Cleveland Plain Dealer admits anti-gun editorial error; Has refused to correct past mistakes
On December 11, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published an editorial calling for Gov. John Kasich to veto HB 228 on the grounds that it upends "the longstanding legal requirement in every state of the union that someone claiming they shot in self-defense show by a preponderance of the evidence that they were justified in believing that."
The problem? The truth is that the longstanding legal requirement in this country is that citizens should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and Ohio is the ONLY state in the Union that puts the burden of proof on the accused instead of on the prosecution.
To understand how unfair the current law really is, consider this explanation from Andrew Branca, an attorney writing at LegalInsurrection.com:
In forty-nine states, all but Ohio, once a defendant has raised the legal defense of self-defense it becomes the responsibility of the prosecution to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. There's not [an] accepted mathematical figure for how much evidence constitutes "beyond a reasonable doubt," but it is an overwhelming majority of the evidence. For purposes of illustration let's pretend it means 90% of the evidence. So to defeat self-defense in 49 states, the prosecution must come up with 90% of the evidence in its favor.
In Ohio, on the other hand, once a defendant has raised the legal defense of self-defense it remains the defendant's obligation to prove self-defense by a preponderance of the evidence. For purposes of illustration, let's pretend that means simply 51% of the evidence. Of course, as a practical matter if the defense must prove self-defense by 51%, that’s just another way of saying the prosecution needs to disprove self-defense by 50% – just enough to deny the defense it’s 51%. If the prosecution can disprove self-defense by even 50% of the evidence they’ve prevented the defense from meeting it’s obligation, and the claim of self-defense fails.
In other words, Ohio law clearly discriminates against victims of violence who chose to defend themselves. No other state in the country does this. Yet the Plain Dealer spent two-thirds of their editorial arguing that the bill should be vetoed on the grounds that it would make Ohio an outlier among the 50 states.
The newspaper was, no doubt, notified of their egregious error, and, three days later, the editorial board issued a second editorial, still calling for a veto, while admitting that "one of the reasons we cited for opposing the bill in an editorial this week was erroneous: While HB 228 if enacted would shift the burden of proof in Ohio to prosecutors when self-defense is claimed, that would not make Ohio an outlier among the 50 states. Quite the reverse: Ohio appears to be the only state that still hews to old common law standards by putting the burden on defendants who raise affirmative self-defense claims to show by a preponderance of the evidence that they were acting in self-defense."
Got that? According to the Plain Dealer, the governor should still veto the bill even though two-thirds of their original editorial explaining why was completely bogus.
Interestingly, one of their only two remaining reasons for opposition to HB 228 deals with something the newspaper editorialized in favor of, back on August 7, 2006 - a portion of a bill (now Ohio law) that sought to make our gun laws uniform across the state.
That's right - back in 2006, when legislators were debating over HB 347 (the last pro-gun bill to have suffered a gubernatorial veto only to become law after a veto-override), the Plain Dealer actually editorialized in favor of a portion of the bill that sought to make our gun laws uniform across the state. From the August 7, 2006 editorial:
This page continues to look skeptically on concealed carry, but consistency in the form of statewide, uniform standards makes more sense than a confusing patchwork of local contradictions.
Less than four months later, however, Plain Dealer editors reversed themselves (without noting or explaining the reversal).
When I contacted the newspaper about the contradiction, the newspaper's deputy editorial director tried to claim that something had been changed in the bill. When I proved that it had not, the newspaper ultimately refused to acknowledge the contradiction or issue a correction.
Believe it or not, even this 2006 example is not the only time Plain Dealer editors have let their disdain for the Second Amendment get in the way of their ability to report things factually, nor was it their first time writing erroneously on HB 347.
In 2005 the Plain Dealer published an editorial opposing HB 347 that contained multiple factual errors which were given as reasons for opposing the bill. It took three weeks and multiple phone calls and emails from this author, but the Plain Dealer eventually published a correction - after admitting they don't actually read legislation before they editorialize.
In 2013, the Plain Dealer reported on a proposed Cleveland City Councilman resolution to oppose HB 203, a bill which sought to improve Ohio's background check system for concealed handgun license (CHL) applicants, move Ohio to an automatic reciprocity system, update the requirements and disqualifications to obtain an CHL, change the 12 hour training requirement to obtain a CHL, and remove the duty to retreat from Ohio's self-defense law.
In the article, the resolution's sponsor spoke of "another portion of the bill that would allow concealed gun permit holders into bars provided they do not consume alcohol." But there was no such language in the bill, since that question had been settled by the Ohio legislature more than two years prior. The Plain Dealer article said nothing of the error, even though the reporter had spoken to a Buckeye Firearms Association representative before publishing, and was informed that it was already legal to carry in a bar.
In that case, the Plain Dealer eventually promised to issue a correction, but only after having been contacted about the error by MediaTrackers.org.
It is clear from these examples that the folks at the Plain Dealer have been allowing their bias against the Second Amendment to cloud their ability to give fair and accurate reports on the subject since long-before the invention of the term #FakeNews. Keep that in mind the next time you read a Plain Dealer article or editorial.
Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary and an NRA-certified firearms instructor. He is co-founder of BFA-PAC, and served as its Vice Chairman for 15 years. He is the editor of BuckeyeFirearms.org, which received the Outdoor Writers of Ohio 2013 Supporting Member Award for Best Website.