MSNBC's Harris-Perry: 'We Want to Politicize' Newtown, Calls for Parents to Release Photos of Victims

Governor Dan Malloy (D-Conn.) recently signed a bill preventing photos and videos of the Sandy Hook shooting victims from being released to the public. The bill had broad support from the victims’s families, and was the subject of a petition on change.org that gained over 100,000 signatures.

But MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry and her Sunday panel’s desire for gun control apparently trumps the concerns of these Newtown parents. Harris-Perry and all but one of her guests called on the parents to “break” the “evil of government” and release the photographs of their slain children to the public. Harris-Perry had spent part of her opening monologue decrying the politicization of photographs by “rabid anti-choice demonstrators” in the pro-life movement. But then Harris-Perry did just that with the December tragedy, asking:

So, what should we as a public ask of the Newtown families?

Here’s a crazy idea: we shouldn’t ask anything of the Newtown families, who are – no doubt – still grieving over the horrible events of that day. And the reason many supported this bill is because it protects the privacy of these families.

Harris-Perry and her panel, though, have an agenda. And that agenda is apparently more important than the concerns of Newtown families.

Panelist and attorney William Murphy, Jr. made perhaps the most offensive comment, sneering:

We can't give them [photographs] up because a few people are justifiably upset in their personal lives about them. This is a much larger issue.

The Nation’s John Nichols fretted that, by preventing the public release of the photos, the Connecticut legislature was taking “the average American out of the process.” Murphy, Jr. then piled on, ranting:

If you hide stuff and then you stand behind “Well, I told your representatives,” and 99 percent of the American public still don't know, you've accomplished your political purpose of keeping it secret.

(...)

This is the kind of censorship that we cannot abide. We cannot abide.

Harris-Perry later summed up what her segment was all about in a back-and-forth with Nichols:

NICHOLS: Can I say something else that plays into it, just a quick one? I know this is a tough one. Because if I was one of these parents, I would want to not have this discussion. There's an immediate rush in to say let's not politicize this event. Let's have a decent period where we don't talk about it

HARRIS-PERRY: But, yea, we want to politicize it.

NICHOLS: But whether you want to or not, the bottom line is that when we shut the dialogue down and when we slow the process down, that benefits the status quo. And the fact of the matter is, a lot of people are watching it are like – well why is the NRA so silent? Why are they holding back? I can tell you why.

No matter what your stance on the gun rights/gun control debate, no one should want to politicize the tragedy in Newtown – especially the gruesome photos of the victims from that terrible day. It’s disappointing to see Harris-Perry and her panel advocating for such, but perhaps not that surprising, given that Harris-Perry think it’s a shame we have a “private notion” of parenting where “your kid is yours and totally your responsibility.”

See the relevant transcript below:


MSNBC
Melissa Harris-Perry
06/09/13
10:00 a.m. Eastern

HARRIS-PERRY: Good morning, I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. Connecticut lawmakers made a pivotal move this past week on the last day of the state's legislative session. On Wednesday, both the state house and senate approved a bill preventing the release of crime scene photos and video evidence from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to the public. The law also put a one-year moratorium on audio recordings, with the exception of 911 calls that describe the condition of any of the victims.

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy was quick to sign the bill into law only hours after the bill was passed. The bill's passage was applauded by family members of the 20 children and six adults that were killed on the morning of December 14, 2012. Several family members had demanded the law, even starting a change.org petition which garnered more than 108,000 signatures. The families were clear about why they didn't want the pictures released. They said in writing: “For the sake of the surviving children and families, it's important to keep this information private. Other gruesome scenes have been kept private – like the scene around Congresswoman Giffords’ shooting, Vince Foster’s suicide and Dale Earnhardt’s automobile accident. This crime has received such international attention, it should be afforded the same treatment.”

Those victims’s families were sending the message they didn't want the photos of their slain children used for the purpose of political gain. But that's a long history of the impact that photos have had on public policy. A key example has been when we've been, as a nation, at war. Some of the most indelible images come from the Vietnam War. Images like that of 9-year-old Kim Phuc, whose clothes and layers of skin were melted after a naplam attack. Or that of South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong officer by shooting him in the head. These help to change the American public's opinion, to disdain our military's involvement in what was called America's most unpopular war.

In 2009, when the Pentagon lifted the military's 18-year ban against photographing America’s war dead, it showed the public the reality of military casualties from both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Photographs depicting tragedy and horror can be powerful tools that can change public perception and culture. But showing those photos are not decisions that should be taken lightly. When President Obama initially chose, in 2009, not to release the photos of prisoners tortured in Iraq and Afghanistan by U.S. military – like those images that we’ve seen earlier from the Abu Ghraib prisoners, forced to wear collars or hoods and masks – people were quick to jump to the conclusion that he was trying to hide something. But the president saw it this way.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.

HARRIS-PERRY: So it's a tough choice. And when it comes to choosing to show the image, the slain child, it's a decision no parent should be faced with having to make. But it is a decision that Mamie Till-Mobley did make in the case when her son Emmett Till was killed in 1955. Instead of having a reserved, low-key, private family funeral, Mamie decided to open the casket. To make the funeral a public experience. To show how killers, lynchers, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant brutalized and tortured her 14-year-old son to death. Her decision to show the world the battered body and unrecognizable face of her son Emmett served as a spark for the civil rights movement. Till's example might lead all of us to ask Newtown parents to release those pictures. Be as brave as Mamie Till was.

But sometimes gruesome photos can be used in deeply troubling political ways. As a reproductive rights advocate, I have sometimes helped women to walk the gauntlet, past rabid anti-choice demonstrators. Not only do they shout – they hold up ghoulish, frightening images. The pictures are unrepresentative of the vast majority of abortions, and they are not, however – strictly speaking – inaccurate. Certainly anti-choice advocates believe their photographs of horror could and should immediately stop a practice that they define evil and torturous. I find the protest photos unduly upsetting for women already facing painful, difficult, and deeply personal decisions. So, what should we as a public ask of the Newtown families? They want their children's short lives to belong to them. To be more than a tool in the gun control debate. Who are we to tell them that they're wrong?

(...)

HARRIS-PERRY: And, of course, the reason that that kind of horror could happen to those bodies is because of the technology that was used to kill them. In the case of Emmett Till, I don't know any other word. It is the evil of the lynchers who go so far as to do that to a teenage boy. In this case, it is certainly the evil of the shooter. But it is also the fact that he's working with a weapon that can do this kind of damage.

WILLIAM MURPHY, JR.: Before I answer my mother's mad at you for calling me Murray.

HARRIS-PERRY: I'm sorry.

MURPHY, JR.: Now here's the deal. We can't predict how impactful these photographs will be in a political or nonpolitical consequence. But legislation prohibiting them seeks to do just that. It says in all cases. Except the very exceptional ones which, God knows who will determine, you can’t release these photographs. That’s why it’s wrong. The photographs are going to have to run their course and we're going to have to see contextually how they play. All of us have had photographs impact us so dramatically that they've almost changed our politics, and in some cases have changed our politics. Photographs are a break on the evil of government. They're a break on the evil of individuals. We can't give them up because a few people are justifiably upset in their personal lives about them. This is a much larger issue.

HARRIS-PERRY: Judge Murphy, which I'm going to get that right now, we're going to come right back.

(...)

HARRIS-PERRY: I think people keep saying, we were looking at the mass shooters’s weapons from 1982 to 2012. Of those weapons – 143 weapons used in mass shootings – and 71 of them are, in fact, semiautomatic handguns. When people say, oh, these policies wouldn't make any difference. In fact, they would. When we look at how many were illegally obtained, this is data from Mother Jones, 49 of them out of the 62 were illegally obtained. So it, in fact, would make a difference to have these kinds of policies. And yet, I wonder about this photos question. You guys got to talking a bit about the Osama bin Laden photos during the break. There was another instance where the public doesn’t seem to have had a right to know. We didn’t ever get to see those photographs.

JOHN NICHOLS: This is where the problem comes in. I really understand – I have a 9-year-old daughter, so I really understand where folks are coming from in Connecticut. And I respect that. But the fact is that, when we begin pursing out what you can see and what you can't see – as suggested by wise folks on this panel – you end up assuming the impact will be this or will be that. And we take the people out of the process. We were talking in our break here about how members of Congress get to see certain photos, get to see certain things. We make them a priestly class, a group of high priests. They are better than us. They can look at the photos but we can't. But with all due respect, I can name you a number of members of Congress who I don’t think will respond as maturely or as well as the average American. So why do we take the average American out of the process? That’s my concern.

MURPHY, JR.: Because it makes it easier to get it done. If you hide stuff and then you stand behind “Well, I told your representatives,” and 99 percent of the American public still don't know, you've accomplished your political purpose of keeping it secret.

NICHOLS: Exactly. And those representatives –

MURPHY, JR.: This is the kind of censorship that we cannot abide. We cannot abide.

HARRIS-PERRY: Although, I mean I hear you on the ordinary Americans and yet, like – we had a Cheerios commercial with a beautiful little interracial baby and the white mama and the black daddy, and the ordinary Americans lost their minds. So there's a part of me that’s like yes, ordinary Americans should know and then sometimes I'm like whoa, ordinary Americans.

NICHOLS: Melissa Harris-Perry, you know a little more because of that incident.

HARRIS-PERRY: About the world.

NICHOLS: And so can we – if we are to evolve as human beings.

HARRIS-PERRY: Information.

NICHOLS: I think information is pretty useful in that process.

LAURA WEXLER: It's not actually just information. I believe we do need to see in order to know. I really think we can't imagine what this is. We need to see it. But I don't think that seeing is sufficient to knowing. And so that's why I actually respect the bill that Governor Malloy put in place, even though I myself as a historian of photography want people to see. But I respect it because it has a sunset provision. It's saying that we have a moratorium for a year, which is really asking us to have this discussion.

HARRIS-PERRY: Brings down the emotional piece.

WEXLER: Yes. Let us have the discussion, and we can't guarantee what the end of the discussion will be. But we can bring not the priestly class but the whole public into this discussion.

MURPHY, JR.: But by the time we have this discussion –

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: That's right.

MURPHY, JR.: The emotion that's necessary and proper to move the ball forward is gone.

WEXLER: We thought after the killings – that emotion, that was going to do it, right? We just thought that would do it. But that –

MURPHY, JR.: It takes another incident and another incident and another incident and more and more deaths. And so here is a clear case, I think, of where censorship is playing right into the hands of gun proponents. Playing right against the interests of the people who want these photographs to be private.

NICHOLS: Can I say something else that plays into it, just a quick one? I know this is a tough one. Because if I was one of these parents, I would want to not have this discussion. There's an immediate rush in to say let's not politicize this event. Let's have a decent period where we don't talk about it

HARRIS-PERRY: But, yea, we want to politicize it.

NICHOLS: But whether you want to or not, the bottom line is that when we shut the dialogue down and when we slow the process down, that benefits the status quo. And the fact of the matter is, a lot of people are watching it are like – well why is the NRA so silent? Why are they holding back? I can tell you why.

MICHAEL SKOLNIK: Well they should be silent.

NICHOLS: No, no, no, they're silent and they were holding back because they want to dial that conversation down.

SKOLNIK: Of course, of course.

NICHOLS: If you want change, you want to dial that conversation up.

HARRIS-PERRY: Speaking of dialing the conversation up, especially on the issues of information and who has a right to know, we're going to turn the conversation just a bit in terms of talking about protecting privacy to the NSA conversation. Can we really protect and liberate the information at the same time?