Saturday, January 19, 2013

Journalists behaving badly (part 1)

Over the years that I have held a job or two that, in retrospect, I find embarrassing. For example, my sophomore year of college I worked for PBS. My defense is that I was young, naive and it was the job assigned to me by the folks running the work study financial aid program at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. "Public broadcasting," I now know, is a gigantic fraud, a wasteful black hole of government spending and I stopped putting my stint on the liberal plantation on my resume years ago, lest my shame be more widely known.

Lately, however, I've begun to believe that what I should be even more embarrassed about is having once been a journalist.

It's been a tough few weeks for journalists, partly because of the way the issue of guns causes knee-jerk bedwetting among reporters and editors.

Example #1 is NBC's chief clown, David Gregory, who hosts "Meet the Press" every Sunday. In late December, National Rifle Association vice-president Wayne LaPierre appeared on the show to discuss gun control. Gregory thought he would play "gotcha" by waving a high-capacity rifle clip in LaPierre's face and asking why such clips shouldn't be banned.

But it turns out that in Washington, D.C., where Meet the Press is taped, it's illegal to possess such clips. It's a stupid law that does nothing to improve public safety, but it's still the law. And it turns out the Gregory knew it was illegal to possess the clip, his staff having asked D.C. police if it was okay. They were told no, but went ahead anyway.

Gregory clearly should have been prosecuted for a willful, blatant violation of the law, but NBC lawyers found a prosecutor who was a social acquaintance of Gregory's, and got him to decline prosecution.

The message is clear: Big-time journalists consider themselves above the law, and can pull strings to avoid punishment for their crimes. The tiny shred of journalistic integrity NBC had - this is the network that faked a truck explosion to attack General Motors, and that altered a 911 tape to make George Zimmerman sound racist - was demolished by Gregory's action.

About the same time, a suburban New York newspaper called the Journal News rounded up the names and addresses of everyone in their area that had a legal gun permit, then posted an interactive map on its web site allowing anyone to identify the homes of those permit holders. It was an unconscionable invasion of privacy, and put lives at risk. Among those who had their names and addresses published were - just to mention two groups - such folks as:

  -- Law enforcement officers, who could now be found by criminals they had arrested;
  -- Women who were hiding from abusive spouses or partners, and had a gun for self-defense;

Some enterprising bloggers responded brilliantly, tracking down the home addresses and phone numbers of the Journal News publisher, editor and staff and publishing them on the Internet. That resulted in a number of very direct complaints to the paper's employees, and the anti-gun paper responded in the most hypocritical way possible: Hiring armed guards for their offices.

Predictably, a number of area homes were burglarized by criminals looking for guns, who - thanks to the Journal News - no longer had to guess where their best chance of finding guns was. Yesterday, after a barrage of criticism, the paper finally took the map down.

It was a cheap, tacky bit of "journalism" that put lives at risk, and the newspaper's only defense for doing it was "we could."

It's enough to make me think I need to get those years as a broadcaster and newspaper reporter off my resume.

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