The blatant abandonment of journalistic ethics in U.S. mainstream media, well underway during its coverage of the 2012 election, finally exploded into a full-fledged ethics train wreck with television journalists’ astounding and shameless advocacy of tighter gun control laws following the Newtown elementary school massacre. Can anyone recall a previous public policy controversy in which so many telejournalists decided that it was appropriate, rather than to report on a story, to engage in full-throated advocacy for a particular position? I can’t. Rather than communicate relevant facts to their audiences and allow responsible and informed advocates for various positions to have a forum, one supposed professional journalist after another has become an openly anti-firearms scold, as if the need for new gun restrictions was a fact, rather than a contentious, and often partisan point of view.
It isn’t just the hacks, like Piers Morgan. CNN anchor Don Lemon sounded like a candidate for office, and a rhetorically irresponsible one, when he exclaimed in one outburst, “We need to get guns and bullets and automatic weapons off the streets. They should only be available to police officers and to hunt al-Qaeda and the Taliban and not hunt elementary school children.” The reliably presumptuous Soledad O’Brien decided to reprimand Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott when he refused to commit to seeking tougher gun laws in his state, telling him she hoped the gun conversation would become “meaningful” (that is to say, anti-gun ownership) before she was forced to “cover another tragedy.” In another interview, when a conservative academic argued for making guns more easily available among law-abiding citizens, O’Brien again turned advocate, telling him, “I just have to say, your position completely boggles me, honestly.”
Yes, well the fact that Soledad is “boggled” isn’t news: she’s easily boggled, and her opinion on gun control is no more worthy of broadcast than that of any random citizen on the street. Whether you agree with these amateur anti-gun zealots isn’t the point. Using their high-visibility positions as television reporters to expound on what they think are reasonable legislative initiatives isn’t their job, isn’t their role, is a direct violation of their duty of fair and objective reporting, and undermines effective public discourse. It’s unethical journalism.
Jumping into the engineer’s seat as this media ethics train wreck developed was “Meet the Press” host David Gregory. Part of the open agenda of the left-biased media is to demonize the National Rifle Association, which, again, is not their job, and is an unethical objective. Give the public the facts, let them hear the arguments, and allow them to come to an informed decision, not a media-dictated consensu constructed by people who are neither especially bright nor sufficiently informed, and who have no special expertise regarding guns and gun violence. Gregory, in full-anti-gun mode, brandished a gun magazine as a prop last Sunday to make a dramatic debating point against the vice-president of the National Rifle Association. In Washington, D.C., where “Meet the Press” is recorded, the magazine he held is illegal, and anyone apprehended while possessing one faces prosecution and jail time. NBC had been informed by D.C. police that Gregory could not use the magazine on the air, and Gregory went ahead and used it anyway.
He broke the law.
Making a case against guns was so important to David Gregory that he knowingly broke the law, on national television. Not only that, he broke exactly the kind of law he was advocating, while he was advocating it, which has to set some kind of record for flamboyant hypocrisy (even surpassing his vehement ridicule, on the same program, of the NRA suggestion that armed guards be assigned to schools, while his own children attend a D.C. private school that has armed guards). Tellingly and shockingly, Gregory’s colleagues on both sides of the ideological divide have rushed to his defense. Here is Fox News Channels’ lawyer-commentator Great Van Susteren, upon learning that the D.C. police are investigating the incident:
“How much time and money is going to be spent (wasted) investigating him? Can you think of a sillier use of investigative resources? I will bet my right arm David Gregory is not going to go out and commit some crime with that magazine… We have so many serious issues of violence in this country — and even here in DC on our dangerous streets — that it is bizarre to me that anyone would spend (waste) 5 minutes investigating NBC’s David Gregory for this.”
Think about the implications of Susteren’s argument for a second, which is all it should take to discern its legal, ethical and intellectual bankruptcy. Although a young black man in the District who was caught doing what Gregory did on television would be arrested and prosecuted, Greta says it is silly to apply the laws equally to Gregory. Why? Let’s see:
- Because journalists are immune from prosecution, as long as they break the law in pursuit of a worthy objective? Is that really a principle a fair justice system should embrace? No.
- Because David Gregory is a “good” journalist with the “right” ideas? James O’Keefe, after one of his attempted stings, was prosecuted by Louisiana authorities for breaking and entering. Nobody thought O’Keefe was engaged in a burglary; it was a media stunt. When you break the law while engaging in a media stunt, you get prosecuted…unless you are David Gregory?
- Because he thought he had a good reason to break the law? That has never been an accepted justification for law breaking. What criminal doesn’t think he has a good reason to violate laws? And Gregory doesn’t even have access to the favorite rationalization of law-breakers, “it’s a stupid law.” Gregory doesn’t think the law he broke, the tough D.C. law against high capacity magazines, is stupid. He wants more such laws. He just thinks, apparently, that they shouldn’t apply to him.
- Because he didn’t know he was breaking the law? The evidence now indicates that he did, but it doesn’t matter: citizens are presumed to know the laws where they live and work, and to abide by them. Courts follow the maxim, so old that it is often written in Latin, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
- Because he didn’t mean any harm? Seriously, Greta? A lawyer is really making the argument that laws shouldn’t be enforced against violators as long as they don’t mean any harm? When did that become the policy of the justice system? Never.
Van Susteren (and many others who have expressed the same view, including the Daily Beast’s supposed journalistic ethics guru Howard Kurtz and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page) is dead wrong. It is not only not silly for Gregory to be prosecuted, but crucial. A society must not have classes and occupations that get to break laws that less privileged citizens may not. Such a concept creates a legal system and a culture without fairness or integrity, one that cannot be trusted. News organizations may not adopt scofflaw behavior as tools of the trade. The First Amendment holds that they can say and write whatever they choose, not that they can do whatever they choose. The presumptuousness and arrogance, not to mention inconsistent reasoning, of Gregory and his defenders are alarming, and cry out for an abject lesson. He has rejected the ethical standards of his profession to become a policy advocate, stumping self-righteously for tougher gun laws and tougher enforcement of current gun laws. While doing so, he willfully and knowingly defied the very laws he advocated, presuming that they didn’t apply to him, and believing that they shouldn’t apply to him.
Who does he think he is?
This is not, as the liberal defenders of Gregory would have it, an attempted “gotcha” sprung by the Right on an over-zealous NRA foe. This incident should be non-partisan and non-ideological. It poses the question of whether laws ought to apply to all, including self-anointed privileged journalists in the process of refusing to act ethically and responsibly. The answer to that question is yes. If David Gregory had integrity, he would turn himself in, demonstrating that he can “walk the walk.” He thinks law-abiding citizens should be subjected to tougher gun laws because crazy people steal guns and murder the helpless? Fine. He should be willing to make an example of himself.
I don’t think he’ll do it.
He’s too busy driving the train wreck.
Graphic: Christian Science Monitor
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