NBC attack on Remington Arms Company glosses over key facts

by Jim Shepherd

Reasonable doubt is a powerful thing. In a court of law, reasonable doubt is enough to compel a jury to issue a not guilty verdict. In the court of public opinion, however, reasonable doubt is enough to lead to a predisposition of guilt.

That is a powerful distinction. It's a distinction not lost on the television professionals at NBC News. That distinction, coupled with a determination to defend the division from a charge of repeatedly pushing a bias, and the ability to always have the last word is generally enough to deflect all but the most dedicated critics.

Remington Arms Company, Freedom Group, Inc. and, ultimately, Cerberus Capital, are decidedly not the average critics of television news. Collectively, they have the resources to go toe-to-toe with NBC News. They also have a strong motivation to refuse to allow the inference from investigative reports first aired in 2010 and expanded in last night's Rock Center with Brian Williams that they've put more than 25 million firearms into the marketplace over decades to stand.

That motivation? Along with the assets, history and heritage of any firearms company comes the liability for all the weapons that company has produced. If you're a long-established company like Remington, that's a ton of liability.

In Wednesday's report, NBC began their lengthy report on Remington's allegedly faulty trigger system with a question: "Is there a design defect....?" Starting a report with a question can be used to introduce something innocuous (Do you know who sold even more records than Elvis in England after WWII?) or to help "shape" a conclusion.

So, too, is the concept of glossing over something that might be important.

Repeatedly it was stated- although not emphasized- that several of the victims of accidental discharges of a variety of Remington firearms had admittedly violated basic rules for the safe handling of firearms. Propping a loaded gun against a vehicle is always a no-no. So, too, is cleaning or handling any firearm without verifying - visually and physically- that is unloaded. To ignore those rules is to invite disaster.

And not keeping a working firearm clean is an open invitation to all sorts of grunge to work its way into critical components. That can compromise the workings to the point that a sharp blow - like from dropping the gun into the bottom of a boat- can lead to an accidental (negligent?) discharge.

And the repeated asking of rhetorical questions (is there, could some guns have flaws) is another way to drive home that reasonable doubt - and cover one's collective rump by couching veiled conclusions. That's essential to showing objectivity -and demonstrating an absence of malice. Malice is essential in a lawsuit seeking damages. And charging a major manufacturer with knowingly selling dangerous products is virtually certain to bring work to the attorneys in the legal department. In the news business it's not unusual to hear a reporter, producer or editor that a story has been neutered or watered-down by the legal department's demands that inferences be toned-down.

Last night's report did introduce a current expert user of Remington shotguns -including those models alleged to be unsafe. He flatly stated that he'd never seen any of the problems claimed in the report. He also said he thought there was no outcry in the firearms community about the Remington guns because the claims were overblown.

But emotion will trump facts in the court of public opinion. A dispassionate "expert" doesn't carry as much weight as a roll-call of wounded faces, missing fingers and the grave of a wife killed in what her husband says was an unfortunate accident.

And a final in-studio "bit" with the reporter who had "worked for months" on the case gave the always-valuable last word. NBC took advantage of that opportunity to make it known to their viewers that Remington - "even before our report aired"- issued a statement taking exception with the report. Further, Remington had even put up a website to refute the reports. Inference? Not the actions of a company with nothing to hide.

As I watched last night, I tried to be a dispassionate former TV news guy, not a publisher whose business looks to gun companies for a large part of his revenues. What I've written here is what I saw as a TV producer, not a "gun guy."

There were serious questions raised, but not all of them were obvious or, I'd imagine, intentional.

Republished from The Outdoor Wire.

Related Articles:
Remington Fires First Shot in Round Two of NBC War

Headline: Remington Arms Company threatens to pull plant out of New York in response to Bloomy-backed gun bill

Editor's Note: to get more on Remington's response to NBC's reporting, visit www.RespectRemington.tv.

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