NY Paper Broke No Laws With Gun Owner Map — But Is It Ever Ethical to Publish Personal Info to Push an Agenda?
New York’s “Journal News” certainly infuriated many pro-gun advocates after publishing the names and addresses of pistol permit holders in two New York Counties, however, the paper doesn’t appear to have broken any privacy laws.
In retaliation, blogger Robert Cox with “Talk of the Sound” published his own post titled, “Map: Where are the Journal News employees in your neighborhood?” The interactive map featured the names, addresses, social media profiles and phone numbers of employees of the weekly Journal News publication.
But is it ever ethical to publish innocent Americans’ personal information to push an agenda? That is the debate occurring across the country following the Journal News’ controversial decision.
CynDee Royle, Journal News editor, recently defended the paper’s actions saying: “We knew publication of the database would be controversial, but we felt sharing as much information as we could about gun ownership in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.”
Bob Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, told TheBlaze on Thursday that state law regarding the matter “is crystal clear.”
“The name and address of any person to whom an application to any license has been granted shall be public record,” Freeman said, reading from the related law. “And they can do with the information as they see fit.”
He went on to say that the decision to publish the personal information of pistol permit holders — which is public information in New York — came down to editorial judgment as there was no law violation.
“The First Amendment is at play here,” Freeman explained, adding that any journalist could find private information in a tipped over trash can, such as welfare recipient information, and publish it without fear of prosecution.
But as Freeman pointed out, other personal information is protected by privacy law in the Empire State. For example, the Journal News would have been unable to retrieve individuals’ tax records or public assistance records.
It ultimately comes down to ethics and whether it is ever necessary to publish personal information, especially when it comes to such a contentious topic like gun ownership.
In an op-ed published on Thursday, Poynter’s Al Tompkins calls the Journal News’ journalistic and ethical standards into question [emphasis added]:
If publishing the data because it is public and the public seems to be interested in the topic right now is reason enough, then there are endless databases to exploit.
If your county required dog and cat licenses would you publish that interactive map? I suspect the licenses would be public. I sure would like to know if there were three dogs living behind me before I moved in.
I have seen news organizations publish the salaries of local and state government employees for no reason other than that they can. Why? Did we think they all worked for free? If somebody is playing the system, expose them. But use the surgeon’s tools, not a chainsaw approach.
I like it when journalists take heat for an explosive, necessary, courageous investigation that exposes important wrongdoing. There is journalistic purpose and careful decision-making supporting those stories. But The News Journal is taking heat for starting a gunfight just because it could.
David Trigilanos, a Putnam County resident, during an appearance on Fox News, said that by publishing the names of gun owners, the paper essentially put them “on the level of a sex offender.”
“Those people have demonstrated that they are a threat to their community, I haven’t done anything to demonstrate that I’m a threat to my community,” Triglianos said.
“I don’t know how it makes it safer to know that your neighbor happens to own a handgun or is licensed to own a handgun,” he added. “If Nancy Lanza’s neighbors had known she owned guns, what difference would that have made?”
Blogger Christopher Fountain, who posted the names and addresses of nearly every Journal News employee, told CNN that he fought back because he was offended by the paper’s “conflating legal gun owners with some crazed tormented devil up in Newtown.”
CNN’s Roland Martin accused Fountain of being hypocritical by publishing employees’ personal information while criticizing the paper for doing the same thing.
“Well, it’s a logical fallacy, I agree, to say ‘you did it too’,” Fountain said. “On the other hand, frankly I am not a big fan of the media and I felt they were using this to harass gun owners…so I harassed them back.”
The Journal News employees whose information is now public have remained largely silent. Calls made by TheBlaze to several employees were not immediately returned. Further, many of their social media profiles are void of recent posts while others have been deleted.
Several of the employees listed phone numbers are no longer in service and others go straight to voice mail with a “inbox is full” message.
It is unclear whether these developments are related to the recent backlash over the Journal News story.
In some other states, publishing gun owner information is more than just an ethical question. In Texas, though there are no mandatory handgun permits, the public information of concealed carry permit holders is protected under confidentiality law.
“Records involving an applicant for a license to carry a concealed handgun, except as provided by law” is confidential information, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Was it ethical for the Journal News to publish the names and addresses of handgun permit holders? What about the bloggers who retaliated by publishing the employees’ personal information? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.
TheBlaze editors discussed the topic during Thursday’s Blazecast. Watch the video below:
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