Tuesday, November 22, 2005

An Old Left-Over WSJ Piece...

...that I decided to post after some discusions over at The Gun Zone on journalists with guns:
Hopalong Geraldo


Pity the hapless Geraldo Rivera. It’s not enough to dodge bullets and bombs in pursuit of that perfect sound byte, but to also suffer the slings and arrows of—unarmed—fellow journalists...well, it’s enough to ruin even the best hair day.
But, strangely enough, I come here not to bury Geraldo—except, of course, for this teeny-tiny problems with the truth—but to praise him. And to confess my own dirty little secret:
I am a journalist, and I carry a gun.
And I am not alone.
First, a quick story. I’d been sent south by the Sunday magazine of a major daily newspaper to spend some quality time with the Ku Klux Klan. First stop was a Klan “paramilitary”—and I use the term loosely—training camp where the boys, and a few girls, were preparing for the Next Race War. The location wasn’t exactly listed in the telephone book. Instead, it was one of those, “Be in the K-Mart parking lot at midnight with a flower in your lapel” arrangements, followed by a long, blindfolded ride in a Ford pick-up sans shocks. When the blindfold was finally pulled off my head, I found myself crammed into the truck cab with someone clearly sent over from Central Casting, overalls, Styrofoam spit cup and all. As we rolled down a long, narrow highway, my host reached under his seat and hauled out a bumper-chrome bright Colt .45 1911 model, just like the Doughboys carried, with shiny plastic-looking mother-of-pearl grips. I seemed to recall that George S. Patton once said that only a pimp would have mother-of-pearl grips on a gun. My host slapped the big Colt on the seat between us.
“What you say to that, boy?” he said.
“I say I’ve got one just like it on my belt,” I said, with a good bit more braggadocio than I actually felt. “And I’m better with it than you can imagine.”
“You bluffin’, Yankee boy?” he asked, staying in character.
“I don’t bluff,” I said, assuming my best Woodward/Bernstein demeanor. “And I’m not a Yankee.”
“Hell,” said my host, spitting a gob into the cup, “I guess you ain’t.”
The punchline actually came a couple of days later, when I’d talked myself into an interview with the High Exalted Whatever—who later proved to be an undercover agent for the Feds—at his bunker in the piney woods. I walked up to the massive steel door, taking note of the gunslit window shutters, to be met by one of those bright-eyed, Aryan Nation-tattooed, skinny guys who populate made-for-teevee movies. He told me to stop right where I was. I stopped, right where I was.
“Mr. Bane, Mr. Bane, Mr. Bane,” he said, his ferret grin firmly in place. “We done heard all about you...”
Behind him, in the darkened doorway, I heard the unmistakable ker-chunk racking of a pump shotgun.
“This here door’s got a metal detector,” Ferret-Face said. “And we don’t want to hear it beep. So why don’t you go back to your car and reconsider your position?”
Ah, I thought, the limitations of hardware. I did what Ferret-Face suggested, and the interview went off just fine. I never did see the shotgun man.
The point of the story is that journalists carry guns for the same reasons other civilians carry guns, to wit, bad things occasionally do happen to good people, and the police are only around to sweep up afterwards. It only makes sense that, if you’re paid to occasionally go into harm’s way, the likelihood for bad things happening to you increases geometrically. And war zones are, by definition, in harm’s way.
But if they have a policy at all, most media I’m familiar with make possession of a firearm on company time or on company property a firing offense. Based on the number of reporters, cameramen, editors and photographers I’ve counseled over the years on carrying a firearm, I’d say a substantial number of journalists simply ignore the policy. As one photographer told me, “I got $50,000 worth of video gear hung off me like a Christmas tree. I might as well have a blinking neon sign over my head that says, ‘Rob Me First!’”
There are, of course, hypocrisies to be savored. I once got a call from the editor-in-chief of one of the most relentlessly, unabashedly anti-gun newspapers in the country. Seems he and his wife were going on a Caribbean cruise in the new sailboat. Since this was at the height of the Great Florida Drug Wars, when hijacked sailboats were the delivery vehicle of choice for incoming drug shipments, the editor needed some advice on which AR-15—the semi-auto civilian version of the military M-16 battle rifle—he needed to purchase to repel boarders.
I pointed out to him that only recently he had written quite eloquently that the days when civilians had any need, or even any rationale, for owning firearms was long past, and the United States needed to wake up to that fact and do something about that darned Second Amendment.
“For god’s sake, Michael,” he snapped. “I’m a journalist, not a complete idiot.”
So my hat’s off to Hopalong Geraldo, who has the good sense to not leave his personal welfare to the tender mercies of Taliban bandits. We can only hope that when he gets back to the World and resumes his position behind the desk that he remembers the cold comfort of steel (or plastic, as the case may be) on those long Afghani nights and chooses to throttles down his anti-gun rhetoric—or even (shudder!) comes over to my side. Remember, Geraldo, we’re journalists; not complete idiots.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I suppose the main reasons firearms are banned by employers (not just newspapers) is the possibility of a lawsuit against the company if the employee misuses it (or uses it correctly and the criminals family still tries to sue the company). What's needed next is employer lawsuit protection. Unless an employer gives an employee a direct order to do something wrong, the employer can't be sued for an employee's actions.