The Trace’s latest hit piece was published Tuesday in the Times’ California section – a news section. It was titled “Gun ownership data are often limited — and the NRA knows it stands in the way.” It was bylined: Will Van Sant. It wasn’t until the end of story that the Times published a short disclaimer: “Van Sant writes for the Trace, a nonprofit newsroom covering gun violence in America.” The Trace also ran Van Sant’s piece on its website.
The story was about what you’d expect from the Trace. It advocated for the creation of a national database of gun owners, for “gun violence research.” It also disparaged gun-rights groups, including the Second Amendment Foundation, for opposing the idea.
It was pure propaganda, since anyone with even the smallest shred of common sense can see the potential for harm in establishing a national list of gun owners – especially while the Biden-Harris administration occupies the White House. However, journalistically this story should never have seen print. For the Times editors, this story was an ethical hand grenade with a handle.
The Times updated its ethical guidelines in 2014, and now publishes them on their website. It is clear the newspaper violated more than a few of its own ethical policies by allowing an anti-gun activist to write an anti-gun story, which was disguised as news.
“In covering contentious matters — strikes, abortion, gun control and the like — we seek out intelligent, articulate views from all perspectives. Reporters should try genuinely to understand all points of view, rather than simply grab quick quotations to create a semblance of balance,” the guidelines state.
The Trace story was one-sided and unbalanced, and included ad hominem attacks on gun-rights groups. There was only one perspective and one point of view – the author’s.
“The work of freelance journalists appears in our publications alongside staff-produced content. Freelancers must therefore approach their work without conflicts and must adhere to the same standards of professionalism that The Times requires of its own staff, including these guidelines. It is the responsibility of assigning editors to inquire about a freelancer’s potential conflicts of interest before making an assignment,” the guidelines state.
Since the Trace reporter was not a Times staffer, he would qualify as a freelancer, and therefore “subject to the same standards of professionalism that The Times requires of its own staff, including these guidelines.” There could be no greater conflict of interest than allowing an anti-gun advocate to write propaganda, which is then disguised as news.
“Credibility, a news organization’s most precious asset, is arduously acquired and easily squandered. It can be maintained only if each of us accepts responsibility for it,” the guidelines state.
Consider the credibility squandered, especially among the gun-rights community, especially those poor souls living in California.