NBC News seems to have decided that given its cable cousin MSNBC’s avowed leftward lean (or “forward lean”), it might as well sacrifice journalistic objectivity in its own investigative reports.
I smelled a smoking gun in an email from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which linked to a Today Investigates report on the legal sale of high-powered weapons via the internet. Investigators posing as buyers were able to purchase a variety of monster guns by simply responding to online ads, meeting the sellers in suburban parking lots, and handing over the cash, no questions asked.
Is this something we should be concerned about? Yes, if we believe in law and order and a civilized society. A bill in Congress that would close the loophole allowing such private gun sales without background checks is stuck in the mire of Republican opposition and NRA lobbying.
But instead of plainly stating the facts and showing the footage of the transactions, the report takes a kinetic, hyper-dramatic tone that makes this card-carrying gun-hater want to follow Chekhov’s rule and shoot someone.
Inaugurating an investigative series called “Rossen Reports,” NBC’s Jeff Rossen tells us that “anyone from law-abiding citizens to dangerous criminals, even terrorists, can get just about any weapon they want, no questions asked,” even a “50-caliber weapon so powerful it could take down a helicopter.” The report goes on to demonstrate that fact with a cornucopia of audiovisual tricks.
The quick cuts and firing guns remind me of a cheap SciFi (excuse me, Syfy) Channel original movie. Bloody red type prints out the capabilities of the story’s scariest weapon. The scenes of Rossen confronting the dealers after the deal’s gone down play like a local news reporter going after a neglectful landlord or a Botox scammer. Should gun issues really be put in this diminished company?
And then of course there are the two young women whose friend was gunned down by a stalker from – children, stop reading here! – Canada. Their interview comes with a few seconds of weepy Lifetime Channel music and, naturally, a smiling photo of the attractive victim.
“Is this like a candy store for criminals?” Rossen asks a consultant, not leading him on at all. “We could hardly believe it, but the twists and turns are just beginning,” he intones by way of introducing footage of a dealer who has brought his young son to the transaction. Forgive me, but is that a twist, or a turn?
If NBC is going to go to the trouble and expense of conducting hidden-camera investigations on important topics, they should present them straight-ahead, without all the gimmicks. “Investigative journalism is incredibly important,” Rossen says earnestly at the end, having just demonstrated a belief in the opposite. Can we keep in mind that making said journalism palatable to audiences is just as important?
One thing I’ll give Rossen and his team: They did get Chuck Schumer to say the word “buttresses” on camera. It’s worth watching the video for that alone.