January 29, 2013

(Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

The scandalous story of gun-rights proponents heckling the father of a child who was killed in Newtown first came to me this morning over Twitter. Wow, I said to myself—that’s way out of hand.

So I clicked on the link, expecting the worst. The title of the story on Huffington Post was this: “Neil Heslin, Father Of Newtown Victim, Heckled By Pro-Gun Activists.”

At issue was the testimony of Heslin before the Gun Violence Prevention Working Group at a legislative hearing in Hartford, Conn. Watch the video below.

During the relevant part of Heslin’s testimony, this happens (see 14:40):

Heslin: I don’t know how many people have young children or children. But just try putting yourself in the place that I’m in or these other parents that are here. Having a child that you lost. It’s not a good feeling; Not a good feeling to look at your child laying in a casket or looking at your child with a bullet wound to the forehead. I ask if there’s anybody in this room that can give me one reason or challenge this question: Why anybody in this room needs to have an, one of these assault-style weapons or military weapons or high-capacity clips…..Not one person can answer that question.”

Crowd/Alleged Hecklers: ”Second Amendment shall not be infringed”

Public official: “Please no comments while Mr. Heslin is speaking. Or we’ll clear the room. Mr. Heslin please continue.”

Man invites comment from audience; audience replies with comment; man comes away unperturbed. Does that qualify as a moment of heckling? Have a look at the definition of the term: “Interrupt (a public speaker) with derisive or aggressive comments or abuse.”

Since Heslin invited feedback, the audience response cannot qualify as an interruption. On that front alone, there is simply no heckling here. And there’s further evidence: After the back and forth, Heslin didn’t appear one bit bothered by the interaction. He said, “Anyway, we’re all entitled to our own opinion, and I respect their opinions and thoughts, but I wish they’d respect mine and give it a little bit of thought.”

Michelle Malkin’s Twitter curation site Twitchy has assembled a list of all the outlets that trafficked in the heckling storyline.

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