Sunday, August 20, 2006

Rethnking executions

A colleague takes me to task for my comments on the Gazette's coverage of the Dawson execution. This required me to actually think about what I wanted to say, rather than just mouthing off in grand blogger fashion. So here are the relevant parts of my response to him:

Please understand that much of my reaction to this story was as a citizen and a reader rather than as an editor. As an editor, I understand the arguments Dave Rye made on my blog, and I would have taken that into account if I had been the one making the calls at the Gazette. I would have played the story down some but would have run most of the same stories. Most of those stories are almost obligatory in a case like this: the last meal, the witness to the execution, the recounting of the crime, the protests, etc. I probably even would have run the story about Dawson not giving interviews, but I would have boiled it down and buried it inside. Also (in one other specific example that comes to mind) on the day that the Brits broke up the terrorist plot, I would have played that above Dawson.

In short, as a reader and citizen I probably would have been just as appalled by the Gazette's coverage if I had been directing it. I have no moral objections to the death penalty, but I do object to the wall-to-wall coverage that these cases always seem to generate. Some people say the death penalty deters criminals. I doubt that, and I suspect that the extensive coverage these cases generate actually appeals to a certain sort of sick criminal mind -- the sort that is, in fact, most likely to commit such hideous crimes. If I were to make a case against capital punishment, media coverage of any recent execution would be Exhibit No. 1.

When I say that I really don't care whether a character like Dawson lives or dies, I mean that. I doubt that I read 10 percent of the Gazette's coverage, and I don't think I read any of the stories about legal efforts to stop his execution. I just didn't want to know.

So my real complaint is not that the Gazette abused journalistic discretion. The Gazette did, by and large, what the tenets of daily journalism compelled it to do. It's the tenets of journalism that worry me, both as a reader and a citizen, and I should have made that clearer in my comments.

Not smart

This strikes me as a major screwup by the Tester campaign (thanks, as usual, to Jackie Corr).

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Every child left behind

This Denver Post editorial does a good job of summing up the problems with No Child Left Behind but then draws the odd conclusion that the legislation can be fixed, as if it were a good idea that simply needed tweaking.

Wrong. It was a bad idea whose problems arise from its very nature -- the idea that the federal government in Washington, D.C., can run schools better than the states and cities where schools actually exist. It was bound to fail, it has failed, and it ought to be scrapped.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Cold and dead

I guess I have no news sense, but this strikes me as the most overblown story in years.

Somewhere deep inside, I suppose I should care whether David Dawson lives or dies, but the fact is that I don't. He died unrepentant and unmourned. Let him lie.

UPDATE: In comments, Dave Rye makes good points about the newsworthiness of the event, but he doesn't change my assessment. Too much, too often. Where it started to run off the rails for me was with this story. The lead story in the City-State section was that Dawson wasn't giving interviews. That isn't news. That's milking the story.

So long

Congratulations, Wal-Mart shoppers. You bagged another one.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Rack Wars revisited

The latest on the ongoing battle for rack space in Montana is in this week's Outpost. Be sure to read the first reader comment at the bottom (he says, self-servingly).

A few hours after the column came out, I got a phone call from Billings Gazette Publisher Mike Gulledge. I was delivering papers all day, so we haven't connected yet, and I've had time to think about what he might want. I don't get many calls from the Gazette publisher, so I've narrowed it to a few possibilities.

1. He wants to buy a subscription, or perhaps the entire paper.

2. He wants to offer me a job.

3. He wants to congratulate me on another fine issue of The Outpost and wish me continued success in future journalistic endeavors.

4. He wants to offer to join in solidarity in our mutual fight against the evil predator Gannett.

5. He has a complaint about my column.

After thinking it over, I've concluded that 1 through 4 aren't too likely. So I'm expecting 5. Stay tuned.

Thursday's Outpost delivery epiphany

The following 100-percent true live-action scene is presented here precisely as it will be depicted in the soon-to-be-acclaimed upcoming feature motion picture "Burger King Dude."

SCENE: A motorist approaches a Burger King drive-through. On the drive-through menu are a Fish Filet Sandwich and a Big Fish Sandwich. Each sells for $2.69.

MOTORIST (into the drive-through speaker): So what's the difference between a Fish Filet Sandwich and a Big Fish Sandwich?


MOTORIST: In that case, I'll have one.


Monday, August 07, 2006

Hines update

Silly me. I thought T.L. Hines had given up blogging. But he has instead moved to classier digs and will be reading from his new novel at Barnes & Noble at 2 p.m. Saturday. Way to go.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006