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