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March 30, 2007

Televising McVeigh's Execution (Why Is Photographing an Execution A Crime?) - mp3 lecture

Earlier this month, I was out at the ACJS meeting in Seattle and presented some new research on televising executions. I made an mp3 recording of the presentation about webcasting McVeigh's execution and added a few minutes of background information about televised executions. The talk is 24 minutes and the file is 5.3MB. (It's an early venture in audio files, so look for more and better efforts in the future.)

Why Is Photographing an Execution A Crime? Once and Future Issues Raised by the Suit to Webcast McVeigh's Execution.

An early edition of Death Work opens with a story about a sailor washed up on an island, and while he is initially apprehensive about the inhabitants, he sees a gallows and is relieved: ‘Ah, civilization!’ A variation of the joke is in the South Park movie, where the televised execution of two Canadians is proclaimed ‘a great day for democracy.’ But the humor became more serious when an internet entertainment group sued to get access to the closed-circuit feed of McVeigh’s execution, which was already going to an auditorium in Oklahoma City. McVeigh supported making the execution more public because he said he favored scrutiny of government action, and the gleefully pro-death penalty Bush administration argued in favor of limiting access to the execution of a terrorist by lethal injection.

This presentation examines two issues raised by this event. First, why is it that a photographer at an execution is a criminal? Why is it a crime to make a video tape of a mass murderer being put to sleep? Second, would the televised execution of a terrorist be a great day for democracy? Why is it that the terrorist who blew up a day care center in the Oklahoma city federal building is the one in favor of public scrutiny of government actions and the government putting him sleep seems to shy away from public accountability?

An examination of these questions starts with a brief history of public executions, private execution statutes and a review of several legal cases involving suits over televised executions. Second, I provide background on McVeigh blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City and express some surprise that President Bush didn't want to televise the execution given his history of unflinching support for the death penalty. Finally, the presentation reviews the ensuing legal case, Entertainment Network v Lappin, and critiques its conclusion that televising the execution of a terrorist would lead people on death row to feel that the death penalty was dehumanized sport. Given the prevalence of the 'execution card' in political races and all the problems with the death penalty - including many actions of Bush - it's difficult to believe that the televising of McVeigh's execution would lead men the men on death row to feel bad about executions. 


This builds on earlier research (which I noted in an earlier post about the video of Hussein's hanging), but adds in some new information about televised execution case law and a sharper critique of the decision which limited access to the video of McVeigh's execution.

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