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.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
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: