Shooting Illustrated had been pimping the Remington R51 hard. They put it on their cover, they gave it a glowing review, and even after a plethora of negative reviews of the firearm started coming out they issued a full-throated defense of their actions and conclusions. As I noted, this situation is the clearest illustration of the lack of integrity among dead tree publications. But there’s now a problem: even Remington admits the R51 was a debacle. In light of that new development, Shooting Illustrated had this to say . . .
Clearly, however, many production models of the R51 were riddled with problems. Had we anticipated these problems in production, our coverage would have been handled differently.
We can only report that which we see in testing. To that end, we try to test production models whenever possible, but unfortunately that is not always an option, particularly with brand-new firearms. In the future, we will indicate whether a tested model is a production unit or a pre-production sample to provide the most complete and transparent information to our readers.
The specific nature of this problem was that Shooting Illustrated – like the other gun mags — were given pre-production versions of the R51 to test, guns that were hand-selected by Remington’s engineers and finely tuned to operate perfectly. Shooting Illustrated’s review gun worked flawlessly because the engineers took their time and ensured that it would. Clearly, no one at Remington took nearly that much care with the final production versions of the R51.
When Shooting Illustrated published their review — well after problems became evident — the backlash from the internet was swift and severe. Actual customers who had already purchased the firearm (and then returned it due to the problems) rightly pointed out that SI’s review divorced from the reality gun buyers were seeing. The finished products for which they had forked over their cold hard cash bore little resemblance to the exemplar of reliability and shootability that graced the pages of their magazine. SI’s initial response was to stand by their story — their author’s credibility was beyond reproach, and they had simply published what he had written based on his experience with the gun.
Now that Remington has admitted that there are serious problems, Shooting Illustrated also has a problem. As long as Remington had their fingers crammed in their ears screaming “LA LA LA,” SI could claim that there was no problem and their review was accurate. Whatever problems were being reported were outliers, not indicative of the true nature of the firearm.
Now that the reality of the situation has come to light and the R51 has been acknowledged as a glitch-riddled paperweight, Shooting Illustrated’s R51 review is a problem. In order to salvage some credibility they’re blaming the issue on Remington — claiming that they accurately reviewed the pre-production gun they were sent, but blaming Remington for pulling a bait-and-switch and promising to note in the future when pre-production guns are used for reviews.
That explanation doesn’t hold water, though. Shooting Illustrated’s review of the R51 was published months after Tim Harmsen and I (separately) reviewed the full production R51 and found it, well, lacking. They had plenty of time to revisit their review’s conclusions and ask Remington questions about the inconsistencies between the review guns and the versions in the wild. Instead of doing any real journalism they deferred to their advertisers and ran the review as-is. Most of the gun-buying world knew about the R51’s production version problems. And yet, Shooting Illustrated claims ignorance and promises that if they had known about them their coverage “would have been handled differently.” Why am I not convinced?