ANALYSIS: Media Watch - McVeigh execution prompts debate over deathpenalty

The recent execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh

prompted a broad political and moral debate as Americans grappled with

whether the US should support the death penalty. Nationwide newspaper

coverage in the days immediately following the execution revealed

commentary pretty evenly split between opponents and supporters.

Opponents made their case that the death penalty should never be used;

regardless of the crime committed. To support their argument, opponents

primarily argued that life is sacred and taking life makes the

executioner no better than the executed. They also maintained that the

death penalty is not an effective deterrent to horrendous crimes.

Others suggested that an execution does not provide meaningful closure

to the victim's survivors. The Boston Globe (June 13) wrote, "If we had

proof that the death penalty deters crime and truly fills a void in the

families of the victims, that might be one thing. There is nothing in

the field(s) of criminology or psychiatry to prove that." Finally, a few

voices cautioned that the death penalty is an irreversible punishment

and warned that innocent people's lives are at risk.

Proponents of the death penalty countered just as vehemently that laws

must govern a society and there must be punishments for those who break

the laws. And since the punishment must fit the crime, the perpetrators

of the more heinous crimes deserve the death penalty. To bolster their

case, supporters of the death penalty contended that it does bring

closure, acts as a deterrent to would-be criminals and serves


An editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle (June 12) stated, "If there

must be a death penalty on the books, surely there was no more deserving

recipient than Timothy McVeigh," the unrepentant man responsible for the

most devastating terrorist attack on American soil.

Aside from the death penalty debate, there was also criticism of the

media's handling of the McVeigh execution. Some newspapers contained

articles that disapproved of the "media circus" that offered such ample

coverage of McVeigh's acts and the execution itself. The Sun-Sentinel

(June 12) wrote, "The government and media went too far by making a

spectator sport out of a killing. Apparently officials even temporarily

halted (the execution) when the (closed-circuit) TV connection wasn't


The Kansas City Star (June 12) quoted one Oklahoma City bombing survivor

as telling NBC, "I'm really bothered by all the media attention

(McVeigh) has gotten when we should be remembering the 168 people who

died right behind me."

A handful of reports pointed out that the US government was receiving

criticism from overseas, especially Europe, for supporting the death


The execution occurred on the eve of President Bush's first trip to

Europe, prompting The New York Times (June 13) to write, "Capital

punishment is a particular public relations liability for Mr. Bush,

given that he oversaw 152 executions as governor of Texas."

While McVeigh is now gone, the impact he had on America will live on.

For now, his death will mark few, if any, changes in US support of the

death penalty debate, although discussion of the issue will surely


Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found


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