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Letter: Fox News seeking data from DOJ on Ferguson report

Gun-rights supporter John Lott is working with Fox News to acquire the data that went into the Justice Department’s probe of the Ferguson police department, according to a letter from Lott posted on the Facebook page of Ted Nugent, an NRA board member. The letter indicates that the Justice Department has “declined” to cough up the information but that Fox News will “fight” for it. “I believe that the Ferguson report is badly flawed, and the Obama administration’s refusal to let anyone examine their research only heightens my concerns,” notes the letter.

Lott is founder and president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, which studies the “relationship between laws regulating the ownership or use of guns, crime, and public safety.” He’s the author of the controversial book “More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws”; has participated in some loud discussions about gun laws on cable news; and comes in for frequent criticism on the Media Matters site.

In a brief chat with the Erik Wemple Blog, Lott declined to speak about his activities with Fox News or about the letter.

The Justice Department evaluation of the Ferguson Police Department was released in March and issued this finding, among many others: “Ferguson’s approach to law enforcement both reflects and reinforces racial bias, including stereotyping.” The investigation went heavy on data, breaking down the Ferguson’s arrests, citations, summonses and other actions. In many cases, the data that go into the report are identified within its four corners. For example: “Data collected by the Ferguson Police Department from 2012 to 2014 shows that African Americans account for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations, and 93% of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67% of Ferguson’s population,” notes the report.

The Lott-letter-on-Nugent-Facebook-page also claims that Fox News is working on a fresh strain of news coverage relating to guns: “Fox News has agreed to start systematically publishing news stories about mass public shootings that have been stopped by concealed handgun permit holders,” writes Lott. “If you ever see a defensive gun use story, especially one that might involve a permit holder stopping a mass killing, please email me the link to the news story as soon as possible.” Fox News tells us this is not true.

The Fox News website lists Lott as an online columnist, a designation that would place him squarely on the organization’s opinion side. A recent piece by Lott, for instance, came with the title “Vince Vaughn is right about guns (and was brave to be so honest),” an endorsement of the actor’s statement in favor of “people having a gun in public, full stop.”

It’s unclear whether these activities signify that Lott is moving into a more active role with Fox News’s editorial work. John Moody, EVP, Executive Editor of Fox News issued this statement on the matter: “Fox News is not ‘fighting’ for anything. We are requesting that the Justice Department provide the data it used in preparing its report on the Ferguson police. We worked with John Lott, a paid online contributor, to craft our request in a way that did not ask for extraneous or irrelevant data.”

Here’s the official Justice Department line on this matter: “The Civil Rights Division has not received a request from Mr. Lott. The division’s FOIA office has received a request from Fox News. The department declined the request for documents as they related to an ongoing law enforcement proceeding.”