Recovering Journalist Clint Brewer: The Purpose of the Press at Its Most Basic Level Is to Monitor the Government on Behalf of the People

May 18, 2023

Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Clint Brewer in studio to discuss the motion to intervene in the case of releasing the Covenant Killer Manifesto.

Leahy: In studio, recovering journalist, Clint Brewer is with us. Clint, let’s try to unravel the opposition between three different entities associated with Covenant School to the release of the Covenant Killer Manifesto. All three have filed motions to intervene. And we’ll say these four cases are probably going to be consolidated. And they want to intervene.

And basically, their argument is we don’t want to release any of it, but if you do release some of it we clearly don’t want you to. This is the argument made by one of those groups, the parents. That’s the strongest objection to it.

Basically in their motion to intervene, they say, we want to intervene because we have an interest in this. Let me read you some of it from our story by Matt Kittle. The parents’ motion filed Wednesday in chancery court is a raw emotional appeal for Davidson County Chancellor I’Ashea L. Myles to block the release of the writings or at the very least, heavily redact them.

It is quite emotional. The motion claims an overwhelming percentage of parents are opposed to making the documents public, essentially arguing that the interests of the victims and the survivors of the Covenant School atrocity outweighed the interest of the public to know what drove Audrey Elizabeth Hale to carry out her deadly errand. What’s your reaction to that?

Brewer: I have no doubt that every bit of the feeling and emotion that they’re expressing is genuine and true. I think everything they’re saying is factual. Don’t doubt it at all. And I can’t express how sorry I feel for them as a group, as individuals, and for their kids. But I’d have to agree with the other statements in the article. I don’t really hear a statutory reason to keep the records.

Leahy: There’s no statutory reason. I just, this is an emotional argument.

Brewer: And I and rightfully I think they’re certainly, these are members of the public who were intensely involved and dragged into this tragedy by a murderer and I get it. And they have an interest too. They are part of the calculus in determining the public interest. But do the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many? I don’t think so.

Leahy: Again, a quote from the complaint. And by the way, think of the number of attorneys that are involved in this. You got high-level attorneys representing the church. You got high-level attorneys representing the school. You got high-level attorneys representing the parents. This is a lot.

Brewer: And Metro Nashville.

Leahy: And Metro Nashville. There’s a lot of legal work going on this. The complaint says no one was more traumatized or suffered more than the families of the victims and survivors of the Covenant School atrocity.

Brewer: No question.

Leahy: That is a statement of fact. And no one can claim a remotely similar interest in whether the writings of the shooter be released. Now, see, that’s wrong. The public has an interest in this.

Brewer: The great Democratic experiment of America is difficult and the First Amendment is not a particularly forgiving law, and it allows people to say things that are hurtful to others. And it’s the price we pay for a free society. And I think that this is going to be one of those cases.

I think, ultimately, part of these records will be released. I don’t know whether it’ll be at the state court level, the federal court level, or both. I think they’ll be heavily redacted for certain things. But I think the school’s case and the church’s case are pretty relevant particularly as it pertains to schematics and floor plans.

Leahy: We don’t want the schematics.

Brewer: And I think that’s legitimate. And I think most people in the suit would agree to the redactions.

Leahy: There’s a broader problem here.

Brewer: This is different. This is a difficult part of American democracy.

Leahy: But let me tell you what the precedent problem here is. If they are allowed to intervene, which I don’t think they should be, I think they probably will be. But I don’t think they should be allowed. I don’t think they’ve got a statutory reason to. You know what’s going to happen, it’s going to destroy the process of getting public records because everybody will intervene.

Brewer: I can’t imagine an appellate court would. If somehow that intervention is given credence or upheld in chancery court, which I think is a stretch, and if somehow all or part of it was I think the Tennessee Appellate Court would flip it.

Leahy: I think you’re probably right, but if not, every time you I asked for public records…

Brewer: Every victim of a crime would have standing to close the records of their crime. And that’s really not in the best interest of the victim. We’ve lost so much in the back and forth of what the media is and isn’t and what it shouldn’t be in this country.

It’s failings. We’ve lost so much sight of why it exists and it’s at its most basic to monitor the actions of government for people who can’t do it every day, who are taxpayers and voters and parents, and who go out and live their lives.

And in the old notion that for 25 cents, you could buy a paper, and there were a group of people who were out there telling you what your government was doing on your behalf while you were living your life. And now that’s changed. Of course, it’s all online, but the purpose of the press is, at its most basic to monitor the government on behalf of the people.

Leahy: And that’s really what we’re doing here. We are representing the people of Tennessee who want to know what’s going on. That’s why we filed this case. It’s in the public interest.

Brewer: It is in the public interest. And again, I think everyone involved, their hearts go out to the folks at these parents. But at the end of the day, I think that the records will be released. If the posture of the police, that we’re still investigating, whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but it is their posture legally at the moment.

Leahy: Apparently, a sworn affidavit to that has been filed.

Brewer: So if that’s the case, then it’s going to legally delay things. They do have an established right to continue to investigate. I think that there will be a lot of pressure, particularly from the state to explain and from the media to explain exactly what it is they’re investigating.

Leahy: This is such an emotional argument. It’s not a legal argument made in this motion to intervene. Let me read it.

Brewer: It doesn’t make it a less legitimate argument. It just doesn’t have a grounding in black letter law.

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

– – –

Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.