Following reports that firearms industry trade magazine Guns & Ammo yielded to advertiser pressure when it fired a columnist for arguing that Second Amendment rights are subject to regulation, editors at trade magazines that cover other industries are speaking out against such a response, stressing the need for such publications to be independent.
Guns & Ammo fired gun journalist Dick Metcalf after he wrote a piece for the December 2013 edition of the magazine arguing that, "[W]ay too many gun owners still seem to believe that any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement. The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be."
According to The New York Times, Metcalf's column caused two "major gun manufacturers" to threaten to pull advertising support from Guns & Ammo publisher Intermedia Outdoors (IMO) if Metcalf wasn't fired. (IMO is the publisher of 15 sportsman themed magazines and owns The Sportsman Channel, which is known for its Ted Nugent hunting specials and airs the National Rifle Association's daily news show.)
Jim Bequette, the editor who approved Metcalf's column, also apologized to readers and resigned.
Metcalf's firing highlights one of the key challenges that niche trade publications face. While all news outlets have to make sure their ad dollars keep coming in, those who cover specific industries and narrow areas of interest often feel even greater pressure.
That pressure requires trade journalists to manage a balancing act that is paramount to keeping journalistic ethics and reader trust solid. Even if you are reporting for a smaller audience about a specific industry or area of interest, your credibility needs to be as unyielding as any other news outlet.
Perhaps more so because trade magazines in many areas are often the only outlet for relevant news about a specific business or niche interest.
"Writing for a trade magazine can occasionally be tricky, because you're in a unique position: You run the risk of potentially upsetting an advertiser by writing something that they could find objectionable," said Shawn Moynihan, executive managing editor at National Underwriter, Property & Casualty, which covers property and casualty insurance issues. "The truth is the truth, though, for better or worse, and that's your job -- to report it. To do less would violate the trust your readers place in you."
The recent firing of a prominent gun journalist for publishing a column arguing that gun ownership is subject to at least some regulation is representative of a firearm publication industry norm where gun makers exercise editorial control over publications, The New York Times reports.
In a January 4 article, Times reporter Ravi Somaiya reports on the circumstances surrounding Dick Metcalf's firing from Guns & Ammo magazine. Metcalf authored a column for the December 2013 edition of Guns & Ammo that stated, "[W]ay too many gun owners still seem to believe that any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement. The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be." Following outrage from the gun rights community, Metcalf was fired and Guns & Ammo editor Jim Bequette, who had approved the column for publication, apologized to readers and announced his own resignation.
According to the Times, Metcalf -- who also faced death threats and had his television show cancelled -- lost his job after "two major gun manufacturers" told his editor "in no uncertain terms" that they would no longer do business with Guns & Ammo publisher InterMedia Outdoors (IMO) if Metcalf continued to work at the publication. IMO is the publisher of 15 sportsman themed magazines and owns The Sportsman Channel which is known for its Ted Nugent hunting specials and airing of the National Rifle Association's daily news show.
In his Times article, Somaiya also interviewed several former and current editors of Guns & Ammo who explained that gun publications will often cede editorial control to gun manufacturers who buy advertisements. While claiming Guns & Ammo has editorial independence, Garry James, a current senior editor, nonetheless told the Times, "advertisers obviously always have power, and you always feel some pressure."
For decades Guns & Ammo magazine published writings from well-known bigot Jeff Cooper, but recently fired contributing editor Dick Metcalf after he published a column suggesting that the Second Amendment right -- like all rights -- is subject to some regulation.
Cooper, a celebrated commentator at the magazine from 1958 to 2004, used racial slurs, defended the practice of slavery, claimed that "[e]quality is biologically impossible," and suggested that Africans from South Africa's Gauteng province should be called "Oranggautengs" in a popular gun newsletter he published while employed by Guns & Ammo.
Controversy erupted earlier this month after Metcalf authored a column for the December edition of Guns & Ammo that stated, "[W]ay too many gun owners still seem to believe that any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement. The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be."
After outcry from readers -- and as Mother Jones notes, pressure from gun manufacturers -- Guns & Ammo editor Jim Bequette announced that Metcalf would no longer write for the firearm publication. Bequette also offered readers "a personal apology," writing that he "made a mistake by publishing the column," before turning in his own resignation.
Media touted the incident as evidence of what happens when any dissent from an absolutist view of the Second Amendment is professed in the gun rights community. Indeed, Metcalf's firing follows a string of similar controversies.
Still, in a November 8 letter to Outdoor Wire commenting on his firing, Metcalf expressed a degree of surprise, citing the fact that Guns & Ammo published "Cooper's Corner" between 1986 and 2002, a column that was "intentionally designed to address controversial issues":
From its inception as "Cooper's Corner" in 1986 the back page column in Guns & Ammo has been intentionally designed to address controversial issues, and to invite reader response. By that standard, the December edition certainly succeeded--some might say, too well. But our intention was to provoke a debate, not to incite a riot (which is illegal under laws regulating the 1st Amendment).
It would be an understatement to say that Cooper's Corner or its author -- longtime NRA board member Jeff Cooper -- invited controversy. Cooper -- an unabashed racist, misogynist, Islamophobe, and homophobe -- was also the publisher of the popular newsletter Jeff Cooper's Commentaries where he often used racial slurs and suggested ending slavery in the United States may have been "a mistake."
From the November 8 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom:
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The firing of Guns & Ammo contributing editor Dick Metcalf for making the noncontroversial assertion that the ownership of firearms is subject to some regulation is indicative of how the gun rights community will railroad anyone who offers a modicum of dissent to the absolutist view of the Second Amendment.
On November 6, Guns & Ammo editor Jim Bequette announced that Metcalf would no longer write for the firearm publication. Metcalf's offense was a column in December's magazine that stated, "[W]ay too many gun owners still seem to believe that any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement. The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be." In defense of laws requiring training before carrying a gun in public he wrote, "I firmly believe that all U.S. citizens have a right to keep and bear arms, but I do not believe that they have a right to use them irresponsibly."
Bequette's groveling column, also appearing in the December issue of Guns & Ammo, offered "each and every reader a personal apology," and stated, "Dick Metcalf has had a long and distinguished career as a gunwriter, but his association with 'Guns & Ammo' has officially ended." Clarifying that the Guns & Ammo position is that the Second Amendment has "[n]o strings attached," Bequette wrote, "I made a mistake by publishing the column. I thought it would generate a healthy exchange of ideas on gun rights. I miscalculated, pure and simple. I was wrong, and I ask your forgiveness."
Members of the gun rights community face attack for debating any regulation on firearms or expressing support for background checks on firearm sales, a position extremely popular with the American public.
National Rifle Association chief lobbyist Chris Cox claims in Guns & Ammo magazine that a proposed United Nations Arms Trade Treaty is "completely unnecessary" because the United States "operates what even Hillary Clinton admits is the 'gold standard' of export controls for arms transfers.'" But Clinton made that comment while expressing U.S. support for a treaty that would "promote the same high standards for the entire international community."