by Joseph P. Tartaro
The major television news channels, network or cable, dont seem to be able to juggle more than one or two news stories at a time. And major daily newspapers dont seem to do much better.
Theres a lot going on in the world, and an editors or news directors job is to be sure that his or her newspaper or television outlet covers the main stories of the day. This is especially true for the main news pages of a newspaper or for the so-called hard news programs like the nightly news half-hour shows. The rule should not only apply to the so-called magazine news hour-long programs on TV but those switched over to straight entertainment soft-news stories many years ago.
Of course, it has always been the prerogative of the editors to decide what events are really news. But increasingly, their decisions have been dictated by ratings periods and overall editorial policy. Still, there are stories that have such general importance that they cannot be ignored.
Sometimes the media gets it right.
For example, when the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recently published a report by two prominent anti-gun academics that shows the Brady Act a failure, most of the media got it right. (See story on Page 1.) They accurately reported on the conclusions of the researchers, even though most of the newspapers have maintained a clear anti-gun policy in the past. In fact, many of those newspapers had been among the most vocal proponents of the Brady Bills waiting period and background check.
Some of the newspapers, wire service and electronic reporters remained true to their anti-gun credentials by focusing their stories on the only item in the report that could be described as a benefit derived from the Brady Act. And most later followed up with the spin from Handgun Control Inc. and the Clinton-Gore Justice Department
But at least they decided that the JAMA report was a major news event and gave it prominent display. And, in spite of the spin by some, the basic facts got reported to the American people.
Publication and distribution of such factual information is the best gunowners can hope for from most journalists. Gunowners and their academics and other allies can complain about selective news gathering and reporting practices when it comes to gun and self-defense related stories. They often complain that the facts are ignored or buried in the back pages in newspapers and mentioned in the middle of the night on radio and TV.
Most people understand that if the public gets the real facts, it will make up its own mind. And since gunowners sincerely believe the facts are on their side, they are often frustrated by their unsuccessful attempts to communicate those facts to others.
Spin usually has a lot to do with it. President Clinton or Attorney General Janet Reno are always in a position to shape the tone and direction of news stories. Their official positions give them the prominence, authority and access that others do not enjoy. Their offices make them newsmakers and if they speak, no matter how slanted the presentation, the media will generally follow their lead.
The same mantle of authority is shared to some degree by other officials and law enforcement agencies. Thus when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms or a city police department make announcements, they are treated as credible sources.
It is not surprising that the media gave so much play last year to a story controlled by Chicago city officials and the Clinton-Gore Justice and Treasury Departments involving indictments of more than a dozen suburban-area firearms dealers, caught in a sting operation. What is surprising is that the media has not given similar exposure to reports of many of those same dealers being acquitted or having their cases dismissed by judges.
The Clinton-Gore-Daley axis got the publicity they wanted, and the sting evidence made it seem like they were telling the truth. But the disposition of those cases which have gone to court suggests that the whole deal was bogus from the start
The way the media handled the Brady Act story may have been a welcome aberration, but was an aberration nonetheless. More common in recent weeks and months is the way to the media mostly ignored another gun-related story.
This example involved an Associated Press report from Guatemala City that appeared in the Tulsa World. The story lead had to focus on the fact that Guatemalans, increasingly concerned about crime and political unrest, were acquiring firearms at a frantic pace. In fact, the sub-theme to the story was that guns may soon outnumber people in that Central American country.
In the city, guns will soon outnumber people, the story began. In the countryside, heavily-armed private security forces are becoming more common than electricity and phone service.
The story continued by saying that crime has gotten so out of hand that 4,000 rifle-toting Guatemalan soldiers took to the streets to aid an overworked police force.
While there are no reliable figures for the crime rate, gun sales give an idea of how rampant is the average Guatemalans fear of crime. In the first half of this year, purchases of security services and firearms are up 50% on rates that were already among the highest in Central America, the Associated Press story said.
In June, AP estimated that there were 1.5 million guns in Guatemala City, about as many firearms as people.
They reported that some gun dealers said they couldnt keep popular models in stock because of the brisk demand.
In the countryside, in an armed variant of the block club, the residents have begun forming armed security juntas aimed at scaring would-be criminals out of town.
There are now easily more of these groups than there are police officers, according to one police chief.
The growing mobilization and arming of citizens to pacify their neighborhoods and cities after the end of the countrys 36-year civil war has given rise to suggestions that the nation return to a dictatorship, but so far the people are looking after their own defense from predatory criminals.
This story didnt get much coverage in the general US media, probably because it showed that people anywhere in the world will acquire and use firearms for defense of themselves and communities when driven by fear of crime.
Another report that didnt get the currency it deserved in the US media was the one from Israel that said the government was helping to arm its citizens along the Lebanese border after Israeli troops were withdrawn from that area. There was a clear recognition in that story of a government policy which made it clear that decent citizens should have the means to defend themselves, their property and their community from possible attack from criminals and terrorists.
These stories reflect not just a different condition of life in other nations, but a clear affirmation of the basic right of law-abiding people to have the means to protect themselves and their neighbors. The acceptance of the moral right to keep and bear arms for defense of persons and property is apparently so difficult for the US media to assimilate, that factual reports that reinforce that principle are routinely ignored.
Maybe such stories fall through the cracks some days. But they shouldnt with such frequency because they are the lessons of life that should guide our public policy debate.
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