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Prior restraint

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 16 years ago, in 2006, on the World Wide Web.

Is there anything as ridiculous and petty, in the end, as the arrogance of power?

But it was a different story when Westword and then the Rocky Mountain News published more extensive excerpts from Harris’s writings. The excerpts showed that Harris had developed detailed plans to attack the school a year in advance, while he was in a juvenile diversion program and supposedly being investigated for building pipe bombs and making death threats (I’m Full of Hate and I Love It, December 6, 2001). Now officials were outraged that their top-secret investigation had sprung yet another leak.

So was the Denver Post. Tired of getting its ass whupped in the leak department, the Post went to court to demand the release of the rest of the materials seized from the killers’ homes. Attorneys for the county and the killers’ parents responded with a flurry of dire warnings about copycat effects, including one from David Shaffer, a psychiatrist and expert on adolescent suicide. In addition to a 27-page resumé, Shaffer submitted a four-page affidavit asserting the toxic nature of the basement tapes, which he hadn’t seen.

Some judges involved in the Columbine litigation have uncritically embraced the copycat argument, saying the disclosure of the materials would have a potential for harm or, in fact, would be immensely harmful to the public. [District Judge Brooke Jackson], who ultimately may have to decide the matter, has been more skeptical. In one hearing on the basement tapes, he pointed out that there were plenty of Columbine imitators before the existence of the tapes was even disclosed. All the more reason, [Assistant County Attorney Lily Oeffler] responded, not to release them.

What evidence do you have today that release of the documents is going to cause some calamity, or are we just speculating? Jackson demanded.

Unless you release the evidence and they actually cause the calamity, Your Honor, the question cannot be responded to, Oeffler shot back.

Does that mean I can’t, and no court can ever release them because maybe some additional copycat is going to be inspired?

I don’t think it is a maybe, Your Honor, Oeffler responded gravely.

— Alan Prendergast, Westword (2006-04-13): Hiding in Plain Sight: Are Columbine’s remaining secrets too dangerous for the public to know — or too embarrassing for officials to reveal?

(Link courtesy of Rox Populi 2006-04-19: Doomed to Repeat It.)

It’s hard not to find the whole thing grimly funny, and not just because the Oeffler sounds exactly like the sort of name Dr. Seuss would invent for some otherwise anonymous, off-screen minion of paternalistic censorship. And then, just to add insult to injury, there’s this:

One proposed solution to the question of the killers’ tapes and writings, advanced by Ken Salazar before he left the post of Colorado attorney general for the U.S. Senate, was to turn over the materials to a qualified professional, who would author a study about the causes of Columbine while keeping the primary materials in strict confidence. The proposal soon fell apart, though, after the killers’ parents refused to cooperate with Salazar’s anointed expert, Del Elliott, director of the University of Colorado’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.

— Alan Prendergast, Westword (2006-04-13): Hiding in Plain Sight: Are Columbine’s remaining secrets too dangerous for the public to know — or too embarrassing for officials to reveal?

Or maybe it’s because they couldn’t find John Ray Jr., Ph.D., to take on the job.

Further reading:

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