January 10, 2013

(Ralph D. Freso / Reuters)

The New York Times doesn’t see a lot for its audience in the dramatic events that occurred last Friday in a suburban Atlanta home. A man used a crowbar to break into a large home in Loganville, Ga., ostensibly with the intent to burglarize the residence. Yet according to a local TV station, the man turned his attention to the mom and the twin 9-year-olds inside. The incident ended as the mother, Melinda Herman, shot the man several times; he fled and was arrested.

Sam Sifton, the national editor of the New York Times, has to make calls on such stories all the time. The considerations here, he says, stack up like this:

Man breaks into a home in a small Georgia city and the woman who lives there shoots him, he leaves and is arrested? That is a short news story in the local papers. I am not sure it is something we would dispatch a reporter to cover, however awful it must have been for the woman, and painful for the intruder.

Bolded text added to highlight a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that fits Sifton’s description.

Yet these are not normal times for journalism on guns and home invasions. The Associated Press, for instance, might not have normally devoted nearly 700 words to the story. It did in this case, however — in large part because the NRA has been promoting the story. “NRA Touts Mother Who Shot Intruder As Gun Control Debate Heats Up” reads the headline of an AP story on the matter at the Huffington Post.

 

As well it should. No matter what your take on the utility of guns in protecting or endangering the home, the 911 tape in the Loganville incident unspools like an NRA handbook. The invader, after all, happens upon the residence after Herman had received instruction in the use of a gun from her husband. The 911 tape records him coaching his wife — who’s on another phone — through these tense moments. “Just remember everything that I showed you, everything I taught you, all right,” he tells her, before issuing these instructions as Herman faces the intruder: “Shoot him again!! Shoot him!!” the husband eventually instructs her.

CBSNews.com saw enough in the clash to write it up, as did NBCNews.com.
Fox News, though, has nearly outdone the NRA in terms of pushing the story. The violent encounter has gotten a huge spin across the network’s programs, with a big assist from Atlanta-based Fox News reporter Elizabeth Prann. This morning, on “America’s Newsroom,” Prann gave a perfectly professional and neutral account of the goings-on. The program then segued into a bilateral panel discussion with Fox News contributors Doug Schoen and Monica Crowley, moderated by host Martha MacCallum.
An interesting discussion unfolded, one that had to have pleased the NRA. After all, the discussion leader, MacCallum, said these things, among other remarks supportive of the association:

Incredible story … The NRA is drawing new attention to this story as an example of how guns can protect citizens.

What a story. If you were going to craft a scenario where you would make a good argument for someone having a gun…

 

One of the problems with this dialogue is that is has dissolved into this sort of frenzy. You’ve got places like Gawker and this Journal News printing the names and addresses in some cases of people who are legal gun owners in these different communities. I mean, that gets us away … where is this leading?

 

You can’t help but be struck by the fact that because she had a gun, she was able to protect herself and her family. That’s the fact, regardless of how you feel about guns and homes, that is the fact. And when you look back at Adam Lanza … the only thing that stopped him from emptying that gun and those bullets into more children was that he saw a policeman coming towards him with a gun. That’s what stopped him; that’s what changed the dynamic in Newtown that morning.

There are plenty of folks out there in Polemicaland who would have challenged MacCallum’s contentions — who would have drawn attention to gun-assisted suicides and gun-related accidents in homes. But such folks weren’t on this particular panel.
Nor is that a journalistic felony: Not every panel discussion can feature opposing views on every issue. What MacCallum’s discussion reflects, however, is a truth about daytime programming on Fox News. The network’s big shots, including powerful host Bill O’Reilly, revel in claims that the 9-to-4 lineup is “hard news” that complies with the network’s well-worn slogan. It doesn’t.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.