Monday, June 20, 2016

Lynch Makes Transcripts a Distraction

It's a textbook case of political bungling.

It's a textbook case for why many Americans are fed up with Washington.

And it's a textbook case for why censorship is a dangerous thing.

It all started Sunday, when United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the Justice Department would be releasing edited transcripts of 911 calls made by the Orlando massacre shooter.

Now, whenever authorities release 911 recordings and transcripts, it's usually a perfunctory exercise in providing full disclosure, but little else.  911 calls usually don't provide a gold mine of information we didn't already know.  Mostly, the release of 911 material serves as a somber postscript to an event that has already captured the public's imagination.

Indeed, in the case of Orlando's horrific slaughter, we already know a lot about it.  It was the worst mass-shooting in the United States.  It was perpetrated by a natural-born American of Middle Eastern lineage.  The media has already widely reported that the shooter had claimed solidarity with ISIS.

So, we have a self-avowed Muslim gunman targeting the gay community in one of America's most tourist-centric cities, further exacerbating a plethora of raw sociopolitical debates in excruciating intensity.  Islam, radical Islam, gun control, homosexuality, watch lists, police preparedness... all in one bloody, grisly, barbaric attack.

The transcript of any relevant 911 call would be anti-climactic at best, right?  Lynch's promise - or threat, depending on your view - to release the transcripts of the shooter's calls to 911 hardly seemed necessary.  So what?  They're public record anyway, so if anybody wants to see them, they can. 

Then came Lynch's caveat:  She wasn't simply releasing the transcripts.  She was redacting parts of them - censoring them - to remove certain words.

To be fair, if the Justice Department was deleting sensitive information, such as the legal names of minors, or the private cell phone numbers of innocent civilians, then who'd have a problem with that?  Neither innocent victims of a crime, or the general public, need to have such sensitive data in the public domain.  Withholding such information really isn't censorship; it's merely privacy protection.

For the truly ghoulish, what might be interesting would be transcripts of the shooter's other calls to behind-the-scenes crisis negotiators.  However, if the argument against releasing full transcripts of such calls rests on the ability of crisis negotiators to speak in the heat of the moment in ways that are, shall we say, "uninhibited," then I think we can understand that too, right?

Yet Lynch, basically the head lawyer in the United States, intentionally scrubbed these 911 transcripts of content that her boss, President Barak Obama, personally finds uncomfortable.  In particular, Lynch deleted references made by the shooter to the Islamic State and the personal name of an ISIS leader (a name I won't perpetuate by providing here).

Really, Loretta?  What?  As if pretending the shooter didn't reference ISIS helps the President maintain that radical Islam doesn't exist?  Or that referring to radical Islam is merely, in his words, "a political distraction"?

Political distraction, indeed.

This afternoon, as howls from conservatives reached a fever pitch over the Justice Department's transcript censorship, Lynch sullenly backed down.  She unceremoniously authorized the release of un-redacted transcripts of those otherwise unremarkable 911 calls.  But she wasn't ready to stop stirring the pot; she had the temerity to push her bosses' strategy and call the furor over her stunt "an unnecessary distraction."

Which, actually, it was:  Unnecessary, in the sense that this administration's broad-daylight gamesmanship over what otherwise would be a non-event - the dissemination of 911 transcripts - only weakens the President's stance when it comes to credibility over his stewardship of America's war on terror.

Unnecessary, in the sense that the censored content was pretty obvious in its omission anyway, so why was it even remotely possibly necessary in the first place? 

Unnecessary, in the sense that if the full, uncensored transcripts had been released without comment or edit, both liberals and conservatives would have looked at them and moved on, likely without commenting or editorializing.

Like this essay.  It wouldn't exist if the transcripts had simply appeared in full in the public domain.

Yet once again, the Obama administration has created a tempest in a teapot where a tempest wouldn't have otherwise existed.  On the one hand, this is a silly spat over something that didn't need to happen.  Yet censorship - and such blatant, needless, childish, petulant censorship - is something we Americans are supposed to oppose by nature.

Free speech, right?  Let the record show.  Let the facts speak for themselves.

As it is, the records don't show that ISIS was complicit in the Orlando massacre.  But the facts do show that the Obama administration loves to make political games out of non-issues.  In fact, the White House didn't even have the decency to admit that this censorship mess is their fault.  White House spokesman Josh Earnest passed all the blame onto Lynch, attempting to sound sanctimonious by rhapsodizing on the President's desire to refrain from meddling in the rule of law.

So much for not being a political distraction, huh?

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