We’ve come to expect certain things from The New York Times: its breadth and depth of news coverage despite glaring omissions, the banishment of daily critical stories to the back pages, and the occasional odd disconnect of its cover features - e.g., a report on the latest dead in Iraq juxtaposed with, say, the trend of barber shops serving cappuccino. There are also its op-ed standouts - Krugman, Dowd and Herbert - who often disseminate illuminating information in their columns that their own editors are loath to present as front-page news. And then there’s the Judy Miller fiasco, which in hindsight makes Jayson Blair’s transgressions - his fabrications weren't lethal - seem of a more innocent era.
Every once in a while, though, The Times will give readers an overt example of its uneven reporting in an article of less magnitude. Where the only thing separating it from one found in the tabloids is the reading level. One such story, in case you missed it, was "Now, Guys in Accounting Can Get Their Gun, Too: At Corporate Shooting Parties, New Meaning to Having a Blast,” a feature report in The Metro Section - part NRA advertisement, part Daily Show investigation. (Incidentally, the piece comes on the heel of the U.S. House of Representatives passing the NRA triumphant "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,” nicknamed the "Gun Manufacturer Immunity Bill," which President Bush - under the cover of a slumbering mainstream media - oh-so-quietly signed into law.)
The article covers the growing popularity of company outings to firing ranges. As Andrew Massimilian, owner of Manhattan Shooting Excursions, states: “We offer a thrilling experience denied a lot of New Yorkers who have never fired a gun.” Of such “shooting parties,” Chip Brian, president of Comtex News Network Inc., a distributor of financial news in Manhattan, says, “At the end of the day, it’s all about getting to know your clients better, and a shooting trip is one of the most unique ways to do that.” Yes, what better way to size up your client than watching him handle a “bolt-action, 50-caliber, long-range target rifle”?
Manhattan lawyer Russ Savage – his real name (or is Jayson Blair back with the paper?) – says some of the men and women, specifically those in high finance, may have gone along on the shooting excursion to obtain “a feeling of empowerment.” He goes on to say, “For major corporate executives whose job it is to lead, this is a much more powerful way for them to maintain a sense of aura than by simply taking their people on a company picnic. It’s an exhibition of strength and power.” High-ho, high-ho, it’s off to work we go - ziech heil, ziech heil!
And what of journalist Vincent M. Mallozzi’s objectivity and balance? Well, first there’s his description of “a small army that included doctors, lawyers and Wall Street types” who waited on Manhattan Shooting Excursions owner Mr. Massimilian’s command to begin firing their weapons: “When the signal was given, 17 men and women began blasting away at the targets, filling the cool air with the scent of gunpowder and the kind of echoing booms that can keep a deer up all night.” Glorious. “Filling the cool air with the scent of gunpowder”? Submission for the annual Ernest Hemingway writing contest, or NRA porn? You decide. And it only gets worse with “the kinds of echoing booms that can keep a deer up all night.” Sorry for disrupting your REM state, Bambi, but what a rousing display of gunfire!
Then, seemingly, Mallozzi appears to finally put on the brakes and deliver the balanced portion of the article, even though it’s hard not to imagine Stephen Colbert delivering this question with deadpan precision: “Are field trips that involve packing heat instead of sandwiches detrimental to society?”
Dr. Kenneth Porter, a Manhattan psychiatrist, first opines, “They might not be the best thing for a society that is already way too aggressive. When you look at what is in the media, and what kids growing up are exposed to, something like this could have a negative effect on the overall mental health of the population. However,” Dr. Porter continues, wavering a little too easily, “shooting can be viewed as a legitimate sport and can be seen as a constructive outlet to express aggression, so it cuts both ways.”
Then, with Daily Show timing, here’s the following line penned by Mallozzi:
“Seconds later, Dr. Porter, sitting at a picnic table at the Highland Lakes site with his fiancée and her son, picked up a long-range rifle and began firing at a wooden bull's-eye, shell casings flying behind him as he squeezed off round after round, his body recoiling slightly after every blast. ‘Before today, I thought something like this was unequivocally harmful,’ he said. ‘But now I've learned otherwise.’”
Hey, who wrote this guy's script? Aside from additional NRA porn – “he squeezed off round after round, his body recoiling slightly after every blast” – Dr. Porter turns out to be nothing more than a ringer, the equivalent of a Fox News “expert.”
The article, following its “fair and balanced” formula, concludes with trader Anthony Belluzzi’s heartwarming sentiment in regard to his choice of weaponry: “Both of my grandfathers served in the war and used the exact same weapon. I thought it would be cool to see what it felt like”; Massimilian’s view of why shooting carries a negative societal image: “Hollywood marginalizes us by showing three types of shooters: criminals, policemen and soldiers. They never show the doctor, the banker or the father-and-son teams who just want to go out for a friendly shoot”; and lawyer Michael Kim’s gushing testimonial: “We're going back to shoot again. And we’ll probably make it an annual event.”
The only thing missing seems to be the official endorsement:
Brought to you by the National Rifle Association, in partnership with The New York Times.
Because holding in your aggression is hazardous to your health.™