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Sandy Hook audio is a public record

December 4, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
There probably is no way to put this that won’t sound crass to people who don’t get it or who are not reporters, but here it is: The Sandy Hook 911 tapes should be released as they are being released today.

The Associated Press asked for the tapes not long after the school shooting, now nearly a year ago, with a newsgathering interest at stake. It’s about listening to the police response, the how and when and what, to put together a picture of just what happened after the bullets began flying.

Yes, there will be those who get a prurient charge out of hearing the tapes, the same kinds of people who enjoy “Faces of Death” videos, I would figure.

For those who see this as an intrusion on the lives of families devastated by the killing spree in the elementary school, it is an unfortunate side effect of the world we live in, but the door was been opened long ago.

No one thinks twice about the families of airline pilots whose last half hour of voice is on a tape in an airplane doomed in some way. Nor the civil aviation pilots who aren’t recorded but whose conversations with air traffic controllers are preserved in transcripts available as part of the public record.

And the tapes from Sept. 11, 2001, are replayed again and again, annually and more. No one thinks twice about hearing the voices of those firefighters or police officers killed that day, nor the voices of people on doomed airliners who called 911 that day. There were tapes from Columbine that were released. Tapes are routinely released from less than national-newsmaking fires and incidents.

Do I suppose there are those who get a sick joy out of listening to these kinds of tapes or reading the transcripts of airplane communications before a crash. Sure there are. Just as surely there are those who will post the tapes on the Internet to share their prurient sickness with others. Just as there are those who enjoy looking at Frame 313 of the Zapruder film of JFK’s assassination.

But even that grisly frame has scientific value in determining the nature of JFK’s death (and sparking endless debate among the conspiracy theorists).

And as to the one complaint I heard this morning, that the release of the Sandy Hook audio will chill calls by others to 911, well, it’s ludicrous. I’m pretty sure that if my house is on fire, if I’ve just witnessed a plane crash, car crash, rail crash, factory fire, explosion, drive-by shooting, whatever, that my first thought won't be, “Hey, my 911 call might go on the Internet someday. Better to let that stuff burn, those people stay injured."

Do I need to justify that complaint with any more than a single word: Ludicrous.

It is unfortunate that we live in a world filled with the sickos who now have the ability to share their sickness at will and in mass distribution on the Internet. But that should never chill the ability of legitimate inquiry to be made.


Article Comments



Dec-04-13 11:32 AM

I agree with you, in fact I think police audio in all situations are public record. Naturally the police have every right and should bleep out any and all personally identifying information. With a tragedy of this magnitude it's not going to be easy to listen to however the public does have the right to do so.


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