about unfair bias. In some cases it’s intentional, in other cases, just ingrained habit. In this case I suspect a combination of both. I think Chestnut assumed a lot, but also knew that a story with the theme “they were out to get us, but were sorely disappointed” would be great propaganda for morale building, that would play well in Peoria.

    • Matthew Carberry says:

      I see your point but that justification doesn’t wash.

      Chesnut could have written the same -exact- story, that the anti’s talked a good game but failed to get people to show up, and quoted Bitter and Thirdpower accurately in support of it.

      He had no need to actively misrepresent who they were and what they were there for to create a physical bogeyman to hang his narrative on. If he wanted a “disappointed anti” to quote he should have gotten off his journalistic ass and found one.

      • Andy B. says:

        Oh, I agree. I’m sorry if I sounded like I was providing “justification,” if that’s what you meant.

        Among the many things that dismay me these days, is an increasing attitude that whatever your constituency, morons are the low-hanging fruit that are the easiest to appeal to, and thus most efficient, in terms of financial or generalized “support.” The result is sloppiness, laziness, or even dishonesty in appeals to them.

        • Matthew Carberry says:

          I apologize. I didn’t mean to say or imply -you- were providing justification as if you supported him. Just that your very rational “devil’s advocate” explanation, which he might try himself, doesn’t hold water and it’s about the best he could claim without admitting to being a hack.

          I totally agree about the pandering problem. Make the real case, teach the details, -then- distill the soundbite. Otherwise you get “what part of shall not be infringed…” and “no compromise” being shouted by people who don’t actually understand the nuances and lack follow-up when confronted.

          Which costs your own side credibility among the undecided when it hits the media.

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