Fightin’ words

Jim Zumbo is a famous hunter, and has been writing about guns, the outdoors, and hunting, for decades. He has a TV show and is an editor and writer for the second largest outdoor magazine in the nation. Or rather, he was all those things. He lost it all one evening, when, after a hard day of hunting on a Remington Arms funded coyote hunt, Zumbo blogged the following words:

“Excuse me, maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I see no place for these weapons among our hunting fraternity,” Zumbo wrote in his blog on the Outdoor Life Web site. The Feb. 16 posting has since been taken down. “As hunters, we don’t need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them. . . . I’ll go so far as to call them ‘terrorist’ rifles.”

Zumbo has since pulled the post, and has apologized profusely, all to no effect. The NRA has gone to war with him, perhaps as a way of reminding the new Congress that the group has not lost its teeth.

The parallels to the Edwards blogging affair are obvious.

A comment in one context is dragged into a new one, in which the comment is misinterpreted and misrepresented in order to inflame passions. Jobs are lost and an interest group asserts its power.
Online communications make this sort of thing easier, with psychologists arguing that:

several psychological factors lead to online disinhibition: the anonymity of a Web pseudonym; invisibility to others; the time lag between sending an e-mail message and getting feedback; the exaggerated sense of self from being alone; and the lack of any online authority figure.

To most of the people complaining about Zumbo’s remarks, like the people who attacked Melissa McEwan and Amanda Marcotte, the target is literally two dimensional. He is words on a screen, perhaps with a photograph attached. To the people who cost those individuals their jobs, the targets were fundamentally separated from a reality in which there are bills to pay, personal opinions to express, and different avenues to blow off steam.

The NRA was no more interested in Zumbo than Bill Donohue and the Catholic League were interested in Melissa and Amanda. The groups wanted to score some cheap points and to throw an elbow early on in this accelerated election season. Our mass media, and the way that talking heads spar with each other, have made it easier to use the lives of passionate and thoughtful human beings as pawns in petty feuds. Online communication may make this easier and more widespread, but the casualties of the average flamewar are a lot less severe than the one the NRA and Bill Donohue have waged in the last few weeks.

Perhaps they’d benefit from some character education?


  1. #1 Standard Mischief
    February 24, 2007

    Zumbo has since pulled the post, and has apologized profusely, all to no effect. The NRA has gone to war with him, perhaps as a way of reminding the new Congress that the group has not lost its teeth.


    1. Outdoor Life Magazine pulled his entire blog off the web. I saw it before it was taken down, he was getting thousands of comments a day

    2. His attempt at an apology fell flat. He basically said “Wow, I sure am surprised that people actually hunt with these guns. Well, in that case, I suppose these “evil scary looking” guns are actually OK.” However, most of his critics don’t hunt and were offended that someone who they considered was on their side actually feels that the only legitimate reason to own a firearm is to hunt.

    3. All this, the thousands of comments a day, the calls to his ex-sponsors, all occurred before the NRA issued it’s first press statement. It wasn’t the NRA flexing it’s muscles, they were late to the party here. This was a grassroots movement.

    4. Many people, myself included, while angry, were specifically NOT calling for the guy’s head.

  2. #2 Sindarin
    February 25, 2007

    Zumbo’s comment was not “misinterpreted and misrepresented.” What he said was straightforward and to the point, and when he failed to give a sincere apology, his career was over.

    If he had used less inflamatory language in his original post, this firestorm would not have been so bad. These are not “terrorist rifles” and the biggest group of users is the United States Armed Forces – not “people who terrorize the world with them.”

    Zumbo’s apology was pitiful – he said:
    1. He was tired.
    2. He was ignorant that anybody used this guns to hunt.
    3. He didn’t understand the topic he was writing about at all.
    4. He used all kinds of condescending language, trying to tell people that he was their “best friend” among other things.

    If he had apologized for his terrorist comments or acknowledged that these rifles have a purpose, he would have been let go. He didn’t, so he wasn’t.

    Finally, the NRA had NOTHING to do with the firestorm. They issued a statement days after this incident began and only after Zumbo had lost most of his sponsors already. Just because you assume something to be true doesn’t mean you should publish them. Reporters are supposed to hold themselves to a high standard of proof and you’re eagerness to score some “cheap shots” at the NRA does not excuse your laziness.

  3. #3 Josh
    February 25, 2007

    I appreciate that many of the people writing to his employers were probably just trying to educate him and them about the issue, but the NRA wanted a scalp. As the linked article says:

    The NRA on Thursday pointed to the collapse of Zumbo’s career as an example of what can happen to anyone, including a “fellow gun owner,” who challenges the right of Americans to own or hunt with assault-style firearms.

    If the NRA was simply co-opting a grassroots movement aimed at educating Zumbo without getting him fired, that seems like an betrayal by the NRA of their supporters.

    I don’t know (and now more or less can’t know) what Zumbo said, or why he did so. I presume that his comment about hunting was a reference to the topic he writes about and that his public persona is focused on. I don’t know. The idea that Outdoor Life has to toe the line on NRA views beyond the scope of outdoor activities is unfortunate. It seems to chill legitimate discussions on the merits of particular weapons for the purposes he thinks about using guns for.

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