It goes without saying there are some things that the public should not know about. Classified intelligence, including sources and methods of intelligence gathering and military operations; sensitive law enforcement details that are crucial to an investigation; the names and identities of juveniles or sexual assault victims—these are just a few of the categories that show demonstrable measures of common sense in keeping things out of the public eye.
As grounded as those categories might be, one wonders whether the Justice Department possesses any common sense at all given its decision to redact portions of the 9-1-1 calls of the Orlando nightclub shooter. In those calls, he not only admitted his crimes but pledged his allegiance to ISIL. Based upon multiple press briefings by law enforcement officials and investigators, we all knew what the killer had to say, but the Justice Department, for reasons it had trouble explaining to the media and general public, saw fit to redact the released transcripts of the killer’s conversations. Under howls of protest from the media, Congress and even the public, someone from the Justice Department saw fit to issue a new set of transcripts – this time with nothing redacted so that the public could see and read for itself what the killer had on his mind that tragic Sunday morning at the Pulse nightclub.
Public trust in government is at all-time lows. That is for a number of reasons, but the ability to embrace common sense and sharing the obvious seem to be factors that are difficult to grasp when it comes to information sharing.
Truth can be, and is often, difficult to accept. It puts people on the spot, like CNN’s Anderson Cooper did with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi when he aggressively interviewed her last week about her stance on LGBT issues. For as tough as the interview was, Cooper did his research, shared his points, and Bondi had the opportunity to respond and defend her positions accordingly. It was one of those rare instances of good journalism where tough questions were put to powerful people, and they had to respond on the spot (rather than have their egos polished and personalities stroked during a live TV shot).
As much as I agree with the Justice Department’s wish to not give the Orlando killer or ISIL any free publicity by sharing their words, knowing the truth and facts of their proclamations is something we need to hear, see and contend with. Ignoring them, masking the words, or redacting them from public view does nothing to fully inform the public of the cancerous threat these types of individuals are to our way of life. It also does not inspire or reinforce public confidence in the leadership of the agencies in dealing with a very real public threat.
Truth is a powerful force, and it’s essential in a free and open society. So is common sense. I hope the next time the Justice Department, or any other government agency, considers redacting such information from future transcripts, it will have more respect for the publics’ ability to hear the truth and the common sense of how to interpret it. They didn’t this time and now have to spend valuable time explaining why they didn’t when they could be working to help us better understand how we can mitigate such evil in the future. Time, truth and common sense can dictate what makes for a better investment in the future.