February 26th, 2013
North Carolina paper Cherokee Scout withdraws request for gun records, grovels for forgiveness
By Donald W. Meyers
The Cherokee Scout in Murphy, N.C., did not do the open-government movement any favors this week.
As Jim Romenesko reported, the paper issued an apology for filing a records request with Cherokee County Sheriff Keith Lovin for a list of concealed-carry permit holders in the county, as well as the application. The paper indicated in a letter to readers that it was looking into allegations that Lovin was only issuing permits to people he favored. There was no indication that the paper was going to publish all the names it got.
But Lovin refused to grant the request, and posted the paper’s request, as well as his response and his vow to “support the constitution [sic] and all amendments including the Second Amendment on the department’s Facebook page. I will continue to uphold my Oath of Office [sic] and serve the Citizens of Cherokee County.” He obviously forgot that his oath was also uphold the laws of North Carolina, including the open-records law that said the concealed-permit information is a matter of public records.
The sheriff’s posting the information on the department’s Facebook page naturally got the gun-rights crowd fired up (no pun intended), who promptly denounced the paper’s efforts.
Which brings us to the withdrawal of the open-records request, as well as the apology from publisher David Brown and editor Robert Horne, who called the request “a lapse of judgment.”
“As publisher of your local newspaper, I want to apologize to everyone we unintentionally upset with our public records request for a list of those who have or have applied for a concealed carry permit. We had no idea the the reaction it would cause.
“Sheriff Keith Lovin had the best interests of the people of Cherokee County at heart when he denied our request. The Scout would like to offer an apology to him as well.”
Brown also brought out his and Horne’s bona fides as local folks, with Brown even noting he had been baptized there.
The only lapse of judgment was backing down on the request and kissing Lovin’s boots.
This does not help the Scout, or its readers. Rather, Lovin has learned that he can make the local paper back off and print only the news he wants. He’s also learned he can break open-records laws, which he is sworn to uphold, without any fear of repercussion.
And it will embolden others to follow Lovin’s example and bully journalists into sticking with the press releases they are being spoon fed.
Would the paper had faced a backlash if it pursued the case? Probably. But nobody ever said that journalism was a risk-free enterprise, especially when it comes to speaking truth to power.
Elijah Lovejoy could have probably lived a longer, more prosperous life if he had not challenged the institution of slavery. While the abolitionist publisher paid with his life, he also sent a message that killing the messenger doesn’t kill the message.
Likewise, thugs in Arizona thought they could keep their misdeeds secret by killing Don Bolles, but instead their crimes got even greater media scrutiny.
In the spirit of Bolles and the Arizona Project his death inspired, maybe we should all file a records request with Lovin for the concealed-carry permit list, and let him know that he may have silenced one news outlet but true journalists never give up.
Lovin’s contact information can be found here.