There've been a lot of new lows in American journalism lately -- take the whining of the White House press corps over their lack of ability to meet their yelling, celebrity-obsessed editors demands for pictures of President Obama playing golf with Tiger Woods, but not over White House secrecy on drone strikes. But now we've hit a new bottom. It came out that a small paper in North Carolina had the temerity to ask a local sheriff for PUBLIC information about gun permits -- and word leaked out about the request.
The publisher, David Brown, when he wasn't busy driving over his editor with a bus, issued this embarrassing, snivling apology:
As publisher of your local newspaper, I want to apologize to everyone we unintentionally upset with our public records request for a list of those who have or have applied for a concealed carry permit. We had no idea the the reaction it would cause.
Sheriff Keith Lovin had the best interests of the people of Cherokee County at heart when he denied our request. The Scout would like to offer an apology to him as well.
To that end, Editor Robert Horne spoke with Lovin on Friday morning to tell him we were withdrawing our public records request. He asked for a written copy of request, and Horne dropped it off at his office that morning.
While Horne was on the phone with the sheriff, he also thanked him and his staff for their quick response when some people who saw Facebook posts started making personal threats against him
So let's think about that -- the publisher is apologizing to the people who made threats against one of his employees. How low can you go? Now, a couple of things about this.
One -- the public's right to know is exactly that...a right, certainly as important to a free and open society as the right to bear arms, arguably more so. But we all know that those rights -- information...or guns -- bring responsibilities as well. It infuriates me that the hometown newspaper of my youth -- the Journal News of Westchester County, N.Y. -- abused its responsibility by publishing a map of all permitted gun owners in its circulation area. That didn't serve the public interest; in fact, it harmed the people's right-to-know by inspiring a new push to restrict information.
How do we use public information responsibly? Let's use a less contentious issue than guns -- home mortgages. You probably know this, but along with other home ownership data, information about a homeowner's mortgage -- how much is owed, which bank, sometimes the terms as well -- is public information. But if your hometown paper published a map that said, "Find out how much your neighbor owes the bank!" -- that would be legal, but stupid.
So why make the data public at all? Nearly 10 years ago, I was part of a Daily News team that investigated corruption under Philadelphia Mayor John Street. There were questions about the mayor's ties to Commerce Bank, and I used that data -- and some other reporting -- to show how the mayor asked Commerce to refinance the mayor's mortgage the same time the bank was lobbying him for city business. The public had a right to know that. The same can be true with gun data: When one of our many, many mass shootings occur, people want to know where the killer got his guns. Sometimes this data helps the public find out.
Which is why alleged publisher David Brown is the worst person in American journalism...at this moment. Use information responsibly, for sure, but you need to be a pitbull for the public's right to basic information. If a newspaper publisher won't defend the 1st Amendment rights of a free media, then America is doomed. Get out of the business...now.