can standing up for your 1st amendment rights go too far?
March 22, 2001 3:07 PM   Subscribe

can standing up for your 1st amendment rights go too far? the independent florida alligator, the independently owned and run student newspaper of the university of florida, where i go to school, has entered into a lawsuit with the orlando sentinel trying to gain access to and copy the autopsy photos of dale earnhardt... saying that the injunction issued at widow teresa earnhardt's request by the state to block the public from access to these photos is a violation of the sunshine laws and their first amendment rights, they have thrown compassion to the wind in a self-righteous publicity stunt, and it's funny that their only supporters are other editors, writers, etc. is this going too far? i know writers live by their reputations, and this will certainly make them known, but how low is low? what do you guys think?
posted by zerotype (9 comments total)
sorry that was so long guys... i should've just sent you to my page
posted by zerotype at 3:17 PM on March 22, 2001

after five weeks of constant dale earrhardt memorabilia marketing and seeing how the "officially sanctioned" people have behaved, i am all for setting those photos free. this is all about money. even in death. yesterday they ran a press conference about counterfeit "remember dale" merchandise. both rpm 2 nite and the nascar show on fox sports reported on it. the telling parts were when they said, "none of these money from selling counterfeit is going to the family or nascar." IT IS ALL ABOUT MONEY. set the photos free. let someone else earn some benjamins.

ps. nascar and their people had access to the photos. the photos have been seen by "non-family" people. why are we so concerned about the "general public" now? if nascar could find a way to put those photos on something, say dale-e -- rest in peace -- caskets, then they wouldve done it by now. its always money first. everything else second.

pps. is this some sort of indirect self-blogging? how low can you get? trying to get some clicks clinging on to a dead man? are you getting paid off by nascar for this?
posted by tamim at 3:21 PM on March 22, 2001

It sounds like what you say in your blog writeup is that the Florida State legislature wrote the law so all public records are, well, public records. By what means should they proscribe the Alligator from accessing them? Sovereign fiat from Jeb Bush? The point of the rule of law is so that questions like this don't arise. Sick and twisted as the paper may be for thinking of publishing them, if the F state wanted to keep these private, they should have written better laws.
posted by norm at 3:27 PM on March 22, 2001

Amen, norm.
posted by silusGROK at 3:54 PM on March 22, 2001

So it applies to posting, too.
posted by OneBallJay at 4:11 PM on March 22, 2001

What you call "throwing compassion to the wind," looks to many of us like "refusing to allow the bending or breaking of the law to suit the personal whims of the rich, famous and powerful." The law says these are public records. Thus, they are public records. And if the Orlando Sentinel wanted to publish full-color posters of every last autopsy photo (and they never had any intention of publishing anything, BTW), they'd have every right to do so. The only reason that everyone except other journalists is against this is because everyone down there worships Dale Earnhardt as some sort of god, and thus think he deserves godlike privileges.

And, as usual, it's the self-righteous uproar over this that's going to guarantee that somebody, somewhere, is going to get those photos and publish them, probably on a web site somewhere where they can be copied and disseminated forever.
posted by aaron at 4:11 PM on March 22, 2001

whoa zerotype, i go to UF too. small world. i actually love the way the alligator unabashadly runs to controversy (or so it seems).. its the kind of thing im proud of them for doing- especially as a teaching paper. as for the whole situation: as it stands under flordia state law the damn things should be released. i dont understand the problem with the media getting access to things that they have always gotten access to as far as i know. i dont understand what makes this case special.

offtopic and re: something on your weblog,zerotype: im pretty sure i saw your yellow radiohead stickered car on the road yesterday. i am sufficiently freaked out that the meta and real worlds have collided.
posted by c at 6:08 PM on March 22, 2001

The real issue here is that the newspaper that initially requested the photos was doing so because they dispute NASCAR's official story of how Ernhart died. NASCAR claims it was a freak accident involving a seatbelt failure, but the paper suspects that he was killed the same way as many other drivers in a fashion that might be prevented if NASCAR implemented some unpopular safety measures. The paper wants the photos to try to get a second opinion on the cause of death.

This is not just a case of wanting to publish lurid photos of a famous dead person in order to sell newspapers.
posted by straight at 6:29 PM on March 22, 2001

I worked at the Alligator when we sued to get access to crime scene photographs from the Gainesville student murders in 1990 (we were joined then by the Orlando Sentinel and an Orlando TV station, WESH-TV). We were right and justified then and now for a couple of reasons: first of all, these records are public under the law as it currently reads. If the state legislature wants to change the law, it can do that, of course. The second reason is that they do inform the reporting. Having covered the Gainesville murder trial and pored over thousands of documents, I can tell you that the crime scene photos enabled me to understand what happened much better. We never published the crime scene photos; publishing the Earnhardt photos isn't in the Alligators' interest, either. That was never the point.
posted by thescoop at 8:11 AM on March 23, 2001

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