Thursday, March 24, 2005

Bonehead Reporters Volume 1

So by now the A-level newspapers have dispatched their bleeding heart reporters to Minnesota for the thoughtful "analysis" or "in-depth" stories of the Jeff Weise's rampage. This is standard operating procedure for big media outlets, the idea being that the "hard news" guys (and guyettes) have been focusing on the who, what and where, and now the higher-paid "writers" come in to "put the event in context." Take a look at what hit me in the face this morning in my Denver Post:
Too little parenting. Too many guns. Boredom. In the aftermath of Jeff Weise's rampage...

By Kevin Simpson
Denver Post Staff Writer

Red Lake, Minn. - A smoky haze wafted through the cavernous bingo hall as hundreds of grieving residents of this Chippewa reservation watched tribal elders perform a sacred pipe ceremony.
The prevalence of guns also worries many on the reservation.

"The gunplay around here is too much," said Pete Strong Jr., 39, pulling a drag on a cigarette as he sat in front of the computer in his trailer home. "Even the kids are starting to carry handguns.

"A lot of stolen guns wind up here," he added. "My own nephew found a gun in a ditch. Do you believe it? In a ditch."

Weise reportedly found the weapons he used in his rampage at the home of his grandfather, a tribal policeman who was one of the first two people Weise shot to death on Monday afternoon. Those circumstances also drew criticism and calls for a policy change among law enforcement personnel who keep their firearms at home.
"It's totally insane," said Gayle Downwind's husband, Leo. "The police are so loose with their stuff. There should be laws about taking their own arsenal home."
You know, when I called for disarming the police the other day, I was joking! Joking!

For much of my career in journalism, I was one of those higher-paid guys "context" guys, first for newspapers, then for magazines, which paid more than newspapers. The great thing about being the analysis guy was that you don't have to bother with those pesky facts — analysis is touchy-feely, talking to "the people" about how they "really feel."

The big secret we journalists never wanted our viewers/readers to know was that "the people" are for the most part desperate for their 15 minutes of fame. With a minimum of work (30 minutes max; 5 minutes if you were willing to quote the cabbie who drove you from the airport to the hotel) you could find any number of 'the people" who would provide you with whatever quotes you needed to "prove" the thesis you brought with you. Given a sufficient amount of time (and a budget for the bar tab), I could find people willing to go on the record that their brainwaves are being monitored by aliens. You can prove any thesis if you don't have to bother with facts.

For Mr. Simpson at the Post, that thesis is:

"High Schools Cliques" + "Easy Availability of Guns" = Columbine!

That thesis is an article of faith at the Post and has been endlessly reiterated since the 1999 Columbine shootings. It's important that all school shootings fit into the paradigm, which is where analysts/in-depth reporters like Mr. Simpson come in.

Just for dat ole record, do I believe that the editors of the Post sent Mr. Simpson north with specific instructions to write a "clique/guns" story? Of course not. But do I think the Post's antigun culture, obsession with Columbine and previous local stories on how the Minnesota shootings echoed Columbine guaranteed the story you read above? Absolutely.

BTW, if 3 guns is an "arsenal," then I'm in deep do-do!

Let's take a look at a different bonehead reporter, this one from the Newhouse News Service, provided to subscriber newspapers who don't want to go to the trouble of paraphrasing the Brady Center press release on their own:
Gun-Control Issue, With Middle Ground Elusive, Fades From National Agenda


WASHINGTON -- In the wake of another spate of gun mayhem -- this time in Red Lake, Minn., just nine days after a mass shooting in Brookfield, Wis. -- the question resurfaces: Why can't a gun-control compromise be found to prevent such incidents?
Ah ha! Our old friend the "stacked" story, but this time in the analysis mode — we've linked all these disconnected events together, so now we'd like to ponder why a one-size-fits-all solution can't be found since all our liberal friends agree that it's the guns and George Bush is SATAN!

Let's continue with Mr. McCutcheon's penetrating analysis:
Peter Hamm, spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence/Million Mom March in Washington, said the political climate deeply frustrates activists, particularly whenever a mass shooting occurs.

"We always feel like we're stuck in the position of saying `We told you so' time and time again when these happen," Hamm said. "You have politicians in Washington doing everything they can to ignore what's going on, because it doesn't fit with the political equation to maximize votes to one party or another. The end result is a remarkable series of incidents these last few months. Everything's going in the wrong direction."
"We told you so"? A tossed-off comment like this one from Hamm would cause a real reporter's hair to stand on end. What the hell does Hamm mean by that crack? It's smarmy and self-righteous, and the fact that McCrutcheon doesn't follow it up makes me certain that this story is either a Brady plant or that the reporter is Brady's dog. Plus, I'm a little surprised that Brady's spinners let that comment out the door — I suspect the reporter has a personal relationship with Mr. Hamm, which would allow him to go around the Brady media apparatus.

McCrutcheon includes the di rigeur progun arguments at the end of the article (including a thoughtful comment from UCLA law professor and super-blogger Eugene Volokh), but that's throwaway spot, the "see, I'm really objective" comment ghetto.

In fact, by using Brady's fundamental thesis — all gun events are linked because the gun is the driving factor of the events — then restating Brady's "solution" — why can't we agree on more gun control? — McCutcheon reveals himself as a biased reporter.

The fact that Newhouse moved the story reveals its biases.

Isn't journalism fun?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Re Hamm's comment: You accuse him of being a Brady plant or Brady's dog because he says 'We told you so'. Well, I remember telling pols that as long as they tried to marginalize guns, and gun education we would leaving ourselves open to lots of opportunities for thugs to prey on innocents. Unfortunately what's come to pass are lots of opportunities for people like me to say 'I told you so' because the average pol doesn't really study history.