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.Â It’s okay and not a cardinal sin of journalism to not know the ins and outs of every single issue.Â (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.Â 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.Â 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.Â Did they interview both sides?Â If they didn’t, were they upfront about any potential biases?
- Consider the source.Â Is the beef with a mainstream newspaper, local television station, web-only publication, national outlet, or alt-weekly?Â I would expect more colorful language from some outlets than others, but that doesn’t inherently make one piece more biased.Â (I expected a New England alt-weekly reporter who I took to a range to refer to me as a chick.Â I did not expect to see the same term to be applied after an interview with the New York Times.)Â What about the perceived wrong bothers you, and is it something appropriate or inappropriate to the source?
- Don’t treat reporters like shit.Â I can’t tell you how many gun owners I’ve met who want to try and make reporters covering them feel unwelcome.Â 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.Â Why?Â What purpose does that serve?Â Would they behave that way around a new shooter?Â If they say no, then why treat the person next to them like that just because of their profession?Â Just like being on your best behavior is required for reaching out to new shooters, you should act your best when journalists are around.Â It’s simply the decent thing to do.Â 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.Â Before saying an entire paper is outrageously biased in their coverage, folks need to double check the section of paper they are reading.Â 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.Â It’s not a matter of reporting bias if it’s not in the news section.Â It’s not inherently a sign of editorial bias if it’s not one of the paper’s unsigned editorials.Â (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.Â 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.Â Looking at what the law firm compiled, I believe that’s the case based on the laws in the list I do know.Â 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.Â We shouldn’t seek to burn bridges that don’t need to be burned.Â 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.Â If it doesn’t, try a bit of honey instead of vineagar.Â 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.