by Joseph P. Tartaro
Anyone interested in the gun issue and personal defense who has spent more than a few minutes of their conscious hours watching television, listening to radio or reading newspapers has quickly concluded that the media as a whole is extremely anti-gun and anti-self-defense. The general medias position on guns is that obvious.
Yet there is a strange and ironic phenomenon that governs the attitudes of real life journalists. Some might call it hypocrisy when they discover that famous journalists own guns. But the hypocrisy charge applies only to those editors, editorial board members and publishers who impose their views not only on the public at large, but on their own reporters and video/camera journalists as well.
The latter are the grunts of the media world. When they go about their daily work armed, they do so for the same reasons that motivate so many other law-abiding members of society: prudence in an often dangerous world.
I have worked among and known print and electronic journalists for most of my life. In my early days I worked news beats in tough urban neighborhoods myself, and served on Pacific Stars and Stripes during the Korean War. Since then I have appeared on talk shows or been interviewed by print and electronic reporters and have been photographed and videotaped. In addition, I have enjoyed the acquaintance and friendship of many career journalists.
Over the years, most of the reporters I have met, particularly those assigned to police beats and crime, carried concealed handguns. In areas where the right to carry was severely restricted or non-existentsuch as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, DCextra-legal carry, or possession of Mace or pepper spray and/or folding knives by reporters and camera crews was not uncommon.
Among television news crews, I have found that if the on-camera reporter is not carrying a handgun or other means of personal protection, the camera person almost always is armed. The reason for that is fairly obvious: photographers and videographers are frequently sent out on assignment all by themselves. And they might get an assignment at any hour in any place.
Usually when breaking news events take place, they occur in the dark of night in the toughest parts of townsor in remote places. Often, the inhabitants of those areas are hostile to outsiders, or they simply may not like journalists.
Occasionally, the suspects may still be in the vicinity.
I know of one police reporter who was dispatched to a suburban community where a murder had been committed. The police were still searching for the suspect when the reporter arrived. When the suspect bolted from hiding, he was still armed with a knife and he ran down an alley toward the reporter who was the only person between the suspect and the street. In that instant of threat, the reporter drew and presented his handgun as he shouted for police elsewhere on the street.
The suspect stopped, was apprehended and later tried and convicted. The reporter eventually got over his experience he hoped he never would face again.
Curiously, when ownership of his paper changed, the new hierarchy imposed a policy which prevented all employees from carrying concealedlicensed or not.
My point is that the grunts of journalism understand the realities of a wicked world. They are sent into areas where news happens, and those areas are not necessarily ones they would visit willingly. They also get to interview people who might prove to be unstable and dangerous. Their choices are not those of the editors and publishers who make sure that the news stories reflect the anti-gun editorial policies of management.
I was reminded of all this when I received my September 2000 edition of the Stars & Stripes Association News. The front page carried the story of the brutal murder and robbery in July of a Stripes Central editor for the Pacific edition in Arlington, VAa story reprinted herewith. On page 2 of that same issue, Frank Praytor, the editor of the newsletter, offered his own comments.
Praytor and I were on Stars & Stripes at about the same time. Before joining the Marine Corps, Praytor had been a reporter for the old International News Service (INS). In the Marines, he served first as a combat correspondent for the 1st Marine Division in Korea in 1951-52 and was later transferred as a reporter on Stars & Stripes, ending his enlistment as a staff sergeant.
His colleagues at Stripes Central and his friends and associates in our club were stunned to learn that David Butler, an editor for the Pacific edition heading home from work (in Washington, DC), was murdered as he walked from a mass transit station in Arlington, VA, toward his apartment. It happened around 1:30 a.m., July 15. Responding to a report of shouting, police found his battered body in a darkened car dealership lot a few blocks from where he lived. Beaten beyond recognition and his ID taken in the robbery, Dave was identified initially from his business cards. Police confirmed his identity from his fingerprints.
Those of us who attended the 1999 (Stars & Stripes Association) reunion in Cape Girardeau and Bloomfield had only a few days to become acquainted with the quiet, unimposing Stripes editor, but we recognized that he was a dedicated, highly principled journalist who was totally devoted to The Stars and Stripes. As the son of an Air Force officer stationed overseas, David once delivered the military daily door-to-door to base personnel. Joining Stripes was the realization of an ambition he carried from childhood.
He paid his own way to the reunion last year, he confided in his fellow-Striper Gary Kunich, because he felt that Stripes Central should be represented there. As a dues-paying member of our club, he was this newsletters main link to Central. His byline appeared several times in these pages. He was to have been a nominee for election to our board of directors at the reunion last month (August 2000). . . .
Tom Kelch, publisher of The Stars and Stripes, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying that his newsroom was slow in getting back to normal operation after Daves murder and that it still looms heavily in the thoughts of colleagues.
Patricia Howard, a colleague of Daves in Houston, wrote in her tribute: . . . the breathtaking horror at how a plain, upright man, who guided himself so strictly by his own code of honor, could be so swiftly obliterated by someone who knew neither honor nor humanity.
In my days of cautiously confident immortality, 1948-50, I packed a small camera and a German Luger. Several other Alabama newsmen I knew also carried guns at night. We had permits. After dark, we chased after white sheeted garbage and in those times the garbage we pursued considered newsies fair game for any brutal sport whenever it caught them in unguarded moments. On a number of occasions, it did. Once, in a pasture near Talladega my gun created a balance of power, of sorts, that enabled me to keep my camera.
The thought of packing a gun would have never occurred to Striper Dave Butler, even though he often worked after midnight, catching the Metro when it had its fewest passengers. Dave was too urbane, or too naïve, to consider the garbage that sleeps all day and lurks at night in dark urban byways and in comfort class neighborhoods. He probably thought the civilized environment of his quiet neighborhood afforded insulation against criminals emboldened in the knowledge theyll never fry for permanently silencing highjack victims.
Only one thing good about sociopaths in bed sheets: You usually can see them coming. Dave didnt see, until it was too late, what came at him. He probably didnt know, either, there had been two random murders by garbage in street clothes not far from where he lived.
Wish you had been packing a gun, Dave. Doubt if you ever owned one, Praytor concluded.
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