MEDIA

Networks Grapple With Whether To Play Newtown 911 Tapes On Air

FILE - In this Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 file photo provided by the Newtown Bee, Connecticut State Police lead a line of children
FILE - In this Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 file photo provided by the Newtown Bee, Connecticut State Police lead a line of children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. after a shooting at the school. The private equity firm Cerberus will sell its stake in a firearms company that produced one of the weapons believed to have been used in the shootings at the elementary school, calling it a "watershed event" in the national debate on gun control. While saying that it's not its role to take positions or attempt to shape or influence the gun control debate, Cerberus said it is taking what action it can by selling its stake in the Freedom Group, which makes the Bushmaster rifle. (AP Photo/Newtown Bee, Shannon Hicks) MANDATORY CREDIT: NEWTOWN BEE, SHANNON HICKS

When the 911 tapes from the Newtown shooting are released on Wednesday afternoon, news organizations will face several difficult decisions about how to handle them.

The calls are being made public after the Associated Press sued for access to them. The families of the victims and local officials fought the lawsuit in court, but lost.

Each of the networks evaluated the tapes. Fox News played portions of the audio on Wednesday afternoon, but Shep Smith told viewers that the network would not share the most "gut-wrenching" parts. ABC News will not air the recordings, according to Brian Stelter, while CBS News will be airing "some."

NBC News said that it will not broadcast the audio on television or online. The decision comes after a memo from NBC News president Deborah Turness in which she erred on the side of not playing the tapes and urged staffers to approach the decision with extreme caution. She wrote:

The families of the victims of the Newtown shootings made it public that they did not want the 911 tapes to be released. Unless there is any compelling editorial reason to play the tapes, I would like to respect their wishes. We must listen to the tapes when they are released and make our final decision. But for the avoidance of doubt, no NBC News network outlet online or on TV should use the tapes until that decision has been taken. Using the tapes could cause distress and we must therefore proceed with great sensitivity and respect, particularly as the first anniversary of the shootings approaches.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow also examined the decision facing the media on her show Tuesday night, stressing "the additional, pointless trauma" that people in Newtown will experience from hearing the calls.

"Is the content of those tapes... going to increase public understanding of this incident so much that it outweighs the offense to morality and decency of putting them on display?" she asked.

For its part, the AP said that it will listen to the tapes and "determine what might meet its standards before releasing material to subscribers." The news organization has also defended its decision to get the tapes released.

"We all understand why some people have strong feelings about the release of these tapes. This was a horrible crime," Kathleen Carroll, AP executive editor and senior vice president, said. "It's important to remember, though, that 911 tapes, like other police documents, are public records. Reviewing them is a part of normal newsgathering in a responsible news organization."

Meanwhile, local Connecticut outlets began posting the tapes on Wednesday afternoon. One, the Connecticut Post, carried the following warning on its homepage:

ct post

CONVERSATIONS