In yesterday’s post, More Misinformed Ignorance and Hyperbole, the Observer op-ed I excerpted had a quote from University of Toledo Professor Brian Anse Patrick which was part of my excerpt. Professor Patrick left a comment to that post, and a valid email address, so I sent him a reply email and did a little research on him.
He’s a good guy.
Check out this web page about his honors seminar on American Gun Policy. It’s not what you’d expect from today’s university campuses.
He sent me a reply to my initial email, and I have responded further. He’s given permission to post our exchanges, so here they are to date, beginning with his initial comment:
I’m quoted, more or less accurately but in no sensible context, in the Observer article by Paul Harris. He and I talked on the phone for 30 minutes or so, and as is usual with elite media reporters, he did not let the facts get in the way of his story.
Professor Brian Anse Patrick
Department of Communication
University of Toledo
ps –and I am only a “liberal critic” in the 18th Century sense of that phrase.
Thank you for commenting at my blog, The Smallest Minority. You wrote “…as is usual with elite media reporters, he did not let the facts get in the way of the story.” Would you care to elaborate on this? Also on your postscript, “I am only a ‘liberal critic’ in the 18th Century sense of the phrase”?
You are welcome!
Re “he did not let the facts get in the way of the story.” Journalists like to represent themselves as “objective,” as unbiased lenses for examining reality, and some of the old time journalists approached this ideal fairly well, but modern journalists tend to be market driven story tellers. They tell the easiest, most dramatic story that caters to the debased tastes of a mass audience with an average attention spans measured in seconds, probably not minutes, and certainly never hours. When journalist say they are “working on a story” they really are, quite literally. Usually, as you know, they call the story theme “the angle” and of course angles are selected to cater to the cartoon-like tastes and crude emotions of the mass market. Walter Lippmann called these crude stock characters and ideas “stereotypes.” Actually explaining American gun culture, the success of the concealed carry movement, and the complicated sociology of guns and gun violence in America would overtax both reporter and audience. So the story must prevail. And of course in this article it was, more or less, “look at those crazy gun-wielding Americans.” Anything the reporter could collect was weighed on this scale and fit into the story accordingly, all else ignored. This is the nice thing about ‘angles, from a reportorial pint of view, they help quickly sort through mounds of problematic information a produce a coherent. albeit idiotically simplified “story.”
I talked with the reporter for maybe 30 minutes by telephone, he was in New York at the time, and I explained a number of facts, trends historical patterns, and effects re guns and concealed carry in America. These included things like the success of the CCW movement and modern American gun culture–e.g.., reduced crime, no crime from CCW holders, and the amazing mobilization of gun culture since the about 1970 or so as a broad-based social movement that has not only resisted top down elite-administrative power, but successfully spread its own message. I explained how widespread legal concealed carry by trained responsible citizens was unthinkable 20 years ago, but how the idea diffused and caught on–because of its success–and how a successful social movement made ideas that were unthinkable 20 years ago, thinkable today, e.g., the civil right movement. Similarly new American gun culture has expanded personal freedom. He of course translates this, via his angle, into how unthinkable it is for a teacher to carry a gun. He ignored the legally armed, trained responsible adult portions of my comments; and also my comments about how the CCW movement shows that the mere fact of gun carrying by this woman is not going to disrupt the orderly course of her life–or any other good person’s life: she is a valuable and useful person and will likely remain so. Armed criminals are a different order of creatures, impulsive, violent and dangerous with or without guns.
He also ignored comments I made about The American Gun Policy honors class I taught last semester, how my students had no problem with the idea of fellow students who were legally licensed and trained carrying concealed in class. Nor that I personally did not care to carry a gun while professoring, unless circumstances changed much for the worse in this country, but that I had no objection to any professor with a carry license doing so. I also gave him so estimates on the size of American gun culture much higher than the ones he used.
The reporter preferred his crazy Americans angle, and so probably does his audience–because any other angle might disturb their torpor. There is more, but you get the idea.
Re “classic liberal.” I am very tolerant in the John Locke sense. Formally I am a pluralist and a pragmatist, thus I believe well intended and informed people can be trusted with power, they are capable of rational thought –even if the habit seems to be dying out in our media, educational, and mass media systems. I think people must form their own interpretative communities and alternative media –like this blog–to make sense of the world and to organize and “in-form” themselves meaningfully to create, modify and socially construct a world in such a way that pleases their virtuous dispositions. This means no mass society run top-down by elites who claim to speak the truth on behalf of bovine masses, or a group of consumers rather than citizens, but rather a society of vigorous, active publics and interest groups pursuing their own ends and in-forming themselves e.g., like the Concealed Carry Movement as it has diffused from state to state.
Incidentally, I have a book on NRA and the Media: how NRA benefits by negative media coverage, gaining more members with more bad coverage. I will also be done soon writing a new book on the concealed carry movement.
A last comment re the article. One can no more expect a British journalist who writes for a mass audience to write a thoughtful and sensible article on American Gun Culture than one could expect gourmet food from the golden arches–it would just confuse their respective markets; who would consume it? Real informational substance is found in other places, such as blogs and alternative media. I could add a corollary to “known thyself” –it is “inform thyself” especially if you wish to pursue excellence.
What a refreshing (nay, stunning) response from a member of academe! I know people like you are out there, but I suspect the camouflage is carefully worn to inhibit a “hostile work environment” in the majority of cases. May I assume you are grudgingly tolerated by most of the other tenured staff on your campus?
I am in complete agreement with you on the topic of professional journalism. One of my favorite anecdotes – you may have heard it – comes from Diane Sawyer:
“You know, I wanted to sit on a jury once and I was taken off the jury. And the judge said to me, ‘Can, you know, can you tell the truth and be fair?’ And I said, ‘That’s what journalists do.’ And everybody in the courtroom laughed. It was the most hurtful moment I think I’ve ever had.” – Diane Sawyer, Good Morning America, 7/12/07
The public at large is obviously aware, as well. Journalists, not so much.
One point in your reply struck a special chord with me. You wrote:
“He ignored the legally armed, trained responsible adult portions of my comments; and also my comments about how the CCW movement shows that the mere fact of gun carrying by this woman is not going to disrupt the orderly course of her life–or any other good person’s life: she is a valuable and useful person and will likely remain so. Armed criminals are a different order of creatures, impulsive, violent and dangerous with or without guns.”
I refer to this as an inability to differentiate between the two “gun cultures” – the “violent and predatory” and the “violent, but protective.” His type (exemplified by the British press, and it would seem, the majority of the British populace) sees only violent, and all violence is, by their definition, bad – unless that violence is carried out by an authorized member of the government, where it is instead referred to as force. And there is still some ambivalence even about those acts. I’m heartened to see what appears to be a growing public support for what they term “have-a-go heroes” – those who fight back against attackers – but they’ve got a long way to go after almost ninety years of a disarmament culture.
I did a little research on you and found this page concerning you and your American Gun Policy seminar. Needless to say, it was not what I was expecting. I’ve been studying the topic since about 1995 on my own, and I honestly believe if there was a PhD program available, I could fairly easily earn one. You state on that page, “Some of the research is very, very good; some of it is laughably bad.” I completely agree. I’m curious, however, on whether we agree on just which research is which. I pretty much discount anything coming from John Lott. He, like Michael Bellisiles, has proven himself untrustworthy, and I don’t have the time (or frankly, the statistician’s background) to check him. I am also leery of data coming from Gary Kleck. His data may be valid, but it doesn’t pass my smell test – and again, I’m not a statistician. Anything funded by the Joyce Foundation is, as far as I’m concerned, highly suspect. Garen Wintemute’s work may be quite good, but I cannot help but believe that it is distorted by his obvious bias. Anything that comes from Arthur Kellermann I treat like it came from John Lott.
I am particularly enamored of one particular work, Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime, and Violence in America by Wright, Rossi and Daly, a meta-study of all gun control research available at the time, commissioned by the Carter administration. It seemed to be very, very good work. And I was honestly surprised by the recent National Academies of Science meta-study report commissioned by the Clinton administration. I was expecting a hatchet-job, and instead they delivered pretty much the same report Wright, Rossi and Daly provided twenty years earlier.
Can you recommend or refer me to other “very, very good” sources?
Thank you for your time. As you can see, the topic is my particular hobby horse, and it is not every day that I run into someone who has, at least partially, made an academic career out of it. We’ll be here all night. I have to earn my living as an engineer, and do this in my off-time.
I would like your permission to post this, and any future exchanges we may have at my blog. And once again, thank you for commenting there.
Sincerely, a fellow Lockean
Please do post it.
I like John Lott’s stuff, ambitious, but his inferences often outrun the strength of his research designs. I like your Diane Sawyer anecdote, too. I agree re Wright and Rossi. Kleck is a very typical sociologist and speaks that language. His analysis of public opinion data on guns is pretty good, though, but I also wonder.
I just reviewed , and beat up, a gun book by Kristen Goss–see the new Journal of Popular Culture (Vol 40, no 5. ) –the October issue. I will follow up with a longer email with some opinions, comments re the literature.
PS tenure is a wondrous thing, got it back in May, and my colleagues are just beginning to realize, I think.
Regarding tenure, I’ll bet. This could get very interesting. A distinct divergence from my exchanges with Saul Cornell.