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.