Monday, March 26, 2007

Who targetted whom first?

The Roanoke Times has finally decided to apologize for their decision to publish a list of all concealed carry permit-holders in Virginia. Unfortunately, this is worse than a simple case of "too little, too late." They continue to deny any actual wrongdoing, beyond the fact that it may have been a little inconsiderate. And, worse, they claim victim status.

"The difficulty we've faced since is how to respond to the rational objections without validating the abusive tactics and attacks waged against this newspaper and the columnist who wrote a piece linked to the database." Well, if you had started with a rational approach to the situation, you would probably find a more rational response. Publishing a list of private citizens' addresses is generally frowned upon under almost any circumstances. Making a publically-available list of people who choose to excercise a right some vehemently oppose is madness. You wouldn't publish a list of abortions, the home addresses of all your journalists, or anything else that might make a pet cause get some unwanted attention.

"First, we had a legal right to post the database. These were public records, legally obtained." The real story you might have published is the travesty of making these records public information. While they were obtained legally, this may be one of the many situations in which the law is wrong.

"Dozens of concealed permit holders expressed heartfelt fear because of the exposure of what they believed was private information." If I published your home address, you would express heartfelt fear or anger, most likely. And you would probably be pretty damned sure your information was supposed to be private.

"We gave insufficient thought and discussion to the potential that crime victims, law enforcement officers and domestic violence victims might be put at risk if their addresses were published." What about those who are only potential crime victims? You created a helluva lot of those.

"Though many of our critics believe that the database handed burglars a shopping list of households with guns and abusers a list of their victims, no one can point to a single incident where similar publications led to a crime." First, how many other newspapers have printed the addresses of so many law-abiding citizens? Second, how would one prove a correlation? The second someone tried, you'd scream "foul" and claim that there's no way to prove the connection.

"The potential for harm is something we should have given far greater thought to in making the decision." How about your paper's attitude when it comes to violating the trust of so many law-abiding citizens? What about invading their privacy? With or without risk of crime, you have just abused many readers and non-readers for no reason othr than showng that you can.

"We also regret that there was not a more compelling public purpose -- beyond illustrating how the Freedom of Information Act works -- behind the decision to post the database." You know, the act works on a lot of other information that is far safer. You chose something you thought would sell papers, and now you're backpedalling as fast as you can.

"There are vital reasons these records should remain open." Sure, just as vital as keeping records of the addresses of those who practice other Constitutional freedoms, such as members of the press. Of course, there's no license or database for that, so you feel pretty smug telling us gun owners are fair game.

"The public should be able to monitor how well various jurisdictions screen concealed carry applicants." While I am all for government transparency, names and addresses of those who carry are not the best way to do this. Looking at the process should tell you what they're doing. Looking at names does not. Not that I'm a big fan of forcing people to get a license to carry.

"Those mistakes, though, in no way justify the outrageous and threatening nature of much of the response. Very early on, a rational discussion of this issue became all but impossible." And you throw out the victim card again. But who struck the first blow? If you had started it in a rational manner, then you could expect reason to rule the day. I don't believe you were threatened as much as you imply, nor do I feel that a newspaper can rule out rational discussion early on. An apology, an explanation, and some op-eds might calm people. Instead, you waited to see if it would blow over. And that tactic didn't work. This is why you finally decided to play the victim and call it an apology.

"It was extremely important that we not allow the unacceptable antics of the fringe to distract us from a careful examination of our own decision-making." If that were true, impulsive publication of such information would have never happened. Your reporting is the unacceptable antic of the fringe.

"We want to assure our readers that, where we erred, we will strive not to repeat our mistakes. And we will continue to advocate passionately for the free flow of information that is the lifeblood of an open society." Impulsive publishing is not advocacy. If you want to claim it is, publish the names and addresses of all the "authorized journalists" in your state. After all, a free flow of information is important to you. Personally, I'm more than happy with an "open" government that doesn't give my address to "open" journalists. I'm more of a "private" society guy, since I like my info private, while the government should function openly.

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