I got an email a few days ago from my friend and former business partner Alan Hirsch, pointing me to a story in The New York Times. He wrote, "It will change your mind about the U.S. having a free press."
So, of course, with such strong words, I had to check out the story, headlined "Banished for Questioning the Gospel of Guns."
The articles tells how Dick Metcalf, one of nation's most respected gun journalists (The NYT's assessment, not mine -- I wouldn't know.) has been fired from his post as a columnist for Guns & Ammo Magazine. His crime -- writing a column that debated gun laws, where he wrote the following line that made the powerful gun lobby go ballistic: "The fact is, all consitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be."
After the column ran, The Times reports, two gun makers who are big advertisers in Guns & Ammo demanded that Metcalf be fired or they'd pull all future advertising. So, Metcalf's name is gone from the masthead, and a cable show the magazine produces has also dismissed him as a contributor.
Clearly, as my friend Alan decries, the line between editorial and advertising was crossed in this case. But does this threaten the integrity of the free press in this country? Sorry Alan, but I'd say, hardly.
Although it's technically a consumer publication, I'd put Guns & Ammo in the category of a trade pub. It's closely allied with -- actually a part of -- the gun community, which is very protective of its right to bear arms. As we know, they'll go to almost any length to stifle discussion on gun control.
If the publication in question was The New York Times, USA Today or any major market daily paper, my reaction would be different. But most trade publications rely heavily on advertising support from the industries they cover. I've seen many trade pubs blur the line that separates editorial and advertising. Readers generally see and understand that, and I'm not sure how much credence they give to editorial copy that's favorable to the company that's running a full-page ad on the facing page.
Slanting copy to keep advertisers happy is, for some trade publications, fairly routine. It doesn't threaten the free press, in my mind. It's just business as usual.