First things (ahem) first: Jay Furst, the top editor at the Rochester (MN) Post-Bulletin, and I go way back, more or less. He was working at the Jamestown Sun back when I was at my first radio job, during the tail end of the Carter administration. When I moved to the Cities, he was working as a PR guy, and gave me some useful advice for breaking into the big city. I’ve always known him to be a good reporter.
And like any good reporter, he’s not to be denied a story that he has every right to cover:
Rule No. 1 for public meetings: Don’t tell reporters they can’t be there…A new local group called the Coalition Against the DMC had an organizational meeting at VFW Post 1215 Thursday night. One of the organizers, Diana Friemann, put a public notice in the Post-Bulletin calendar of events last week, for print and online, to announce the meeting…The item said where, when and what the meeting was about, and Friemann was listed as the contact. It said, “Help stop the tax-and-spend agenda of DMC.”
That sounded like an interesting meeting, so a P-B reporter contacted her to learn more. Friemann told him the media wasn’t welcome at the event and wouldn’t be allowed to report on it, and she asked not to be identified…
Well, that’s not the way America works. You can’t call a public meeting and then tell reporters not to show up. You can try to keep us out — you can put a guard at the door, frisk me for my reporter’s notebook, take my camera — but all you’ll do is assure that a story will run. We might not get all the information, but we’ll report that something happened.
As long has Hillary Clinton or Mark Dayton have nothing to do with it…but I digress.
Seriously – bully! Kudos! That is, in theory, what the Fourth Estate is supposed to do! It’s their First Amendment right – not to get censored by government – and it’s their job!
So let’s fast-forward to this past Monday night. Furst organized – as he has, monthly, for about ten years now – a public forum at a Rochester library to discuss Kim Norton’s Bloomberg-issued gun grab proposals. Oddly, although a number of people at the forefront of Minnesota’s 2nd Amendment movement offered to come to Rochester to speak for the good guys, Furst declined, preferring to have people from the Rochester area. Oddly, representing the 2nd Amendment movement at the event was…a Twin Cities area gun trainer who is apparently a great guy but not necessarily a public speaker, and Representative Duane Quam – one of the good guys in the Legislature who has earned his “A” ratings from every rights group that matters, but not someone whose rhetorical style is compared to Jeremiah Wright.
Anyway – if we Second Amendment supporters have learned anything over the years, it’s “control your narrative” – which means control your sources. Which means get your own sources; your own video, your own copies of numbers, everything. Trust no-one, least of all government, even less of all media, to tell a true, accurate story.
And so the various Second Amendment freedom groups urged their supporters to videotape the presentation, to capture for ourselves all the inaccuracies and fabrications Rep. Norton was sure to issue.
And they did . Which is where Furst picks up the story, in a piece from this past Tuesday in the Post/Bulletin.
The guy sitting next to me at the front table had a pistol on his hip, and I’ll assume there were other guns in the room as well. Nobody who wanted to carry a gun was turned away from our Dialogues event. Nobody got kicked out. I just asked in advance that people choose not to carry. I’ll assume a number of people ignored that, and certainly one of our panelists did.
Yeah, Mr. Furst – the Second Amendment is on a par in every way with the First Amendment. And if you tell us we can’t exercise our rights in a place – a public one! – where we have every right to, we’re going to practice it twice as hard.
There were Rochester police officers on hand to check permits to carry, though I don’t know that any were checked.
Because most cops know that law-abiding citizens with carry permits are safer than law-abiding citizens without ’em.
Nobody’s rights were infringed, but the library — our host for the event — appreciated my request that people leave their guns at home.
So let’s get this straight; we’re utterly absolutist about some civil rights, but extremely casual about others?
Anyway – by way of “controlling the narrative”, some of the Civil Rights activists came with cameras:
Interestingly, when I arrived that night, a man had set up a video camera in the front row, intending to tape it (as was recommended by a Minnesota gun rights lobby)…Then I learned that in fact the library has a policy not to allow videotaping for privacy reasons, which is their right,
Precisely as it was the right of the group in Furst’s first piece to request no media be present; i.e., not at all, if they’re in a public place.
They can ask. Should they be asking the public to park their civil rights at the door, in a place where they have every legal right to be?
though the library in fact videotapes the Dialogues events (and makes people aware that videotaping occurs). They asked him not to use his camera; he refused.
Which brings us back to the “control your content” bit. When the DFL power structure wants evidence to disappear, then voilá, it disappears.
I asked him myself and he said it was a library policy, not a statute or higher law, and he’d videotape if he pleased. He was fairly cold and crisp about it.
As any reporter would be when asked not to to their job, in a public place, at a public event, at a place they have every right to be at.
It’s a simple fact; we can not trust the media or this state’s public institutions to tell the people the truth about this issue. It’s not necessarily due to bias (although there is plenty of that out there too); most reporters in this state don’t know the difference between a magazine and a clip. When Kim Norton says something like “we need to ban exploding bullets”, most reporters will nod and write “Kim Norton addressed the plague of exploding bullets”. They don’t know any better.
Now, just about every blogger, talk show host and activist has had this conversation with someone in the media; the media figure will respond “but you’re not a reporter”.
To which we, the people, need to respond “On this issue, yes I am. I can actually tell the story to the people who weren’t here and don’t know, accurately and fairly (and “fairness” and “bias” aren’t necessarily incompatible). People reading/watching my account will get a more accurate, more knowledgable, more complete, and fairer picture of what happened here than they will from reading/watching yours. There is nothing about your tin ‘journalist’ badge that gives you a first class seat on the First Amendment plane”.
After the event, he thanked me and said he didn’t intend to create a stir. I thanked him for attending. But as the videotape incident suggests, absolutely nothing is easy about this issue.
Well, some things are; Rights are rights. Upholding them takes work. Even the ones that aren’t fashionable.
And in that, Kim Norton is in league with the plantation owners in the old South.