January 11, 2013
This video frame grab image provided by "Meet the Press" shows host David Gregory holding a high-capacity ammunition magazine. (Associated Press/Meet the Press)
This video frame grab image provided by “Meet the Press” shows host David Gregory holding a high-capacity ammunition magazine. (Associated Press/Meet the Press)

NBC News and David Gregory are in the clear: District of Columbia Attorney General Irvin Nathan has declared that he will not proceed with prosecution of the “Meet the Press” host for brandishing a 30-round gun magazine on the Dec. 23 edition of the program. Magazines exceeding a capacity of 10 rounds are illegal in the District.

A telling portion of Nathan’s letter on the Gregory issue scolds NBC News for a “feeble and unsatisfactory” effort at determining whether showing the high-capacity clip on air would comply with D.C. laws. Reports have circulated that NBC News got conflicting information on the legality, another consideration referenced in Nathan’s letter: “Although there appears to have been some misinformation provided initially, NBC was clearly and timely advised by an MPD employee that its plans to exhibit on the broadcast a high capacity-magazine would violate D.C. law, and there was no contrary advice
from any federal official.”

More on this very angle from Nathan to the lawyer representing NBC News and Gregory: “While you argue that some NBC employees subjectively felt uncertain as to whether its planned actions were lawful or not, we do not believe such uncertainty was justified and we note that NBC has now acknowledged that its interpretation of the information it received was incorrect.”

“Meet the Press” hasn’t spoken about the matter in detail. It merely released a statement saying, “We displayed the empty magazine solely for journalistic purposes to help illustrate an important issue for our viewers. We accept the District of Columbia Attorney General’s admonishment, respect his decision and will have no further comment on this matter.”
Given that level of tight-lippedness, it’s hard to determine whether NBC News genuinely thought that it’d fall within legal parameters in simply displaying the magazine; or whether it thought that the police wouldn’t launch an investigation of a mere illegal magazine popping up on a harmless public-affairs TV show; or whether it made a conscious decision to defy the law and roll the dice on the consequences

Whatever the thinking among NBC News execs, the prop worked. Among other things, brandishing the ammo clip:

  • Helped Gregory press National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre on how important it is for the group to oppose further gun regulations;
  • Ignited a controversy that instructed the public on the availability of magazines and the inconsistent laws regulating them from state to state;
  • Gave the media-criticism industrial complex something to chew on during the inter-holiday news slump;
  • Clarified whether there’s a media-elite exemption to gun laws.
Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.