Whose Right to Know?

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Anybody who has spent any time around reporters has heard occasional jibbering about the public's right to know.

This is journalism's highest piety. It conveys the impression that we're doing you a huge favor when we do our jobs. There's also an assumption that you'd be blinkered morons without us and that we have special powers to divine what really matters and pass it on to you.

On this theory, The New York Times persuaded a court to release transcripts of all conversations recorded in and around the World Trade Center (search) on Sept. 11, 2001. The transcripts, which went public last week, add nothing to our wisdom about the awful day. They only let the press corps rip open people's misery and invite everybody to check out the emotional carnage: "Here's the sister of a victim. The husband. The mother. The child."

It is difficult to imagine anything more grotesquely self-indulgent on the part of reporters, or more certain to persuade the public that anybody must be a soulless ghoul to earn a press pass.

We all have our Sept. 11 memories. They bind us. They remind us. And now, they give us further reason to lend what small aid and comfort we can to the hidden victims of the day: Those who survived, and last week had to see their loved ones' final moments laid out for public display.