Not so controlled guns

I’m not a believer in or a proponent of the theory of the “liberal” media. It’s obvious that there are journalists out there working for certain news organizations who love to stick their angle into news stories – and many of them happen to be left wing; but when you start talking conspiracy, you lose me. Further, the advent of FoxNews seems to have further liberalized certain news outlets because of the thinking: “Well, if Fox can be slanted right, we’ll slant left”. This is pretty much the way news media in this country has always developed – from the time of the Founders on and perhaps it’s unavoidable.

My problem is not with the overall slant of stories, it’s specific insertions of opinion into presumably objective news stories. It seems to me that the quality of journalism has declined over the past 20 years – particularly with the advent of the Internet. More often than not, you find journalists either trying to make news where there isn’t any or inserting their opinion into stories where they have no business putting it. Witness:

“If it moves through the Senate and is signed into law by the president, the bill would be the most important gun control act since Congress banned some assault weapons in 1994, the last year Democrats controlled the House.”

That is a statement of opinion, pure and simple. Not only are there no facts to back up such an assertion, but there can’t possibly be any because the statement doesn’t really mean anything in the first place. It’s purely subjective hyperbole that serves no purpose but to exaggerate a relatively unimportant Congressional event. Consequently, it has absolutely no place in an objective news article. I’m not sure at what point in time journalists ceased to recognize this as poor practice but it’s happened and it stinks.

We can speculate all day as to why Jim Abrams might choose to make the statement but in the end, we’d be doing the same thing he is. It’s certainly misleading – especially given the NRA’s angle described later in the same article:

“The NRA insisted that it was not a ‘gun control’ bill because it does not disqualify anyone currently able to legally purchase a firearm.”

They’re absolutely right, this is naught but a blip on the gun control front. It’s a clarification of the existing background check and an improvement of the existing process. Obviously, one can disagree with that assessment but it’s not Abrams’ place to do it – and it’s certainly not his place to do it under the guise of objective fact. When one reads a news story, he expects that satements made by the journalist are grounded in fact. So, when Abrams iterates subjective opinion, he’s taking advantage of that audience assumption. The end result in this case is the implication that this is a huge victory for the Democrats in Congress and the right and the NRA are just flailing helplessly.

Further and far more troublesome, Abrams’ statement creates a feeling of comfort around the idea of gun control. It leads one to think (falsely) that there is some sort of unavoidable consensus around the issue. This is precisely the kind of behavior Hamilton warns us about in Federalist #84 when he talks about “men disposed to usurp.” It sets people up for this kind of thinking: “Well, the Congress passed landmark gun control legislation last year. The government is moving in the direction of gun control and so is the general public. Even the NRA can’t dispute it.” Patently false.

Is that Abrams’ intention? Who can tell? The bottom line is, he should be more careful with his words and more professional with his presentation. But just as “trafficking in tragedy” is a practice common to journalists that I’ve described elsewhere on this site, inserting one’s opinion into an objective report is becoming more and more common. You could argue that this is also a practice that’s as old as the nation, but there was a time in this country when journalism was a respectable profession. Those days seem to be rapidly slipping into the past.