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Don't lock up David Gregory or deport Piers Morgan

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
December 31, 2012 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Howard Kurtz: Emotion over gun control battle is trumping reason
  • He says it makes no sense to arrest David Gregory for possessing a high-capacity clip
  • Piers Morgan is target of a deportation petition signed by 90,000 people
  • Kurtz says journalists shouldn't be threatened for doing their job

Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) -- I went out on a limb the other day and said David Gregory should not be behind bars.

You would think I had issued a declaration of war. And maybe, the way some folks look at it, I had.

My defense of the "Meet the Press" moderator followed the much-publicized spectacle in which he brandished on the air a high-capacity magazine during an interview with the National Rifle Association's chief executive.

Howard Kurtz
Howard Kurtz

This was, to be sure, something of a stunt. It made for a great visual. It gave Gregory a prop as he asked Wayne LaPierre whether, if 30-bullet magazines like the one in his hand were banned, "isn't it just possible that we could reduce the carnage in a situation like Newtown?"

Next, as you've probably heard, came word that the police department in Washington was investigating Gregory for a potential violation of the city's gun laws. Possession of high-capacity magazines is illegal in Washington, even if they are empty.

It didn't help matters when the police said that NBC had asked for permission to show the ammunition on the air and was turned down. Nor has NBC's silence on the matter aided Gregory's case.

Watch: Is Chelsea Clinton a 'pretend journalist' for NBC?

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But let's get real here. David Gregory's only intent was to commit journalism. Why are the cops wasting time on this, other than as a PR gesture to demonstrate that they're somehow on the case?

It's fine to lambaste what Gregory did on the air. He walked right up to the line, and some would say crossed it, of pushing LaPierre to acknowledge that some form of gun control would be sensible. And maybe holding up ammunition for the cameras was grandstanding.

Watch: Twitter filled with sickening death wishes for George H.W. Bush

But there is a vitriol in the many messages, tweets and posts accusing me of not understanding that a journalist isn't above the law. On that point, I couldn't agree more. But would a regular person be prosecuted for carrying a magazine with no bullets if no violence was involved? Even the Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial page agrees that going after Gregory makes no sense.

Did NBC host break D.C. gun laws?
Media's 2012 report card
Can't 'legislate against evil'
Morgan and others debate gun violence

What's striking here is that gun enthusiasts often make the argument that they just want government to leave them alone, yet seem perfectly comfortable unleashing it against a member of the mainstream media, supporting the Second Amendment by trashing the First.

The same kind of animus has been directed at CNN's Piers Morgan, an outspoken advocate of gun control. For no other reason than that they don't like his views, more than 90,000 people have signed a petition calling for the British journalist to be deported.

Watch: Should NBC's David Gregory be jailed for waving ammunition on air?

The petition is meaningless, except in this respect: as a demonstration that so many people would support kicking someone out of the country for purely political reasons, without even the fig leaf of a technical offense.

Can Morgan be overbearing? It was not his finest hour when he questioned during an interview whether gun rights advocate Larry Pratt is an "unbelievably stupid man." He's fair game for equally strong criticism in return. But deportation is way out there as a remedy for media advocacy.

Morgan has handled the situation with humor, tweeting: "Still only 90,000 Americans have signed the White House petition to deport me. That leaves 310,910,000 who presumably want me to stay."

Emotions are obviously raw in the aftermath of the Connecticut tragedy, which saw 20 young and defenseless children gunned down.

Watch: From David Petraeus to Trayvon Martin, a 2012 media report card

Those who believe that guns are being unfairly blamed, led by the NRA, are lashing out at politicians, video game makers, entertainment conglomerates and, of course, the media. To the extent that leading journalists are in the forefront of this debate, they are feeling the sting of that anger. The uproar against the Journal-News newspaper for printing a map of gun permit owners in two suburban New York counties, which I view as violating their privacy without a good reason, can attest to that.

It's hardly surprising that things are getting heated, given the emotional intensity of the gun issue. But proclamations about locking up and banishing journalists deserve to be seen as little more than outlandish chatter.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.

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