I’d Rather Be Right

Apr 2, 2018

It’s safe to say that nineteenth century American statesman Henry Clay would never get a job in mainstream media, banking, or retail today. 

Clay is famous for many things, one of which is this famous quote from 1838: “Sir, I’d rather be right than be president.” Today, it doesn’t seem that right is as often a given answer as expedient. 

Detractors say Clay’s comment was sour grapes since his quote was the response to his detractor’s regarding his well-known opposition to slavery. After all it had already cost him one presidential election (subsequently, he ran -and lost- three times afterwards).  He was certainly no quitter.

His was still a courageous position in 1838 (especially for a landowner), because a major part of the nation’s economy literally, depended upon the backs of others. 

Where’s this headed?  We reported on February 13 (http://www.theoutdoorwire.com/features/014d6281-5215-413e-a3b6-181f05dccf20) that Remington would be filing a prepackaged bankruptcy plan. Many other outlets, including CNBC, reported it as well.

The Remington plan called for, among other things, a restructuring of the debt, removal of the disastrous Cerberus ownership and a plan to continue as a going concern. A plan the debt-holders approved.

As promised, they quietly filed that paperwork in Delaware just over a week ago. It didn’t get a lot of attention until it was reported by the bankruptcy court (not surprisingly, Remington didn’t trumpet the announcement). Last Monday, CNBC reported the filing had, in fact, taken place.

And they correctly reported that it was a Chapter 11 reorganization. Not a Chapter 7 liquidation- there’s a big difference.

But as a reporter, I have heartburn over what they did when enabling readers to share the story. 

Sharing the story sent a teaser linking to the report. The teaser didn’t say “Remington filing for bankruptcy protections”. It said  “America’s oldest gun manufacturer is going out of business.”

It was a blatant misrepresentation of the facts. 

Only if Remington had announced they were shutting down and liquidating the company’s assets would that teaser have been correct. 

That’s not at all what Remington officials did or said. It’s not even what CNBC reported.

Here’s  a screenshot of the CNBC teaser on Remington’s bankruptcy filing. The “tease” is just that -it’s neither an accurate representation of the facts or a reflection of the reporting of the story.

Before anyone calls CNBC to complain, here’s a predicted response: “that tease was written by one of our edtiors/interns/rookies/social media people who didn’t know the difference between Chapter 11 (reorganization) and Chapter 7 (liquidation) bankruptcies.”

In other words, no malice intended, just a simple error. Sorry, no sale. I’d argue there was a predisposition of malice on the part of CNBC. And that predisposition could easily be cloaked in the semi-plausible argument of “stupid person did this”.

“Absence of malice” isn’t only the title of a (very good) Paul Newman movie (about journalistic abuses -decades ago). Absence of malice is a protection journalists have been able to use when threatened with legal action resulting from honest mistakes. 

Everyone, including reporters, makes mistakes. I’ve made more than my share, and they’re often embarrassing. Fortunately, they’ve never been actionable.

Absence of malice is essential to protect a journalist from slander/libel threats. Looking at the body of reporting from NBC and CNBC on the gun issue, it would be difficult to portray them as dispassionate observers. 

Routinely reporting anti-gun talking points as fact, ignoring statistics that don’t fit the anti-gun narrative, even the facial expressions of reporters and anchors when covering gun stories are, when considered individually, more irritating than damaging. 

But…considered as a body of work  or demonstration of a pattern of behavior, it’s a different story. In that light, fast-and-loose with facts, unfavorable body language/expressions, might be characterized -especially before a jury - as proof of an intent to damage all gun companies. 

Fortunately (for the media) the gun industry is more inclined to run than fight that sort of battle.

Henry Clay’s also penned one of my favorite quotes: “Statistics are no substitute for judgement.” 

Judgement is the thing that used to compel businessmen to consider all their customers before bowing to the wishes of the ones with the loudest voices. 

Today, (at least for now) it seems Twitter and Facebook “likes” trump judgement.

To the point some retailers are so quick to pull products from their shelves that it’s been given its own particularly descriptive term: virtue signaling

Dick’s Sporting Goods, their Field & Stream stores, Kroger, Walmart, and banking giant CitiGroup have all “virtue signaled” their support for efforts to put more restrictions on gun retailers, publishers and law-abiding gun owners via self-imposed “bans”.

In this case, however, neither statistics nor good judgement would characterize their  actions as a desire to push for real solutions to senseless attacks on defenseless groups by the deranged, or the politically or ideologically motivated. 

If anything, they merely appear to have taken a stance without standing for anything other than political expediency. If you’re with one of these companies and I’m mistaken, I’d welcome you’re reaching out to correct me at jim@theoutdoorwire.com.

Clay certainly wasn’t always right, but he never hesitated to come out and say what he believed. Can’t help but wonder how he’d have responded to a political poll that indicated he was “too-absolute in his positions” - especially since one of the sobriquets applied to him was “the Great Compromiser”.

There’s a significant difference between compromising and selling-out.

--Jim Shepherd