This is why laws shouldn't be passed in secret

Here's how a rumor became a law.

In March, three months after the Newtown murders, Michael Moore, the highly opinionated filmmaker, wrote a strongly worded piece in the online Huffington Post, advocating the publication of photographs of the victims as a deterrent to future gun violence.

He compared the impact of these images to the way scenes of racist violence in the South aided the civil rights movement, how horrible pictures from the My Lai massacre and other Vietnamese carnage brought the war home to America on television and even to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's order that German civilians living near Dachau be forced to view the bodies of Jews piled up outside the Nazi gas chambers to see what their leaders had wrought.

The article led to the rumor, fed by right-wing bloggers and Fox News, that Moore was planning a documentary on gun violence that would focus on the Newtown tragedy and include footage of its dead children.

The rumor wasn't true, but it didn't matter.

In the ensuing weeks, Newtown parents petitioned their legislators to stop Moore from exploiting their dead children in order to make a point in his movie and even though the legislative session was about to end, the lawmakers obliged. Working secretly with the governor and the chief state's attorney, they rushed through a bill as the session was ending June 5.

There was little discussion, no debate, no public hearing or much public or private thinking, for that matter, and the result was a new Connecticut law banning public access to not only Newtown, but all murder-scene photographs, videos and other images and, from the Newtown case, all 911 messages and police recordings. Not considered were the consequences of denying the public knowledge of how police departments handle or mishandle the state's most serious crimes. But Michael Moore wouldn't get those pictures.

The legislators did - I won't say to their credit - realize they may have been acting rather hastily, so as part of the new law, they created a task force charged with reconciling the often conflicting rights to know and to privacy. And so, at the second meeting of this task force, just a few days ago, the public first heard of the Michael Moore rumor in the making of this terrible law.

Facing some criticism in the meeting, state Sen. Len Fasano, who voted for the bill, revealed the legislators were reacting to the clear and present danger of having "a high profile" individual, he later identified as Moore, getting the Newtown photos for some kind of nefarious, exploitive purpose. He said his colleagues realized the bill was a stopgap solution but Moore had to be stopped.

Then, the facts got in the way, but too late to prevent the rumor from making a law. Two days before the law was passed, Mr. High Profile himself, Michael Moore, told The Hollywood Reporter and through it, Great Britain's The Guardian, two publications in limited circulation at the Capitol, there was no cause for alarm.

"I never said that I was going to release any photos, nor do I have any intention to and frankly, I'm opposed to anybody releasing any photos without the parents' permission," said Moore. As further proof, he noted he had obtained all the footage of the Columbine killings "and didn't use any of it in my movie."

None of us in the public knew about the bill, never mind Moore's alleged role, because it had been kept from us by the governor and the state's attorney and the lawmakers. This allowed our governor and legislature to secretly make a law that promotes secrecy, a law based on a rumor that was a lie.

Dick Ahles is a retired journalist from Simsbury.


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