Counterpoint: Airing Randy Travis’ Arrest Video Is a Short-Term Decision With Longterm Consequences
The issue of whether or not media outlets should service the Randy Travis arrest video isn't a legal one. It’s a moral issue that’s only attached to the now-Country Music Hall of Famer.
TV news, tabloid magazines and online blogs and news organizations will soon need to decide what to do with this video (be it redacted from the waist down or available in full-moon glory), or the next video. Legally, Travis might have an easier time challenging a law that says his video should be made public than he's having convincing a judge his specific video should not be released because it violates his personal medical privacy, as Fox News reports. Remember that it would be another year before he'd suffer the stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. At the time of this DWI arrest (August 2012), his life was a mess. The public release of his arrest video from six months earlier came without a fight — did the circumstances change that much? A federal court will untangle that legal question soon enough.
For the media, however — especially in country music — the circumstances did change. Travis suffered a near-fatal stroke and valiantly fought back with the help of his wife Mary. Had he died, there’s no question an overwhelming sense of nausea would prevent most from moving forward with the arrest tape, in which he is nude. Public interest is what each outlet will need to weigh here. Is the line between “run it” and “ignore it” so thin? One could make a case Travis did die — that version of the iconic singer began to disappear soon after the arrest as he reached out to God and began to clean his life up.
Five years later, Travis is a new man.
While both Taste of Country and our sister site, the Boot, have agreed to not run Travis' arrest video should it be cleared for public consumption, neither outlet can argue it shouldn't be cleared. The law needs to treat every case objectively, and that Travis is a much more sympathetic figure in 2017 than he was in 2012 (and that he's not able to articulate his thoughts on the matter in present day) can't legally impact the decision. Freedom of the press depends on rulings like this.
So yes, media outlets should have the choice to run or bury this video, and that decision is one of public interest. The subjective factors listed above now matter. It's been five years. He's changed. We've changed. In the age of the internet, the default is always to err on the side of "do it," but every time that happens it pushes the boundaries of indecency outward. A newsman will argue that it’s not his place to police morality, but that’s pre-web thinking.
With so many garbage sites eager to run salacious content, it is the responsibility of the most influential outlets to shape the conversation. Let's not make mainstream gross embarrassment. Like a one-night-stand, a fourth tequila shot and non-payment of taxes, there is a short-term high to be had watching the arrest clip. But the tax man will always get you.
The Boot and Taste of Country’s collaborative Point/Counterpoint series features staff members from the two sites debating topics of interest within country music once per month. Check back on Oct. 20 for another installment.