There’s a story circulating in the press about Michael Moore’s bodyguard being arrested in an NYC airport for carrying a firearm. Apparently this isn’t actually true, according to the firm that employs the bodyguard in question:

Patrick Burk is not Michael Moore’s bodyguard, nor was he protecting Michael Moore or in any way involved with Michael Moore on Wednesday night, when he (Burk) was checking in at JFK for a flight to Los Angeles.

When checking in for the flight, Patrick Burk voluntarily advised United Airlines that he was transporting an unloaded, locked firearm in his checked luggage, precisely as regulations require, and not “carrying” a weapon, as your story inaccurately reports. Advising the counter ticket agent is a routine procedure for police officers and security professionals. In this case, a Port Authority officer decided to arrest Patrick Burk on the charge that he is not licensed to carry a firearm in New York City.

The Fox web site headline contains an error not present in the story. The headline indicates that Patrick Burk was arrested on an “airport gun charge.” He was not. The charge involves having a firearm without a New York City License to carry it. On that note, Patrick Burk was not carrying a weapon on his person (only locked in his baggage), and the police do not allege that he was carrying a weapon on his person, as your story implies.

The Fox News story also says Patrick Burk was carrying “an unlicensed firearm.” Please correct that error. Patrick Burk’s firearm is legally registered to Patrick Burk – it is not “unlicensed.” Patrick Burk is licensed to carry a firearm in several States, and a court will determine if any charge is appropriate for Patrick Burk in this matter, which involves New York City.

An important note for you is that Patrick Burk is not a public figure and even the smallest inaccurate detail that is widely disseminated could predictably interfere with his ability to pursue his profession. Patrick Burk is a former Marine who served with distinction in an elite and specialized Marine unit, and he protected, among others, then-President Clinton.

(letter is signed “Gavin de Becker”)

Gavin de Becker is a well-known authority on threat assessment and personal security, and he runs Gavin de Becker & Associates. He has written a book called “The Gift of Fear”, which I have read, and I find him to be an insightful, intelligent, and competent man.

This correction, interestingly, comes via MooreWatch. I congratulate them on their intellectual honesty.

Kyle adds: The blogosphere, especially the right half of the blogosphere, likes to beat up on the MSM for spreading bogus stories that fit a political agenda and then either failing to correct themselves or hiding the corrections in a far less prominent location than the original story. Let’s run a quick experiment. I saw this original allegation on many of the blogs on my blogroll. I’m going to do a quick run through them now and see how many of them have picked up on the fact that this story about Moore’s bodyguard apparently isn’t true, or at least seems more complicated that it was originally presented as being. Back in a few…

Ok. In my blogroll, the following blogs linked to the original Moore story: Captain’s Quarters, Clayton Cramer, Instapundit, Kim Du Toit, Little Green Footballs, PoliBlog and Viking Pundit. Of those, the following have posted a correction in some form: Captain’s Quarters, Clayton Cramer, Instapundit and Little Green Footballs. Kim Du Toit, PoliBlog and Viking Pundit have not updated their posts, although the correction is mentioned in the comments to Kim’s post.

VikingPundit has a list to a bunch of other blog posts on the topic, but doesn’t mention the correction himself. Of the blogs not in my blogroll that he links to, PejmanPundit, Tim Blair, Right Wing News and Ryne McClaren feature the correction; NRO, Slant Point, Cut on the Bias, Balloon Juice, The Smarter Cop, Ace of Spades, QandO, and Damian Penny do not. (He also links to Captain’s Quarters, Instapundit and Little Green Footballs.)

In my blogroll, corrections are running at about 57%. In the sample from Viking Pundit’s post, corrections are running at a lower 46%. What to make of this? First, the blogs in my blogroll seem to do a better job of corrections than the ones Viking Pundit apparently reads. Go me! B-) Second, there’s a lot of room here for improvement. It’s possible the numbers will improve over time; the cycle here is less than a day.

More generally, I think this shows that one of the factors that feeds into the perception of MSM bias is really a more general cognitive problem with the way humans think. People construct narratives in their heads — models they use to structure and interpret the world. Facts that fit cleanly into the model are accepted and promulgated with less critical attention than facts that do not fit the model. (Thomas Sowell calls statistics that fit into a previously-existing narrative like this “Aha! statistics”, but it happens with all sorts of facts.) Add in the fact that people are more motivated to seek facts and arguments that confirm their models than they are to seek facts and arguments that conflict with their models (confirmation bias) and you have a recipe for disaster.

The MSM is perceived as having a liberal bias in part because the models they share skew heavily to the liberal — because the vast majority of the reporters and editors in the MSM are liberal. These models filter what sorts of facts they seek out, what kinds of experts they consider authoritative, what kinds of criticisms are believable, etc. Conservatives, with a different set of models, use different filters. This is why it’s good to have a mix of people with different models — when the filters conflict, people are faced with having to deal with facts and arguments that they would not otherwise have sought out. It’s called the marketplace of ideas, and it’s damn useful.

I’m not immune to this phenomenon. I know it exists, but when I saw the original Moore story my immediate reaction was “Ah, of course.” It fit into one of my pre-existing narrative models — the hypocritical left-winger who thinks laws are for other people. Because of that I was willing to accept the story at face value — and turned out to be wrong, or at least premature. (And there’s that bias again: the story seems to have a problem with it, but I’m waiting to see how well the revised facts fit the narrative. Captain’s Quarters updated post is an excellent example of this. In essence, it retrenches to say “Well, the guy might not have been working for Moore at the time, but Moore still hired an armed bodyguard so he’s still a hypocrite!” The facts are negotiable, but the narrative lives forever.)

2 Responses to “Michael Moore's Bodyguard Story Correction”
  1. triticale says:

    Did your survey include a check of the comments? I posted notice of the correction a couple of places where I saw the initial story without the update.

  2. Kyle Haight says:

    In at least some cases, yes. I mentioned, for example, that the correction was cited in a comment on Kim Du Toit’s website. But I didn’t dig through all the comments on all the blogs I examined. (Hey, this was spur-of-the-moment.)

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