- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2001


It took 1,700 assorted journalists to inform the world that Timothy McVeigh had been executed yesterday morning. Despite virtuous assertions that their coverage would be hype-free and tasteful, the networks provided yet another overblown chunk of broadcast excess.
The brief, official announcement that McVeigh had died made 14 minutes after he received the first lethal injection proved the only viable, genuine news in coverage that dragged on for up to six hours.
The broadcasters were left to spin their wheels.
They filled time with disturbing and often grisly file footage of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, prepackaged features, blueprints of the execution chamber, live shots of very little outside the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., and much ado about "closure."
The "media witnesses" who lined up to tell their tales were repetitive and flirted with voyeurism in some cases, referring to McVeighs open-eyed death, jerky breathing and increasing pallor as the injections took effect.
"McVeighs skin became increasingly yellow, and eventually his lips turned blue," noted CBS Byron Pitts.
ABC repeatedly broadcast a particularly invasive shot of one little boy who had knelt to pray at the bombing memorial site in Oklahoma City, taken with a Telephoto lens. The network also aired a graphic of McVeighs final statement, which included the phrase, "The final tally has been, in the crudest of terms, 168 to one."
Those words were not part of the statement. According to a spokesman, ABC got an advance news tip that the phrase was included and prepared the graphic. A technician pushed the wrong button and "we made a mistake," the spokesman said.
To their credit, both broadcast and cable networks offered tributes to the bombing victims, but with varying results. In the case of tragedy, less is more in TV coverage. CBS chose a full-blown production complete with flute music and narration. ABC and Fox, on the other hand, ran photos or simple text, and in complete silence.
The networks have been heavily promoting "moment-to-moment McVeigh coverage" since Friday.
"As McVeigh Day approaches yet again, Americans might give some thought to executing their televisions. Or at least shutting them down for the day," suggested Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel columnist Kathleen Parker.
Although the New York Post offered a special "Hes Dead" afternoon edition yesterday, most American newspapers offered packages of news, heartfelt features, timelines and speculative op-eds about the death penalty and the state of the militia movement.
For better or worse, the world press used the execution as a reflection of American culture, and its possible "chilling" effect on President Bushs European visit, now under way.
"It felt like man, indeed almost a whole nation, had taken revenge on Timothy McVeigh," the BBC noted, adding that one journalist called the execution "a big media reunion" and compared it to Election Night coverage.
There was some indifference, though. The story had little effect in China, where about 1,000 people are executed per year. According to a modest story featured inside the Beijing Evening News, McVeigh led a "brief and evil life."

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