Media Watch: The Sharyl Attkisson approach
Via the Raleigh News and Observer: (bolded emphasis added by me):
The debate over guns often sparks raw emotion and lays down a sharp dividing line, but for a Raleigh TV station, it has become personal and financial.
In response to a WRAL report on concealed-weapons permits that included a searchable database, a North Carolina gun-rights organization has launched a campaign against the reporter and his supervisors and applied pressure to the station’s advertisers.
The incident demonstrates the prickliness of examining gun-related issues even before the shooting in Colorado stirred fresh debate. It also exposes tensions that can arise between advocates of the First Amendment and its protections of free speech and supporters of the Second Amendment with its right to bear arms.
Grass Roots North Carolina, described on its website as “North Carolina’s only ‘no compromise’ gun rights organization,” has not quieted its campaign against WRAL in the wake of the killings at the Aurora, Colo., movie theater.
Paul Valone, the organization’s president, said the group has a long-standing policy that it will take economic action against any media outlet that divulges information about gun owners that group members think should remain private.
Valone first urged WRAL to take down the database that allows users to find out if people who live nearby have gun permits. A searcher looking at a particular town or city will see the streets where gun-permit holders live but won’t see the name or specific address of the permit holder.
When their effort to have the site taken down failed, Valone turned to his organization’s email alert network, urging more than 50,000 people on the list to deliver a message to Mark Binker, the multimedia investigative reporter who posted the information, his bosses and the station’s advertisers.
What has WRAL’s response been?
Steve Hammel, WRAL-TV vice president and general manager, said his news outlet published no information that was not already available to the public when it posted its July 12 report on concealed-weapons permit holders.
“We’ve released public records that anyone out there can easily obtain,” Hammel said.
Hammel used the incident as an opportunity to opine on the First Amendment and Second Amendment, saying they carried equal weight.
“Both are vital,” Hammel said in a July 20 post. “Both make this a great country.”
Hammel batted back accusations that the news organization was trying to take away guns, change gun laws, attack the Second Amendment or render judgment on the lawfulness of those who carry concealed guns.
The targeted complaints, Hammel said, were unlikely to make the organization back away from an issue.
“As far as we’re concerned, it creates the opposite effect,” Hammel said. “We have the resolve to report news.”
In other words, WRAL doesn’t give a d*mn about their irresponsibility in making readily available to any criminal out there a “searchable” database of neighborhoods where CCW permit holders reside. To WRAL, this is all about defiantly pushing back against people – mostly conservatives, I’m sure – who don’t like having their privacy rights violated by an anti-2nd Amendment agenda-driven mainstream media news outlet that is invoking the First Amendment in defense of their actions. Some might think, “Hey, this is great – they can’t see the names of people in the neighborhoods but a criminal searching this database will know where they shouldn’t go.” Problem is it makes it easy for criminals to find soft target neighborhoods where they are less likely to be confronted by a gun owner. I’m sure this wasn’t the intent of WRAL but nevertheless that’s a potentially dangerous & devastating consequence of their attempt at scaring the public both with their article and their searchable database.
As far as Hammel’s assertion that this database was “easily obtainable” – if so, why didn’t the article link directly to the state database itself rather than creating their own? I’m not 100% sure about this, but I’ve heard you have to get permission from the SBI to access those records in the first place, but even if you didn’t, a mere Google search does not automatically connect you to a CCW permit holder database for NC – outside of the one posted on the WRAL website.
If you’re upset that WRAL would make this information readily available to its viewers and readers, please contact them using this information. I know this issue has angered a lot of people, but please remember to be respectful but firm in your communications. If you have a Twitter account, let them know there as well using @WRAL and @Binker. Even if they continue to thumb their noses at concerned citizens by still refusing to pull the database from their website, they still need to know how upset North Carolinians are that they would find it acceptable to publish this information in the first place.