North Carolina Newspaper With No Backbone Apologizes For Its Request For Public Records

from the incredible dept

It's no secret that the latest decision by many newspapers to publish records of gun-permit holders after obtaining them via Freedom of Information Act requests is somewhat controversial. Some people are against the practice and think that such information should not be public. Wherever you come down on that side of the debate, however, hopefully you can recognize that since (in most places) the information is officially a public record, no publication or news organization should ever have to apologize for merely requesting the information. And yet, as pointed out by Jim Romenesko, The Cherokee Scout in Murphy N.C., posted an astoundingly groveling apology to its readers last week for the sin of daring to request public records:

NOTE TO READERS

The Cherokee Scout made a tremendous error in judgment this week, and thanks to our readers we learned a tough lesson.

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.

To that end, Editor Robert Horne spoke with Lovin on Friday morning to tell him we were withdrawing our public records request. He asked for a written copy of request, and Horne dropped it off at his office that morning.

While Horne was on the phone with the sheriff, he also thanked him and his staff for their quick response when some people who saw Facebook posts started making personal threats against him. Horne also requested a sit-down meeting in the near future to iron out any issues between the Scout and the sheriff's office, which Lovin graciously accepted.

I realize many people are upset with Horne, myself and the Scout and we can understand that. We never meant to offend the wonderful people of this fine community nor hurt the reputation of this newspaper. We do a lot of positive work that helps make Cherokee County an even better place to live, and I hope more good work will repair our reputation with readers.

Many of you have asked where Horne is from. He is from a small town in south Georgia — Cairo, Ga., to be exact. It is a rural area much like Murphy, and his roots are helping him better understand this community. [He has been editor of the paper since 2005.]

As for myself, I attended Murphy High School. I was married and baptized here, and three of my children are proud Bulldogs. This county has been important to me for a long time.

I know where this community is coming from, and I hope we can regain your trust. I know it may take a while, but we're going to try. Thanks for reading.

Sincerely,

Publisher David Brown

Newspaper publishers are supposed to stand up for their right to ask for public information, not grovel about how it was a mistake to ask for it in the first place. People might not like it, but newspapers aren't supposed to only report on the stories that people like. If that's the case, they're no longer a newspaper, they're a marketing brochure.

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  1. identicon
    Mr. Applegate, 27 Feb 2013 @ 8:45am

    If we apply some basic logic here, I think this makes sense.

    1. The paper has the legal right to request the information.

    2. I have the right to expect that my right to privacy regarding both my gun permit and any weapons I may legally own and have registered will not be violated.

    3. My right to keep and bear arms is embedded in the constitution of the United States.

    4. Release of the fact that I have a gun permit, or that I purchase weapons puts my property and more importantly the welfare of me and my family at undo risk.

    5. It is probably important for the government to keep track of who carries weapons and who owns them (though technically, I believe, even that is a violation of my rights since it means they could choose to take my license and my weapon at any time).

    So given those 5 facts, I think logic would dictate that while information might technically be public, parts of it are private. In this case, my right to privacy overrides your right to know. So any FIOA requests should redact names and addresses, SS#... (any personally identifiable information). I think I have the same right to privacy with this as I do with my medical records. Only people with a real need to know have a right to know. If you don't feel that way, then I may choose to purchase and carry a weapon without registering with the good old government.

    Now regarding the public apology by the editor. There is no surprise there. The paper betrayed the trust of the very people they were supposed to serve.

    Did they have to apologize? No. It was not mandated by any court or other governmental body was it?

    However, just like everything else in life, the paper quickly figured out that you shouldn't bite the hand that feeds you. If you are going to betray me, why should I pay for your paper?

    Sorry Mike, can't agree on this one. The paper did what it had to do, it is called self preservation. The paper acted stupidly and irresponsibly. The editor corrected the mistake.

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