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Bad journalism

Lauran Neergaard
AP Medical Writer

11 months 29 days 15 hours ago |115 Views | | | Email | Print

In the wake of the horrific mass shooting at Newtown, Conn. in December, which claimed 26 lives including 20 small children, many a grandstanding politician and reactionary media voice has come to the unsubstantiated conclusion that the lawful possession of firearms, guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is to blame.


Apparently in keeping with this shallow brand of knee-jerk analysis, The Journal News, a newspaper serving Westchester and Rockland counties in New York, used its powerful voice to publicly point a finger at legal gun owners in its own readership area.


Under the state’s freedom of information laws, the newspaper was able to obtain a list of all legally permitted handgun owners. The records are a matter of public record. However, it was what the Journal News did with this sensitive information that has caused a nationwide uproar.


In an extreme example of guilt by association and a gross misuse of its public trust, the newspaper chose to publish the entire list of 44,000 handgun permit holders — their names, their addresses, and even an interactive map to aid in locating them.


We are compelled to ask, what legitimate public interest was served by doing so?


The newspaper offered a baffling lack of context or rationale. The terse response issued by the Journal News appears to indicate nothing more than it is a public record, therefore they were entitled to publish it. The real question is not whether they can publish it, but whether they should have published it.


Condemnation has been swift. Outraged citizens and even some respected media observers have been sharply critical. Without any real benefit to the public good, the newspaper’s decision appears gratuitous and sensational at best. At worst, it was irresponsible and possibly dangerous.


The perverse logic of publicly “outing” thousands of law-abiding citizens, including many law enforcement officers and battered women seeking asylum from their would-be tormentors, is difficult to fathom. These people’s property and even their very lives may have been put at risk.


Seeking to exact some revenge, one clever blogger posted the names and addresses of Journal News editorial employees, along with his own interactive map showing where they lived. In response to the public outcry against it, the newspaper saw fit to post an armed guard at its offices. The irony is rich.


A lesson here is that the news media bears a responsibility to balance the publication of sensitive information against the potential harm it may cause. The Journal News failed in this regard.


Distributed by The Associated Press

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