I hope video of Miranda dying in school bus crash is never released (Opinion)
This headline may sound blunt. That's by design. Because what this argument over the release of video showing the school bus crash on I-80 really comes down to is just that. You're talking about some journalistic integrity and supplying the public with information concerning public safety when really, stripping away the cliches, what you're really talking about is how many 'clicks' you're going to get by showing the very moment Miranda Vargas, 10, and teacher Jennifer Williamson died in a bloody wreck on the highway.
This is among the hardest things I've written. So hard because I truly respect my colleagues in the newsroom. I understand their position. Yet I'm not a journalist. I'm a talk show host. I give my opinion on things, right or wrong, but I'm always honest in how I feel. On this one, I feel this is nothing but sensationalism. I agree completely with the DOT, the State Police and other agencies who have denied OPRA requests by various media outlets including ours for the release of video.
In an article about the latest denials and a lawsuit filed by an unknown media outlet against the DOT, it's mentioned that the NJSP characterized the potential release of video as "cruel and unusual" for the family. That family's lawyer sent all agencies involved a stern letter asking not only to never release the video because of the emotional trauma it would cause but also asking to be informed if they plan to so that the family could consider legal options. So agencies are caught in a bind. Either way they're going to be sued. Media suing for the release of video, family suing for it not to be.
I think this all comes down to one line in the State Police response to our own newsroom's request for video.
"The Division of State Police maintains that you are not entitled to the requested police records in this case because the State's interest in protecting the integrity of the investigation and the privacy of victims, outweigh your interests in disclosure under the common law."
I bolded the 'and the privacy of victims' because I think that's crux of it. You can forget the protection of the integrity of the investigation. The bus driver has already been charged. There are witnesses. The release of video wouldn't change the arc of the case. But it's the concern for victims I truly believe indeed outweighs media's interest in having that video.
What happens if we do not publish it? The driver still will be punished. There's already legislation to require safer seat belts in new school buses. The scrutiny of school bus drivers' records is already in the spotlight. So the short answer is, nothing changes.
What happens if we DO publish it? Media outlets fall all over themselves to be the first to get the video out on their sites and enjoy their windfall of 'clicks' while millions of people who have zero vested interested in any of this will watch the moment a little girl died on a highway. Watch the moment a beloved teacher died too. Watch the moment children were thrown from a disintegrating bus while others were left hanging upside down by lap belts, many seriously injured, many in shock, many screaming. First responders who have been on their jobs for 30 years say this was the single most horrific scene they'd ever come across.
Which is exactly why media is suing to get their paws on it. It's not about public interest in matters of safety. It's about public interest in gore.
What else happens if media publishes it? It lives on forever on YouTube or whatever other outlets come along. It's seen by people who tell themselves they want to see it for the reasons of a concerned citizen. It's seen by millions of people who will seek that video out but who wouldn't even consider visiting Miranda Vargas' gravesite. It haunts the Vargas and Williams families. It's seen years later by accident. It's stumbled across ten years later by Miranda's sister who was on a different school bus that day. It's a video that will never go away placed beside the pain that will never go away on the shelf of broken hearts.
What's the point?
Is it technically legally available to media outlets under OPRA? Yes, probably. Whatever media outlet just filed a lawsuit to get that video may well win. Media has almost always been very good about not releasing the names of rape victims even though there is no law against it. It's a nearly universally accepted policy. How is this one any different? What will the public learn that it doesn't already know in this case? At the risk of alienating myself from colleagues and possibly being fired for saying this, can't we show some class and respect the wishes of a dead girl's family? Go ahead and fire me. I'll find work. But will you find a conscience?
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