April 29, 2012
This is what power looks like
By Bill Kraus
Power is finite. To put it simply, if I have it, you don’t, or, as is more often the case, vice versa.
Every once in a while we get sharp reminders about who has it.
A recent story in the NY Times about a gathering of police chiefs in Washington is illustrative.
"[Milwaukee] Chief Flynn recounted pleading with a state senator to include a provision on Wisconsin's concealed weapons law that would ban habitual criminal offenders from obtaining permits. The senator, he said, told him, 'Here's the phone number of the National Rifle Association lobbyist in Washington DC. If it's OK with him, it will be OK with us.' The provision was not included."
This immediately calls to mind the indisputable fact that the paranoids who run the National Rifle Association have power.
They can coerce elected officials almost everywhere into protecting everyone’s right to own firearms of any description up to and including those whose only possible purpose is to kill people. They also have convinced the pushover elected officials that public safety will be enhanced only when everyone who owns a concealable weapon can “pack it” to revert to the vernacular if they wish, except in Illinois of all places.
The double whammy of this news item is it also proves the power-is-finite assertion.
The police chief doesn’t have the power needed to trump the NRA.
The press, which in the not-so-distant past had enough power to blow this small story into a major cause celebre which would have had a chance, albeit a slim one, to add to the police chief’s power and diminish that of the people who run the private, single-issue organization that is the NRA, does not have the horses to follow up on this lead.
Certainly the senator must be from an area the chief represents where guns are not the sanguine part of the culture they are in less densely settled places, and just as certainly the army of bloggers (including me) who are not going to take this story the next obvious and essential step.
Which raises another perplexing problem. Where did the power of the press go? Did it simply disappear?
The claim that it went to the internet is specious. The internet is an undigestible, unvetted, undisciplined stream of opinions disguised as facts. It is universal and divisive. Does anyone go to the internet looking for something unpleasant or someone they disagree with?
It takes a minor event like this one to call attention to the fact that perhaps we have lost the instrument we always counted on to, in the words of a man named Wildavsky, speak truth to power.
We also counted on the press to make those in power to turn square corners.
Is it time to reinvent the press? If so, how? And in what configuration?
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I agree with Mr. Kraus. What is (or should be) the role and responsibility of a newspaper? Because so many citizens rely on the newspaper (both print and online versions) for information, I would think a newspaper has a moral responsibility to the citizens it serves to report events as fully, factually and directly as possible. This past year, our own Milwaukee Journal Sentinel seems to have forgotten its responsibility to its readers. Too often, MJS headlines have led with "partial facts" (creating a skewed impression), only to have the "rest" of the facts buried on "page 12"). Too often, events that one would have thought were "headline" news were relegated to a place of lesser impact (below the fold, or in the "Local" section). Too often, reporters have failed to connect the dots between developing stories. With the recall elections fast-approaching, it's imperative that citizens know exactly what is and has been going on in Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel could take a lead role in changing the way news is reported, and in return earn a reputation of fair and honest reporting . . . the question is, does it believe it has the responsibility to do so?
-CM | Brookfield, WI | April 29, 2012
News organizations today come in two stripes, those that openly proclaim their agenda (FOX, MSNBC) and those that try to maintain neutrality. Unfortunately neutrality has been skewed to mean "both sides are equally right". So if a leading scientist proclaims that the earth revolves around the sun and a wacko nutjob with a "foundation" proclaims the sun revolves around the earth, both are given equal weight.
Media must do a better job of truth telling if they want to restore some of their luster. Some outlets still do that but unfortunately the public has little appetite for hearing those things that conflict with what they already believe. This leads to lower readership and declining profits.
And I disagree that the internet isn't a big part of the problem. No matter what view I have I can go to the internet and have it re-inforced in multiple places. Why read something that might make me think when I can read (or listen or watch) things that tell me I'm right?
And there are any number of well funded outlets disseminating half-truths and lies that people want to believe. Go here if you want your eyes opened: http://nymag.com/news/frank-rich/conservative-donors-2012-4/
-Jim Olson | McFarland WI | April 30, 2012
What is lacking is the presence of investigative reporters like there once were--those who would pursue a story and stand by their story.
It all stems from the bad media reforms of the early 2000s, which people like Nichols, McChesney, Feingold, Moyers, Turkel, et al. resisted. Look in a local city paper these days (owned by some larger conglomerate) and there will be less than a half dozen stories that actually originate from the paper. All else is an AP story or a reprint from some other national paper.
On the concealed carry issue, below is an excerpt from a video segment of the NewsHour website with Hari Sreenivasan, David Brooks and Mark Shields. No transcript, but I've included the video link.
The question that I think you are proposing, Bill, is whether the politicians handling of the issue really reflects what the broader populace feels about concealed carry and stand your ground. It's a topic many might want to avoid discussing. Since the Wisconsin laws were partisan, not bipartisan, I'd suggest that state wide referendum is in order.
From News Hour:
Sreenivasan: Obviously the conversation about guns in America has been re-energized by the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Stand your ground guns laws are kind of being questioned. People are taking a look at it. Does this have the legs to be a bigger issue going between now and this November?
David Brooks: In part because guns have become a culture symbol; not an actual gun issue. And so for Democrats in particular, embracing gun control laws is seen as a sign you're not really way-of rural America, and as a result most people, Democrats running for office in America really not willing to go there. And as a result, I don't think it is going to come up all that much. Mike Bloomberg will go there, but he doesn't care about rural America; he's the mayor of New York. So, I don't think it's going to be a super big issue this year.
Shields: Yeah, I agree with David. Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster that David and I both have great respect for, said the biggest disappointment of his entire professional career has been the sea change in American attitude toward guns. There really was a large consensus nearly a generation ago in favor of...whether it was for limiting the sale of and circulation of assault weapons. I mean, AK-40s they have no sport value whatsoever. But it became an absolute that if you were for any gun control, I mean if you were for limiting flame throwers, that was a violation of the second amendment and that you were ready to go on the slippery slope and take away our guns. And it did. It has become that.
-Dan Sebald | Lake Forest, IL | April 30, 2012
This is the worst kind of agitprop. Criminals are PROHIBITED by Wisconsin statute from possessing weapons. That is why Wisconsin's concealed carry law requires a background check. And why federal law requires the same criminal background check for even purchasing a handgun!
-David Blaska | Madison, WI | April 30, 2012
Wow! all those guys I shoot with at 3 gun competions using AK47 based shot guns and AR15's are using guns in sporting competions that have no sporting use? To think some of them are cops too. I'll have to inform them of that next time. I will be sure to let all the Varmit hunters that I know too that their AR15's which are one of the most popular varmint hunting guns are only for killing people not hunting. Thank you for showing us we have been using these firearms incorrectly. I am in such ah of your well informed opinions on the subject.
-SW | Waukesha WI | April 30, 2012