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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

Tapes we don't need to hear...terror that doesn't need to be re-lived

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"Sunshine is the best disinfectant".  It's a favorite saying, most often used when someone (perhaps the government or an official therein) is fighting to keep the public (you, me or the media) from seeing/knowing/reading/viewing something that might be incriminating.

Openness is a good thing, especially among elected officials.  Transparency is never a bad thing.  Meetings should be held in the light of day.  Votes should be taken during business hours, not in the middle of the night. The actions of public stewards, like police officers, should be scrutinized to make sure abuses aren't happening.   Dash cams give us unflinching views of what they go through, casting a positive light on their heroics and revealing those who do bad behind a badge.

Then there's 9-1-1 tape.

All such calls get recorded to make sure that dispatchers are doing their jobs, that help is sent out promptly without fail.  The contents often show how well, despite immense stress, these folks carry on.  Sometimes, they reveal ineptitude.  Others are downright hilarious.

More often than not, though, they don't need to be heard.  Newtown, Connecticut is Exhibit A and, for the most part, the news media is keeping those tapes off the air even though the courts ruled that they should be released.

It's welcomed restraint from an industry that sometimes dips into the distasteful to make the ratings meter move. 9-1-1 tapes can, on occasion, be useful investigative tools to clear up claims about late response or a dismissive operator on the other end.  Too often, they're aired merely to keep a bad story alive for a second day: "Tonight at ten! the 9-1-1 calls from (insert name of latest tragedy here)!"  Seldom do they reveal anything we didn't already know--they merely give us a chance to hear people experiencing the unthinkable in the worst moments of their lives.  It's not news--it's a lazy way of wringing out the last awful morsels of a horrible tragedy.

Had there been questions about how Newtown was handled in those critical early moments, fine.  Were there issues with the response?  Glitches?  The tapes then would certainly be in play, painful though they would be to hear.  The courts released them despite a lack of such questions, perhaps in a quest to err on the side of openness. The media, so far, has chosen not to walk through the door and play them.  

Sunshine is a great disinfectant.  Transparency should always be expected.  Restraint is a virtue in short commodity these days in a digital, tweet-now, take-no-consequence-for-what-you-say-in-social-media environment.  Let YouTube be the place where every digital excess goes for scrutiny.

Let the Newtown 9-1-1 tapes remain unheard.


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