The prestigious Columbia Journalism School is offering a one-sided, two-day training camp about guns next month in Phoenix for select reporters across the country.
"Covering Guns and Gun Violence," hosted by the school's Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma and funded by ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, offers 30 select reporters "specialized reporting skills training to enhance the practical ability of journalists to report on guns and gun violence knowledgeably, ethically, and effectively."
Conservative pundits weighing in on the two-day seminar in the past few weeks have deemed the program biased.
After reviewing the speaker lineup and talking on Thursday with the Dart Center's director, Bruce Shapiro, we see their point.
A reader tipped off New Times about the upcoming class, which is scheduled to be held somewhere in Phoenix on May 29 and 30. We later found out it was a rather belated tip: The story had been covered by Fox News two days earlier and actually had received quite a bit of press back in January, after the school publicized it and began seeking applicants.
The 30 lucky reporters selected for the seminar (deadline to apply is April 13) will be flown to Phoenix and given room and board, with everything paid for by Everytown for Gun Safety, (major funding by Bloomberg, one of the country's biggest gun-control advocates.) The fact that the show is coming to Phoenix doesn't seem like an accident -- it sure can't be the weather, that late in May. And Bloomberg's targeted Arizona's biggest city in the past. In 2011, he authorized spending $100,000 to send eight detectives to a Phoenix gun show, where they allegedly made what Bloomberg called a "blatantly illegal" pistol purchase.
In January, New York Daily News columnist S.E. Cupp blasted the very concept of the seminar and Columbia University's "alliance" with the Bloomberg group, writing that, "the only journalists who should attend this workshop are those who want to expose its dishonesty."
Bruce Shapiro, Dart Center director, called her after the column was published and told her Everytown would have no control over the speakers or agenda, she reported. He invited her to speak at the seminar -- Cupp's now one of the 15 guest speakers.
Most of the speakers, however, seem to be gun-control advocates, if not activists:
* Roseanna Ander, founding Executive Director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab
* Phillip Cook, Professor of Economics and Sociology at Duke University
* Democratic Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who believes U.S. gun laws are the "height of insanity." (Shapiro apparently had trouble finding a Republican sheriff in Arizona to talk at the seminar.)
* Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor, who advocates a ban on "high-capacity" magazines and wants guns licensed like vehicles.
* Dr. Garen Wintemute, a researcher who lobbied for a California law -- nearly successful, but for the governor's veto -- that would have prohibited California residents with two or more DUIs from owning guns.
* Jennifer Longdon, a local shooting victim who was the subject of a March 2013 New Times feature article.
* Lawrence Rosenthal, Harvard grad and professor at the Dale E. Fowler School of Law at Chapman University, an expert on the "constitutional case for gun control."
* Jill Messing, an Arizona State University assistant professor of social work who has conducted research on the links between gun-use and domestic violence.
The seminar also features presentations by several journalists and journalism experts.
Don't get us wrong -- we're not impugning the expertise of the above experts, denying anyone's right to gun-control advocacy or even denying that looking at guns as a public-safety problem like unfenced pools or drunk drivers might be a reasonable area of research.
The problem is that journalism should at least try to be non-biased, and here we have the nation's leading journalism school running what amounts to an indoctrination camp on gun issues. Worse, the school's director may not even see the bias.
"It is in my mind a rich and diverse workshop," Shapiro said, reiterating for the Phoenix New Times that Bloomberg's group "had no say in the structure of the program, the list of speakers, or which reporters get chosen."
With that independence, Shapiro and the Dart Center "tried to identify some of the best scholarly experts with strong, evidence-based research that can enhance reporting," he said. The seminar would "expose reporters to really diverse research and really diverse perspectives."
He points out that some gun-rights advocates will speak at the seminar, like Dave Kopel of the Cato Institute and, of course, Cupp. (We e-mailed Cupp to see what she thinks of the speaker lineup, which hadn't been fleshed out when she signed up for the program. We'll let you know if she responds.)
But why doesn't the lineup include any scholar who's researched the idea that guns, or at least the defense display of guns, may often save lives?
Shapiro guffawed: "Look, guns kill people, right?" he said.
Um, okay, professor. Sorry we asked.
Reporters at the seminar will receive an education in how guns work, too, Shapiro confirmed. So which of the many gunsmiths or firearms dealers in Arizona did the Dart Center invite to go over that material? Maybe someone from the Ruger manufacturing plant in Prescott?
Nope -- serving as the seminar's gun-hardware expert, Shapiro said, will be journalist Marc Cooper, who wrote in 2013 that he'd subscribe to Guns & Ammo magazine after one its columnists (now fired) advocated for gun-control measures.
Not to denigrate Cooper's knowledge of firearms, which is said to be extensive, but we asked Shapiro if he'd tell journalism students that it would be acceptable to quote a journalist as the primary source in an article about the internal workings of guns. We were disappointed to hear him say "yes."
It's possible that Shapiro was simply growing tired of talking to us by then, and tired of the subject in general.
He said he thought our thinking on guns was "in a rut" because we were stuck on the "binary" pro- or anti-gun themes.
So much for that adjunct position for us at Columbia.
We asked Shapiro to let us know which reporters had been selected for the seminar, if he could; he hasn't released the names yet. It would be interesting to track them after the seminar to see what sort of articles they produce.
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.