The Sound of Ignorance is Deafening - Why a reporter’s stupid question is important
Recent events in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri have captured the nation’s attention. Violent protests, looting, police deploying with armored vehicles, teargas, and military-style weapons and uniforms, all spurred by the fatal shooting of a young man in the middle of a busy street in the middle of the day. Reporters have flocked to the area, as have professional rabble-rousers like Al Sharpton. The situation has been tense and the reporting has been dramatic; tending to be long on speculation, rumor, and hype, while lacking much in the way of solid information or useful facts. Reporters have become an integral part of the story as freedom of the press has clashed with police demands for obedience.
Many questions have been raised by these events, and hopefully we can soon start finding some answers; about the shooting, the response, and the role the media plays in calming or exacerbating these situations.
I’m not going to try to answer any of those questions here beyond saying that I feel the violence and looting are inexcusable, as is the excessive, authoritarian reaction of police, and the sloppy, sensationalizing of the media. What I do want to talk about is a very minor side-note that came out of this story a few days ago, and why this small detail should be looked at and taken
What I’m talking about is a Twitter post from Huffington Post reporter, Ryan J. Reilly:
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 17, 2014
I called my 7-year old grandson, Tyree, in from playing outside. I showed him the picture and asked him what the things were. He immediate responded “Earplugs.” When I tol him that a reporter had thought they might be rubber bullets, my grandson said “Really? What’s wrong with that guy?”
Obviously this was just a stupid mistake made by a reporter unfamiliar with these types of earplugs. Many people have had a great laugh at this poor guy’s expense, and it has been an ongoing source of embarrassment and frustration for him – and rightly so. If a 7-year old can identify earplugs from a photo, why can’t a bona fide reporter recognize them in real life? Granted, my grandson is exceptional in every way, but the fact is it’s not superior intellect or critical thinking skills that allowed him to identify these things, it’s experience. Ty has been to the range with me. He’s watched me shoot, and he’s fired a .22 rifle himself. Along with other safety rules, Ty has been taught the importance of protecting his eyes and ears when shooting. The point is, Ty recognized the earplugs because he’s familiar with them. More importantly, the reporter didn’t recognize them because he was unfamiliar with them. Why is someone who doesn’t know the difference between earplugs and bullets being paid to cover police actions in Missouri? Why is it acceptable and routine for reporters to write about which they know absolutely nothing?
Over the years I have given many examples of politicians saying silly things about guns out of sheer ignorance or intentional deception. The hit-parade includes Rep. Carolyn McCarthy’s (D-NY) babbling claim that she thinks a barrel shroud (something she identified as a feature of guns she wants to ban) is “the shoulder thing that goes up...”, Rep. Dianne DeGette’s (D-CO) claim that magazines can’t be reused and that by illegalizing future manufacture and sale of “high-capacity” magazines, gun owners would eventually shoot them all up, and the ultimate in ignorant diatribes from California State Senator Kevin DeLeon in his press conference rant about “Ghost Guns” and their ability to empty “a 30-magazine clip in half a second.”
It’s not surprising that politicians might be ignorant about guns – even guns that they are writing legislation about – because politicians do that sort of thing. To them it’s just another political issue. What’s frustrating and inexcusable is that when politicians say patently ignorant or untrue things about firearms, and reporters don’t call them on it, but instead just repeat the nonsense without question or correction. When gun owners point out the inaccuracies and errors, reporters usually ignore our comments or actively dismiss them as irrelevant.
If a politician makes an erroneous statement on almost any other subject, reporters will at least question it – unless they are operating under their own political motives. When it comes to guns, the combination of political predisposition, along with an inordinate level of ignorance on the subject, means reporters almost never get the facts straight - and there is no excuse for it. There are numerous online guides specifically designed for writers and reporters to educate them about firearms and firearms related issues. There are also dozens of knowledgeable people like me who are more than happy to answer questions to help reporters understand technical, legal, and political issues surrounding our issue.
Ryan Reilly’s mistake of thinking earplugs were rubber bullets is symptomatic of a widespread failing among professional journalists – a failing that they show no inclination to correct. I’m a columnist. I’m supposed to come at issues with an opinion and advocate a viewpoint. Reporters are supposed to provide unbiased and accurate information about events. Intentional distortion and willful ignorance about the subjects they’re covering is inexcusable.
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