“Banished for Questioning the Gospel of Guns.” So read the front-page headline calculated to shock the naïve and gullible. The article’s shocking revelation: Guns & Ammo has chummy relationships with advertisers and panders to its readers. That, of course, is how things work at all those specialty magazines that are chock-full of ads. Yet as the newspaper that helped elect Barack Obama sees things, there’s a nefarious conspiracy going on involving Guns & Ammo parent company InterMedia Outdoors and malevolent gun manufacturers — all of whom supposedly abhor free speech and will go to appalling lengths to advance an absolutist pro-gun agenda.
What sent The Times into its hand-waving frenzy was Guns & Ammo’s recent firing of long-time columnist Dick Metcalf, who had outraged advertisers and readers with a column titled “Let’s Talk Limits.” It argued that Second Amendment rights were not absolute. “The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be,” Metcalf wrote. “Freedom of speech is regulated. You cannot falsely and deliberately shout, “Fire!” in a crowded theater.”
Personally, I find nothing over the top about this statement, and many readers here would probably agree. But that’s not how Guns & Ammo’s advertisers saw things. They wanted Metcalf out, as did many of Guns & Ammo’s 400,000 readers who “threatened to cancel their subscriptions” and even sent the magazine death threats, according to The Times’ article by reporter Ravi Somaiya. Political fallout over the controversy also caused Guns & Ammo’s editor, Jim Bequette, to announce that he’d speed up his retirement plans and bring his successor on board ahead of schedule.
Yes, it’s all very sad when talented and well-intentioned people lose their jobs due to politics – and one silly mistake. But there’s also nothing to prevent Metcalf and Bequette from going to work for another magazine, one that would perhaps be a better fit for them. Perhaps they could start up their own publication.
Yet as The Times sees things, the shake-up at Guns & Ammo suggests dark forces are thwarting reasonable discussions at gun magazines about Second Amendment issues and, more specifically, that Metcalf’s departure “sheds light on the close-knit world of gun journalism, where editors and reporters say there is little room for nuance in the debate over gun laws. Moderate voices that might broaden the discussion from within are silenced.” But wait a minute: Couldn’t you say something similar about the dearth of people with conservative political opinions in The Times’ newsroom? How many of its reporters and editors are Republicans? Inquiring minds want to know.
Guns & Ammo, of course, operates just like other specialty magazines that depend on advertising dollars. “We take care of those who take care of us,” a publisher at one of the country’s most widely read aviation magazines used to tell his staff, according to a former boss of mine who, earlier in his career, had been one of that magazine’s senior editors. He recalled how the editor-in-chief at the time, a well-known aviation journalist and author, used to write scathing inter-office memos about new airplanes he’d flown, and hated — yet none of those negative critiques ever made it into his published articles, because this would risk losing advertising dollars. I heard these revelations while working as an associate editor at a “Consumer Reports”-type aviation for light-plane pilots: No ads allowed! And without ads, we were free to say whatever passed muster with the magazine’s libel lawyer. The Times, incidentally, described Metcalf, a former history teacher at Yale and Cornell, as “one of the country’s pre-eminent gun journalists.” Yet one example of a gun review by Metcalf on InterMedia Outdoors’ television show has the feel of an informercial; certainly not the type of journalism that would past muster at The Times; and yet The Times essentially puts a halo over Metcalf’s head to support its anti-gun agenda.
None of this is to suggest, to be sure, that magazines like Guns & Ammo write dishonest product reviews; but those reviews will definitely not read quite the same way as they would if done by gun magazines with a no-advertising policy; and nor would Guns & Ammo and other well-managed publications do anything to antagonize readers. By the same token, The Times would be a far different newspaper, and perhaps a more profitable one, if it wasn’t an echo chamber for liberal reporters and editors.
That the agenda-driven Times singles out and vilifies Guns & Ammo for doing what other specialty magazine do is no surprise. Perhaps the Gray Lady’s editors need to ponder their own biases — and to recall a truism from A. J. Liebling, the legendary writer at The New Yorker who observed: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
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