Journalists Thrust Into Heart Of Gun Story

Coverage of the gun control story has become hypercharged since the shootings in Newtown, Conn. Even journalists such as David Gregory and Piers Morgan have become part of the story.

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Amid all the news coverage of the Newtown school shooting, a wrinkle has emerged. The statements and actions of journalists miles away from Connecticut have stirred up controversy.

As we hear from NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, some journalists have thrust themselves into the middle of the story about guns.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: NBC's David Gregory had Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, in the hot seat on Sunday during "Meet the Press."

(SOUNDBITE OF "MEET THE PRESS")

DAVID GREGORY: Let's widen the argument out a little bit. So here is a magazine for ammunition that carries 30 bullets.

FOLKENFLIK: At this point, Gregory was holding an actual magazine. That is, a device that holds bullets and feeds them swiftly into a gun.

(SOUNDBITE OF "MEET THE PRESS")

GREGORY: Now, isn't it possible that if we got rid of these, if we replaced them and said we could only have a magazine that carries five bullets or 10 bullets, isn't it just possible that we could reduce the carnage in a situation like Newtown?

WAYNE LAPIERRE: I don't believe that's going to make one difference.

FOLKENFLIK: But with that ploy, Gregory became part of the story he was covering. The District of Columbia Police Department is now investigating Gregory, much to the glee of some gun rights activists, as it's illegal to possess a gun magazine in the district.

Many conservatives believe gun ownership is a classic issue of media bias, that journalists simply won't give them a fair shake and point to CNN's Piers Morgan.

(SOUNDBITE OF "PIERS MORGAN")

PIERS MORGAN: Right, I've been in this country for the last six, seven years, watching shooting massacre after shooting massacre. No, but it's not good enough to say we don't do anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (unintelligible)

MORGAN: When does the slaughter stop?

FOLKENFLIK: Morgan is a controversialist by nature. But the reaction to him this time has been particularly swift and strong, especially on the political right

Meanwhile, The Journal News - a Gannett paper in suburban New York - has published an interactive online map identifying by name and address people with permits to own guns in its circulation area. Critics jumped on the paper, saying it endangered the identified gun owners. Bloggers have posted the home address and phone number of the Gannett Company's CEO and staffers at the paper, too.

FRANK SENSO: Well, the first thing to take from these events is just how emotional this issue is, and the more journalists get involved the more they're going to become lightening rods for this controversy.

FOLKENFLIK: Frank Sesno is the former Washington bureau chief for CNN. He's now director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. He criticizes the publication of the gun permit list, but says the news media should have an agenda to stick with the story, for once.

SENSO: An attention span and an ability to look 360 degrees around the issue, and not take a particular position but to make sure that positions are properly aired along with the information.

FOLKENFLIK: Geneva Overholser argues The Journal News was performing a public service. She's a former editor of the Des Moines Register.

GENEVA OVERHOLSER: Public information like this can give somebody living in a given neighborhood a more accurate view of what life is like around them.

FOLKENFLIK: Newspapers publish real estate transactions all the time and list privately owned sites cited for polluting waterways. And Overholser, now the director of journalism at USC's Annenberg School, says there's no shame in illustrating how common gun ownership is.

OVERHOLSER: I don't think that knowing this leads necessarily in one direction or another. It doesn't lead toward gun control. It doesn't lead toward support of gun rights. It all depends on who you are and what you think.

FOLKENFLIK: As for Morgan, a petition drive on the White House website calls for him to be deported to his native Britain. It has so far attracted more than 83,000 signatories.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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