The Media Should Not Publish The Randy Travis Arrest Tape, But They Should Have Every Right To

randy-travis

photo: Robert Trachtenberg

After five years of legal wrangling, the video of Randy Travis being arrested for DWI after crashing his Trans Am and being found naked in the middle of the road by sheriff’s deputies near Tioga, TX has finally been released. Despite incredible efforts to keep the footage under seal by Travis and his representatives, a promise by the initial judge in the case to destroy the tape as part of a plea deal, the overruling of that order by an appellate court, and plenty of Freedom of Information Act requests by local and national media, all legal recourse had finally been exhausted by the Randy Travis camp.

In the tape (which Saving Country Music has chosen to not publish), Randy Travis can be seen naked, swearing profusely, threatening to kill the arresting sheriff’s deputy, using the Lord’s name in vain, and saying disparaging things about his family and his current wife. Obviously, the tape is not very flattering to Travis, who is clearly very drunk and distraught.

Representatives for Randy Travis argued that the footage—which in total lasts for three hours—should have not been released since Travis had suffered a concussion during the incident, making the tape the jurisdiction of medical records law that allows such evidence to remain private. A Federal Judge did not agree, and ordered the tape released to the public on Friday, December 1st. After the Randy Travis camp lost the court case, they pleaded with media to not post the footage. A petition was also circulated on change.org, asking for the tape to not be released and published by media. Nonetheless, TMZ and others published excerpts and snippets from the tape on Monday (12-4), creating a moment of national embarrassment for the Country Music Hall of Famer.

The Randy Travis arrest tape case cuts at very critical matters facing Freedom of the Press, privacy laws, and criminal justice in America in an era when law enforcement is under increasing pressures to be transparent and accountable. It is unfortunate that the Randy Travis video made its way into the public purview to be published for the commercial benefit of media outlets, and in direct harm to the reputation of Randy Travis. Any media outlet should ask what the benefit is to the public, and to the communities and constituencies they serve by publishing such content, and if they were being honest, the answer would be “none.”

However, it is imperative that the media and the public have access to public information such as dashcam footage, 911 call logs, police reports, court filings, and other pieces of information pertaining to the activity of law enforcement to make sure nothing illegal or improprietous occurrs in an arrest or detention, and the civil rights of all who are accused of a crime are respected.

You cannot expect or allow the law to deal with individuals differently because they are famous, rich, poor, white, black, or for any other reason. The purpose of dash cams and body cams is just as much to protect the public as it is to collect evidence. The same laws that seem to be against Randy Travis at the moment would be the same laws that could protect him or any other individual in case they had been assaulted by the arresting officer, mistreated in some way, framed, or otherwise had their civil rights violated. Only by allowing these bits of evidence to be viewed by the media and the public can law enforcement and other officials be kept accountable through a system of checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution of the United States.

In the case of the Randy Travis arrest, the arresting officer acted very respectful, courteous, and was even jovial with Travis, even as he was being insulted and threatened.

As a country music fan, as someone who respects the right to privacy of individuals, you have every right to be enraged at the release of this video by enterprising media outlets looking to benefit financially from the public shame of Randy Travis. However, everyone should understand why it is imperative why such material remain accessible to the public.

Often in country music, incidents like the Randy Travis arrest ultimately don’t endanger the legacies of these performers. They become the stuff of legend, as illustrated quite literally by the recent animated series Tales From the Tour Bus from executive producer Mike Judge that recently aired on Cinemax. Of course, this isn’t comforting to the Randy Travis camp at the moment, but the public perception of Randy Travis will be just fine. However that doesn’t make the fact that so many will attempt to profiteer off his unfortunate and temporary fall from grace any less shameful.

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The publicist for Randy Travis has released the following statement:

Randy’s behavior was extremely altered the evening of his arrest due to the state of his mental health, and substances in his body, causing him to do and say things that were entirely out of character. He suffered a severe concussion and sustained numerous other injuries from the crash.

Notwithstanding the release of the tape, Randy and his team will have their day in court regarding the ongoing lawsuit against the State of Texas in relation to the violation of his civil rights.

Randy Travis is well-known to be a loving, caring person who is respectful of everyone, a video that shows anything otherwise only underscores that he was absolutely not himself. Randy is deeply apologetic for his actions that evening. A man of integrity with a good heart, Randy does not and will never condone these types of actions that distort the true beliefs of Randy Travis and his entire family.