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News - Should Timothy McVeigh's execution be broadcast?

No. Unlike cameras in the courtroom, cameras in the death chamber can only degrade humanity.

Warning: Some viewers may find this program objectionable."

These days, a public execution might not even carry such a warning. Unfortunately, we're living in an era in which even the most basic standards of taste and decency are routinely ignored, and the phenomenon of "reality TV" allows us regular helpings of banality and humiliation in lieu of entertainment.

Next week, we will come grotesquely close to putting a condemned individual to death in the public arena, regardless of whether the actual death itself is actually broadcast. The May 16 execution of Timothy McVeigh will put Terra Haute, Ind., on the map. Media from around the world have booked every hotel room for miles around.

We have not had a public execution in the U.S. since 1936, when more than 20,000 people gathered in Owensboro, Ky., to witness the hanging of a 22-year-old black man accused of raping an elderly white woman. Eighteen months later Kentucky's governor signed a bill outlawing public executions. There has not been one since.

While McVeigh will die of a lethal injection and not a knotted rope, the hoopla leading up to his execution indicates we are no more civilized today than we were in 1936. The calls that he die on national TV simply point out that fact.

Many death penalty foes have argued that televised executions would so outrage the public that the punishment itself would be banned. I believe their reasoning is flawed.

Given the current entertainment trends, executions would likely become a favorite weekly TV show: Instead of an outraged public, we would have a bloodthirsty audience clamoring for more.

While Attorney General John Ashcroft is only permitting family members of the victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing to view McVeigh's death by closed-circuit TV, you can count on CNN, FOX, and MSNBC to give us detailed play-by-play as a man's life is ended.

Unlike cameras in the courtroom, cameras in the death chamber can only degrade humanity. How can we, a supposedly civilized Western nation permit, such madness? The answer is, we can't.

Technology has provided, through the miracle of DNA testing, means to revisit hundreds of old crimes in search of new evidence, and dozens of wrongly convicted criminals have already been freed from death rows as a result. How could we possibly approve of public executions when we are not even sure if the right person is being killed?

No, live executions with a mass audience is not a rational alternative. Those who advocate such spectacles should be warned: We might end by making killing seem even more mundane than media now renders it.??



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