The hottest trend these days among mainstream media-types is to publish names and addresses of people who have concealed-carry permits. WRAL and a newspaper in NY tried it — and got burned. The blowback on those two media outlets included dropped advertising and subscriptions, as well as a lot of verbal abuse from angry viewers and readers.
A newspaper in western North Carolina recently tried to follow in WRAL’s footsteps. They faced the same kind of blowback that WRAL and the NY paper were treated to. The MSM establishment is starting to get a wee bit indignant about the little people daring to fight back against their tactics:
On February 19, Robert Horne, editor of the small-town Cherokee Scout in Murphy, North Carolina, wrote to his county sheriff with an open records request: “Under NC Public Records Law, G.S. 132-1, I am requesting a list of all Cherokee County residents who applied for/and or have received a concealed carry permit.” Horne’s letter did not detail what the newspaper intended to do with the information, except to say that it was not “being sought for commercial purposes.” That same day, Sheriff Keith Lovin wrote back denying Horne’s request, disputing that the information was public record.
The next day, Horne wrote to Lovin repeating his request, noting he had spoken with a NC press association attorney who assured him the records are public, observing that the request came as state lawmakers are debating whether to exempt such information from open records laws, and “respectfully urg[ing]” the sheriff to “follow the state’s open records law and release the information.” But after the sheriff posted the correspondence between the paper and the department on its Facebook page, things got hairy for the Scout.
On February 21, Horne and Scout publisher David Brown published a letter to readersdescribing being threatened by “near-hysterical residents as a result of the sheriff’s actions.” They went on to explain that the paper “never had any desire nor intention to publish any names of any person carrying a concealed weapon,” but thought “it might be revealing to share, for example, how many residents in a specific area had gun permits.” And while Brown and Horne also accused Sheriff Lovin of “breaking the law” by denying the paper’s request, and went on to say how newspapers “must be vigilant in maintaining the public’s right to know,” they announced the paper was “retracting” its request and dropping the issue with the sheriff’s department.
The next day, Brown published another “Note to Readers”. This one had a much different tone. In it, Brown apologized for what he called the paper’s “tremendous error in judgment,” without being specific. Brown wrote that his newspaper had “never meant to offend the wonderful people of this fine community,” and added that Sheriff Lovin had the interests of county residents at heart when he denied the paper’s records request. Brown also apologized to the sheriff personally.
Though news of the back-and-forth hit the local TV news days ago, it didn’t flare up in national media until yesterday. The criticism came hard.
Blogger Jim Romenesko on Monday called Brown’s February 22nd note to readers the “most incredible newspaper apology ever.” The Philadelphia Daily News’s Will Bunch dubbed Murphy, NC “Where American Journalism Went to Die.”
Asked to comment for this story, Brown—the Scout’s publisher who has run a column on the First Amendment for years—indicated he probably wasn’t in the right mindset to give a response.
“Everything’s still pretty raw right now,” he told CJR. “Anything I might say would only add fuel to the fire.”
The owner of radio station WKRK 1320 AM in Cherokee County addressed on Facebook how the saga had rocked the little mountain town:
This week, citizens of our community became upset because of an issue between the local newspaper and sheriff’s office regarding privacy rights vs public record. Social media ‘blew up’ with protests, threats and pronouncements of a boycott.
The Cherokee Scout isn’t the first American newspaper to find itself in the crosshairs for its handling of public information about individual gun owners. In December, The Journal News in White Plains, New York faced a scorching backlash from gun owners after it published names and addresses of residents who had gun permits. The public outcry was so toxic armed guards had to protect the paper’s headquarters.
“After the backlash over the same issue in the state of New York, these idiots should have known what the citizens’ reactions would be,” wrote a commenter, about the Scout, in an online forum for North Carolina gun owners.
Wow. A business does something that really ticks off a majority of consumers in its target market. As a result, those angry consumers express their feelings in an overt, lawful way that hits the business where it hurts most. And these consumers are the bad actors ???
The business’s management apologizes to the offended populace and tries to make amends. Sounds like the free market in action. Keep your customers happy, and the demand (and cash) keeps growing.
This writer neglects to mention that the armed guards approach by the NY newspaper was found to be a bit of an overreach. Nothing happened that justified that action. The writer also goes on to suggest that the media has to do stuff like this because of all of those corrupt county sheriffs in our great state:
There is additional context for this story in this part of the country, though, that also bears repeating here: the rocky relationship between media and county sheriffs.
Cecil Bothwell is an ex-reporter for the Mountain Xpress, an alt-weekly paper in Western North Carolina, who aggressively reported on his county sheriff, Bobby Medford, for years. A judge in 2008 sentenced the sheriff to 15 years in prison on public corruption and extortion charges. In North Carolina, Bothwell says, county sheriffs can be the most powerful elected officials in an area and are virtually beholden to no upper authority.
Actually, that’s not true. District attorneys can remove sheriffs from office. The SBI can investigate misconduct allegations against sheriffs and even press charges. Read On:
Now an Asheville city councilman, Bothwell says intimidation and threats were common during his reporting on the sheriff. Vans with dark windows would park outside the houses of newspaper staffers at night. Two deputies had told Bothwell off the record the sheriff said he was going to “take care” of him. He took to wearing somewhat of a disguise when reporting in the field, and borrowing a friend’s car.
“Nothing ever came of it,” Bothwell told me. “It was scary for a while.”
Nothing ever came of it. So, we’re making our case in this article with what basically amounts to small town gossip. It’s likely the deputies were toying with — or teasing — Bothwell, a well-known lefty gadfly. I am a former small town newspaper reporter who put heat on our county sheriff — who eventually got convicted on corruption charges in federal court. I heard rumors, too, that I might get myself injured while “resisting arrest.” Like the Bothwell case, NOTHING ever happened. More:
Margaret Williams, news editor of the Mountain Xpress, told me this about the Cherokee Scout and the national criticism it has drawn:
I doubt it’s fair for fellow journalists to judge Cherokee Scout publisher David Brown so harshly. Few people likely know the whole story, and…this is not a case that’s limited to the Deep South. Even in this day and age, Cherokee County and the Murphy/Andrews area is a fairly remote, insulated rural area. More worrisome is what the sheriff’s reaction says about the state of law enforcement and the understanding about public-records law.
North Carolina’s concealed weapons permitting program has been covered in other state and national media—offering more context for reporters, commentators or anyone following this story.
According to Raleigh TV news station WRAL, “Roughly 3 percent of North Carolina’s 9.6 million residents hold a concealed weapons permit, a number that is small but on the rise,” with rural areas of the state leading in numbers of permit holders.
And WHAT, pray tell, does that have to do with the cost of tea in China? Why is that a problem? More:
In late December The New York Times examined North Carolina’s concealed carry program. Per the Times:
More than 2,400 permit holders were convicted of felonies or misdemeanors, excluding traffic-related crimes, over the five-year period, The Times found when it compared databases of recent criminal court cases and licensees. While the figure represents a small percentage of those with permits, more than 200 were convicted of felonies, including at least 10 who committed murder or manslaughter. All but two of the killers used a gun.
Ahhhhh. If you want to really know what’s going on in North Carolina, turn to The New York Times. (The aforementioned Mr. Bunch was wrong about journalism dying in Murphy. It started happening A LONG TIME AGO at The NYT. Seen those circulation numbers lately? The paywall on the web site? The layoffs in the newsroom?)
Something this Times excerpt doesn’t address: Were those convictions BEFORE or AFTER the permits were issued?
I hate to break it to the MSM, but criminals DO NOT typically follow government procedure and go to the cops to get the proper permits. Let’s look at where some of the worst violent crimes tend to happen. Cities with strict gun control laws on the books. Locations that are overtly designated “gun-free.” Victims tend to be — more likely than not — children, petite women or senior citizens. Easy targets.
How likely are you to start shooting up a place, if there is the likelihood that a dozen or so folks in said place have loaded, concealed weapons ready to be used? This tactic by the media is despicable. Seeking these names and publishing them is nothing more than a way to intimidate these folks who are merely following the law, putting their constitutional rights in practice, and protecting themselves and their families.