January 16, 2013

No accountability-minded journalist can resist the latest from James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, a 10-minute video in which O’Keefe’s troops pose as peace-loving gun opponents. They knock on the doors of journalists from the Journal News – among other folks — with a simple request: Would you mind if we put our sign saying, “This Home is Proudly Gun-Free”? They advertise themselves as adherents to the group “Citizens against Senseless Violence.”

The stunt has a devilish appeal in light of the Journal News’s pre-Christmas publication of the names and addresses of gun permit holders in Rockland and Westchester counties. As a study on the state of Tennessee concluded, such a move has the potential to push burglaries to homes where the perps have reason to believe that there are not gun owners.

The Journal News has embraced the principle that the names and addresses are public, should be public and serve a public need.

And it’s precisely that sentiment that O’Keefe was looking to probe with his undercover band of polite and cheery anti-gun activists. “I wanted to test the courage of their convictions,” says O’Keefe. “I found it to be duplicitous, because they are advocating printing the names of gun owners and unwilling to advertise themselves as not being gun owners.” That’s for sure: The journalists confronted by the Project Veritas operatives weren’t eager to plant a no-gun-here sign in front of their homes. Example: In response to an appeal to place one of those bad boys on the front door of his building, MSNBC host Toure demurs after saying he’d have to consult with his fellow building occupants.

There’s a slight conceptual problem with the mission of Project Veritas vis-a-vis the Journal News project. By virtue of having published the gun-permit databases, newspaper leaders who live in those communities and don’t own guns have already shown the courage of their convictions. That is, they’ve outed themselves as non-gun permit holders, and it’s not unreasonable that they’d refuse a more prominent advertisement of such. O’Keefe sees the matter differently. “That’s why it would be philosophically consistent for them to be willing to post signs,” he says.

Of all the encounters in the video, O’Keefe is particularly proud of the Toure dialogue, which unspools over the building intercom. “Toure demanded on air to know who has and who does not have a gun,” says O’Keefe. In another telling moment, says O’Keefe, Newark Star-Ledger columnist Bob Braun tells the troops, “I’m just wondering if that’s not an invitation to somebody with a gun.” O’Keefe: “He was providing a justification for more guns. This is the contradiction that we exposed.”

The Erik Wemple Blog, which covers media issues, will leave the gun-control arguments to other blogs.

However, one dynamic that the O’Keefe outing surely does expose is the Journal News’s own hypocrisy. When the band of allegedly anti-gun activists alights on the home of one Journal News editor, it engages in a short discussion with a security guard. They go back and forth about the signs. The guard, representing the thinking of Journal News leaders, says this: “They want this all to go away. They don’t want to publicize it any further than it already is.”

Well said.

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