Zumbo: The Internet’s Latest Whipping Boy?

I’ve spent the past several days trying to digest and better understand the flurry that has revolved around Jim Zumbo and his blog post from last Friday. [I’d like to link to it but Outdoor Life has taken it down and the cached copies on the Internet are not actively linking at this time].   As Jim Shepherd wrote in his daily The Shooting Wire, he states “…Another lesson is one we all should remember: clicking on “SEND” is pulling a trigger—it’s no more possible to recall digital words than it is to put a bullet back into a barrel.”   Oh, how true that is.   And nobody now understands that statement better than Jim Zumbo.

Let’s step back for a moment and take a more objective look at this matter.   Besides, I want to point out I have no real gripe with Zumbo…the guy just made a terrible mistake and is now paying a heavy price for having done so.   I’m sure when he woke up last Friday morning he could never have imagined in his wildest dreams that by day’s end his life would be in such utter turmoil and professional chaos.   Face it, Zumbo is and shall likely remain one of the most recognizable personalities of the outdoors industry.   Indeed, the guy has some serious P.R. challenges to overcome…especially if he wants to remain respected as an outdoors communicator, but the next several weeks and months will no doubt be pivotal in how he is remembered by the legions of people he has communicated to for the past four decades.

I often write this blog very late at night before I turn in to bed.   Admittedly there is many a night when I am perhaps too fatigued to be writing(and thinking clearly), but I do so anyway because blogging is a daily activity for me that I do only when time will allow.   I’d like it to be different, but the fact is my job, my family and other important commitments in my life must get completed first.

I suspect this was largely the same for Zumbo.   In his blog he had posted that he had spent last Friday with several executives from Remington (his former sponsor) doing what many spokesmen do for their sponsor…test product.   Seems quite reasonable to me that in his blog that evening he would make mention of his activities of the day and try to work in a few promotional “plugs” for that sponsor.   I suspect that’s what Zumbo was attempting to do by touting the virtues of Remington’s new .17 cal. Spitfire bullet.   Where he committed his fatal sin was rambling on and on negatively about one class of firearms with hopes of promoting his preferred use of traditional “sporting firearms.”

Tom Gresham has a well written piece on his web site that is worth a read.   It chronicals how Jim Zumbo committed career suicide and in just a matter of hours after posting the blog his personal and professional life would never again be the same.   Tom brings up another critical point that I think is the real story to come out of this fiasco.   That is what Gresham calls the “Zumbo Effect”.   Where the rank and file gun owner can largely be so apathetic toward acting to protect their gun-owning rights, it has now been proven that a particular incident can almost immediately galvanize the masses to act…and do so very effectively and quickly.   Just ask Zumbo.

What truly amazes me is how the Internet has grown into such a powerful communications medium during the past few years.   It can turn elections because of a candidate’s misstep, it can reveal inaccuracies found in people’s resumes prompting them to be fired, last year about this time it helped alert the public about tainted dog food killing hundreds of beloved pets, and now we learn it can be used as a backlash reacting to unpopular opinion.

Indeed, I feel sorry for Zumbo in many ways.   On one hand as a sage, old writer he should have known better than to say what was written.   Furthermore, I’m sure Zumbo understands that if you write about how you feel this can have some unpopular consequences.   Still, I’m quite confident Zumbo never wanted it to end quite this way…alienating sponsors and disenfranchising the legions of his past readers.   Throughout his journalistic career he has written for magazines with editors who had the luxury of time to scrutinize his work…with the opportunity to correct errant statements that perhaps another person would think should not be made.

Well, that’s not how a blog works, my friend.   You write the words…you perhaps re-read them a time or two before hitting the “send button” and then it’s over.   I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there have been certain topical posts I’ve made where after hitting “send” I was just waiting for the negative comments to roll in.   With certain emotionally charged topics you just never can predict how the public sentiment will show up in the comments to a post.

But you can be damn sure of one thing now after this incident.   At Zumbo’s expense it has been a necessary wake-up call to all of us sportsmen that when it comes to talking or writing about guns we better be crystal clear in our statements and not say anything that will help feed the anti-gunners.    Consider this an important lesson learned at someone else’s expense.

© 2007 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.  No Reproduction Allowed Without Prior Permission.