The Corner

Law & the Courts

Editing Reality

I have written often of my hope that the press would exercise self-censorship when it comes to the names of mass shooters. The press – particularly TV, radio, and video websites — cannot help glamorizing whatever they cover to some degree. Ours is a society that not only fails to distinguish between fame and notoriety, but absolutely worships celebrity for its own sake.

So while we don’t know what motivates most mass shooters to commit their acts, we do know many of them betray an intimate familiarity with the shooters who preceded them. To the degree that a sick longing for a star turn of sorts is at least to some degree what these monsters crave, we should deny it to them. Report the crime, yes, but leave out the name, likeness, and certainly the manifesto of the evil lowlife who did it.

But there is a world of difference between denying criminals a platform and what the Department of Justice did over the weekend regarding the Orlando massacre. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that FBI (which is under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department) would be releasing an edited transcript of the 911 calls between the killer and police. Here is the exchange with NBC’s Chuck Todd: 

LORETTA LYNCH: What we’re announcing tomorrow is that the FBI is releasing a partial transcript of the killer’s calls with law enforcement, from inside the club. These are the calls with the Orlando PD negotiating team, who he was, where he was… that will be coming out tomorrow and I’ll be headed to Orlando on Tuesday.

CHUCK TODD: Including the hostage negotiation part of this?

LYNCH: Yes, it will be primarily a partial transcript of his calls with the hostage negotiators.

CHUCK TODD: You say partial, what’s being left out?

LYNCH: What we’re not going to do is further proclaim this man’s pledges of allegiance to terrorist groups, and further his propaganda. 

CHUCK TODD: We’re not going to hear him talk about those things? 

LYNCH: We will hear him talk about some of those things, but we are not going to hear him make his assertions of allegiance and that. It will not be audio, it will be a printed transcript. But it will begin to capture the back and forth between him and the negotiators, we’re trying to get as much information about this investigation out as possible. As you know, because the killer is dead, we have a bit more leeway there and we will be producing that information tomorrow.

By releasing the transcripts to the public but editing out the pledge of allegiance to ISIS and the references to the Tsarnaev brothers and more, the Department of Justice is not thwarting the killer’s “propaganda,” but engaging in Orwellian editing of reality. This will be the transcript that people will consult when attempting to make sense of what happened. Yet Big Brother is dropping some aspects of the conversations down the “Memory Hole.” The government is not the press. This is not a matter of denying a platform to someone but of distorting reality. Look, they don’t have to release the transcripts at all. But to release them in edited form is pure deception. 

Giving Lynch the full benefit of the doubt, let’s assume that her motive is pure — she simply doesn’t want crazed Islamists out there to know that the Orlando guy was one of them because it might inspire copy cats. 1) Isn’t it ridiculous to think that now, after a week of reporting, they don’t already know? And 2) while there may indeed be jihadis who will learn of the mass murder of 49 innocent, unarmed young Americans and think “Great work!”one must assume that there are millions if not billions of people on planet Earth who will hear this and think “Those Islamist radicals are disgusting.”

My suspicion is that the latter response, not the former, is what Lynch is thinking of. It was she, after all, who said after San Bernardino, that her “greatest fear” was not of further “lone wolf” style attacks, not of more terrorism at all, but of a “backlash” against Muslims. Lynch believes, along with Obama, that the American people are always just one straw on the camel’s back away from committing pogroms against American Muslims. This is a slander of the American people. There has never, thank God, been much violence against American Muslims. We can lament that that president and attorney general are so misguided. But when the government attempts to censor what we know about matters of key importance, we’re in very different territory.

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