By Carey Wedler
A Florida judge recently proclaimed her right to decide what a newspaper publishes amid the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s decision to publish a redacted report on Nikolas Cruz, the perpetrator of the Parkland school shooting in February.
The outlet obtained a redacted version of the report documents from the school district detailing what school officials knew about him in the years leading up to the attack. The report, however, was mostly redacted pursuant to a court order, but reporters discovered that by copying and pasting it into a different document, they could see the entirety of its contents. It decided to publish in a move Broward County circuit judge Judge Elizabeth Scherer called “shameful.”
According to the Sun Sentinel, the report revealed:
“– School officials didn’t properly advise Cruz of his legal options when he was faced with removal from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School his junior year, leading him to give up special education services.
“– When Cruz failed to file the required written rejection of special education services, school officials nudged him, writing it up for him to sign.
“– The district ‘did not follow through’ on Cruz’s subsequent request to return to the therapeutic environment of Cross Creek School for special education students.”
You can ready the full, uncensored document here.
The district initially filed a request for the court to hold the Sentinel in contempt only to later walk it back, claiming they only wanted to inform the court of what happened.
Scherer said her disapproval of the paper’s decision to publish the report in full was rooted in Cruz’ chance of receiving a fair trial and said she was considering holding the Sentinel in contempt of court. “If you have in fact created some type of jeopardy to the fair trial of Mr. Cruz then that’s something that the Sun Sentinel will have to live with whether that matters to you I don’t know. As far as the motion to invoke contempt proceedings, I’m going to take the matter under advisement,” she said.
“From now on if I have to specifically write word for word exactly what you are and are not permitted to print – and I have to take the papers myself and redact them with a Sharpie … then I’ll do that,” she also said.
The paper stands by their decision and has the support of a coalition of 30 journalistic organizations, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Society of Professional Journalists, the New York Times, and CBS Broadcasting.
Julie Anderson, the paper’s editor-in-chief, said:
The Sun Sentinel obtained this report lawfully, found its contents to be of great public interest, and did its duty. As the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press noted, ‘The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that the press cannot be punished for publishing or broadcasting truthful information of public concern that the press obtained legally.’
Further, they cited Philip Seib, a professor of journalism at the University of Southern California and an expert on journalistic ethics, who placed the blame on the government. “It sounds to me like the people who were in contempt were those in the government agency who allowed it to be disseminated in a way that any school child could have decoded,” he said.
For now, Scherer has stopped short of ruling the Sun Sentinel acted in contempt of court. This is not the first time news organizations have run up against the government while covering the mass shooting. Earlier this year, a group of news outlets, including the Sun Sentinel, sued to demand the release of security footage from outside Parkland high school. That video was supposed to be released in July but was delayed after an appeals court ruling.