Skip to main content

Access to public records is crucial, even if painful

By Johnita P. Due
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Johnita Due: As a mother, I understand the pain of events such as Newtown
  • She says that as a media lawyer, she sees the need for the release of public records
  • "We can never learn the truth about our society...without full access to public documents"

Editor's note: Johnita P. Due, assistant general counsel for CNN, manages CNN's efforts to gain access to public records and proceedings under state and federal freedom of information laws and the First Amendment.

(CNN) -- I cried several times yesterday. This happened as I was reviewing scripts for CNN's upcoming coverage of the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.

I also cried as I reviewed a script about the bravery of Antoinette Tuff who single-handedly prevented a similar tragedy from occurring in a suburban Atlanta elementary school.

Johnita Due
Johnita Due

I have an almost 8-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son. If I had lived in Newtown, my daughter could have been in one of the first-grade classrooms that was targeted. It is heartbreaking to think of what could have been and whether my children would have survived. My heart goes out to all of those who experienced such unthinkable loss.

CNN was not involved in the Associated Press' litigation to gain release of the Newtown 911 calls, but I applaud the court's decision in support of open government and public access to government records.

Senator: 911 tapes relive tragedy

I have read and heard some of the powerful and emotional pleas of families, attorneys and their supporters who felt the 911 calls should have been withheld. Yet I fully believe that access to public records is crucial, even if painful. We can never learn the truth about our society and its ills and inspirations without full access to public documents. No matter how well-meaning public officials may be in withholding records, it should not be left to them to determine what our reality is.

As a media lawyer, it is inevitable that I will be faced with advising on painful stories and the disturbing videos, images and sound that go along with them. We filed a lawsuit for access to the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, and we have recently gone to court to gain release of all records and data relating to the death of Valdosta, Georgia, teen Kendrick Johnson.

Some images I cannot bear to look at -- or sounds to hear -- but I will do so because I know we are committed to shedding light on important stories and issues. And maybe one day those stories will make a difference and prevent future tragedies and suffering of other families.

I realize not everybody is going to agree with how CNN handled the 911 calls, but one thing we can all agree on is that we need to hug our kids tighter.

I did that as soon as I walked in the door from work yesterday evening.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Johnita Due.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 2209 GMT (0609 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1802 GMT (0202 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1741 GMT (0141 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1900 GMT (0300 HKT)
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2040 GMT (0440 HKT)
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1401 GMT (2201 HKT)
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1232 GMT (2032 HKT)
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 1805 GMT (0205 HKT)
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT