Does the American news media hate us? By us, I mean people who own guns, carry guns, hunt, shoot in competitions, or exercise and defend gun rights generally. My readers are shouting, YES, at this point, but let’s think the question through.
If we speak broadly, bringing in the entertainment industry (though on many news channels, that may be redundant), it’s an observation common enough to be a cliché to say how wildly off the mark Hollywood is about guns. Cracked.com gives a good summary. If a movie or television show gets things right, it’s like a jump scare when we realize it—thanks, Michael Mann.
I do get the feeling that many Americans, reporters or otherwise, get their notions about guns from what they see on the screen. Take the example of the “assault rifle.” We in the know can explain what that term actually means, where it came from, and how genuine examples work, but too many people will still insist that an AR-15 is a machine gun with a high-capacity clip that can send a continuous wall of death downrange for hours on end. As long as it has a shoulder thingy that goes up, of course. (I exaggerate a bit, but this is a movie, right?)
And it’s not just my sense. One of the founders of CNN, Jim Shepherd, has witnessed the same thing in his decades in the media. He speaks not only to the lack of knowledge about guns, but the bigger flaw in news organizations that chase and promote celebrity over substance.
Experts or hobbyists get annoyed when a talking head speaks at length and in error about their subject. It’s irritating for those of us who care about guns and gun rights when we hear journalists expose themselves as ignorant in our field. They will make themselves well-informed about financial instruments, genetic engineering, and Iranian politics, but give off the impression that pontificating about firearms requires no understanding beyond the repeated statement that guns are bad.
As a child, I heard the news delivered by Walter Cronkite, who summed up each evening by telling the audience, “that’s the way it is.” When he left his anchor position, my family switched to ABC, soon hearing the debonaire voice of Peter Jennings. The news was delivered as a fact, an incontrovertible revelation of everything that matters.
But the world has changed. Broadcasters include commercial and public radio and television and talk programs, and cable multiplies this. The Internet is a fire hose of information. What’s the purpose these days of traditional journalism?
The purpose is illustrated by the volume of information that flows through cyberspace. This flood of facts, claims of fact, and opinions is overwhelming for any one person to evaluate. How much, if anything, can we rely on? How much is bafflegab and bunkum, and what of it comes at us in a structuring that needs to be reframed?
Honest journalism provides us the kind of benefit we get from a physician instead of an online symptom list or from a professor of history instead of a Wikipedia article. This isn’t a call to turn off our own brains. Listening to experts gives us access to information we wouldn’t know to look for and to ways of processing that information that we don’t know about. When reporters and commentators in the news live up to their responsibility, they fulfill the vision and avoid the warning given by one of their best, Edward R. Murrow:
This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.
Stonewall Jackson, who is generally believed to have known something about weapons, is reported to have said, “When war comes, you must draw the sword and throw away the scabbard.” The trouble with television is that it is rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival.
News organizations on television, on radio, and in print or website can maintain relevance by speaking with knowledge, intelligence, and context about subjects that affect our lives. Or such sources can quietly fade into the bubble of electronic emissions expanding away from us to the stars, passed over and away because they offer us nothing worth keeping.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.