Why Can't You Tell Us...Something?

May 16, 2019

Yesterday, I received a message from a colleague in the industry, telling me he was “counting on me” to do something to tell people what was “up” with the National Rifle Association.

There is, apparently, a growing frustration among the “regular” members of NRA as to what’s actually happening inside their Virginia HQ.

Accusations and angry rebuttals are flying between members of the NRA’s Board of Directors and its longtime head, Wayne LaPierre. To the surprise and consternation of a large number of the membership, it appears to be something that’s been going on for some time.

Adding to the disquiet, a deafening silence from everyone except the most angry of the 76 members of the NRA Board. T

he nation’s oldest civil rights organization had a nine-hour Executive Session the recently-concluded Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana. There, members were told, a unified Board “unanimously” reelected LaPierre and supported him going forward.

Now, angry Board members are disagreeing with that characterization. And they’re making some very serious -and very public - accusations about the leadership. They’ve ranged from inept management to profligate spending. Dissidents say it puts the entire organization at risk.

All reasons for the membership to be concerned.

Unfortunately, it seems the confusion isn’t only with the complaints. Where -and how- those complaints are being made public is really concerning to many “average” NRA members.

The NRA story, you see, is primarily being covered in “mainstream” media. The same groups that can’t tell a revolver from a pistol are now covering the NRA -in depth.

Sure, there’s a diverse mix of news outlets ranging from giants like the New York Times to National Public Radio to TheFloridaBulldog.org, freebeacon.com, and others, but the stories getting the most “traction” with gun owners are coming from the biggies.

So what’s the problem with that? There’s a built-in skepticism on the part of many gun owners, especially those who are also members and supporters of the NRA, to believe anything reported by mainstream outlets.

Frankly, I’m one of those people who always takes a jaundiced view of any sort of mainstream reporting regarding guns, gun rights, or their frequent target - the National Rifle Association.

Not because I believe there’s a conspiracy at play (at least not in every instance). It’s because I know there’s an almost willful ignorance about guns in the mainstream.

Their ignorance, frequently displayed in their reporting makes it obvious there’s no baseline knowledge about guns.

That creates instant skepticism about the accuracy of their message. It also feeds an abiding - and legitimate - distrust of the messenger, regardless of the message. Mainstream reporting’s willingness to accept - and parrot- anti-gun groups’ talking points doesn’t reduce the negative impression -or lessen the bad taste in gun owners’ mouths.

For me, it’s just another example of how journalism has gone off the rails. News organizations have increasingly become advocates for positions. Today, you can very nearly detect a person’s political affiliation simply by knowing which news outlets they use.

Unfortunately, like all stereotypical diagnoses, that’s subject to error.

Here’s why: all news outlets- normally biased or not- can cover a story when the facts are such that injecting opinion would not only be obvious, it could potentially be actionable.

Sometimes it’s impossible not to report anything except the facts, whether they’re known -or represented by others.

This is, unfortunately, one of those stories. No one’s making assumptions, they’re reporting allegations and angry responses to them.

Reporting anything except what the people directly involved and knowledgeable about what’s “really going on at the NRA” say would be ill-advised. Doing anything else would immediately be obvious, calling your work into question. More importantly, you could open yourself - and the entire news outlet - to litigation.

It’s one thing to report “NRA Board Member Allen West calls for Wayne LaPierre resignation in wake of leaked NRA memos” (actual headline from freebeacon.com). It’s another thing entirely to write “leaked NRA memos show pattern of profligate spending by NRA’s Wayne LaPierre”.

The first quotation is factual; the second is actionable- because it’s a conclusion, not a fact.

If this sounds like a lot of hair-splitting on my part, it’s not.

It’s the difference between straight-up reporting of a fact (“NRA Board Member Allen West has called for LaPierre’s resignation) versus creating an impression the “reporter” would (apparently) want to leave with readers.

As more mainstream outlets get involved in the story, it becomes even more confusing.

An NPR.org headline, for example, reads “As Leaks Show Lavish NRA Spending, Former Staff Detail Poor Conditions at Nonprofit”.

Does an NRA member have enough background on the operations in Virginia to give “leaks” or “former staff” credibility -or do they simply toss the whole thing as another example of “mainstream bias” or “fake news”?

Unfortunately, even my half-century of reporting can’t clear that murky water. Offering any “insight” beyond that would be misleading.

The NRA’s internal matters are just that - internal.

Whatever’s going on there will eventually come to light- and be addressed by someone, if not the NRA leadership and/or it’s members.

That’s not avoiding the question, it’s my recognizing that nothing as big or complex as an organization like the National Rifle Association is simple.

A larger concern for every lawful gun owner- NRA member or not- is what happens if the NRA finds itself sidelined - or fundamentally distracted from its work on behalf of the Second Amendment?

I’m more concerned about the existence -or absence- of a backup plan.

—Jim Shepherd