BOB GARFIELD: We're back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. After the execution tapes aired, several public radio stations opened up the phone lines so listeners could discuss what they'd just heard. Stations in Dallas, Seattle and San Francisco aired local programs while former On the Media host Brian Lehrer moderated a national discussion carried on about 20 stations.
BOB GARFIELD:Radio call in shows aren't statistically significant research samples, but connecting to the public is one of the things radio does best. Brian Lehrer compiled some of the listener comments and came to these conclusions.
BRIAN LEHRER: One of the ironies of hosting a radio call in program is that the most rote discussions often spring from the most complex issues: abortion, hand guns, and yes, the death penalty. Life and death become tired talking points. It's understandable I guess -- the sides are so clear politically the arguments have become etched in stone. So when the execution tapes aired it was a chance for people to react to something they'd never heard before.
PHYLLIS FROM DALLAS: I think it's too late to think that broadcasting an execution is going to somehow touch us emotionally because I mean we're already way beyond that. We've seen everything happen on TV, and eventually, you know, we're going to start having a little bit more gruesome executions, and then we're going to have to start having some little unusual executions and then we'll start having the outtakes from the executions.
BRIAN LEHRER: That from Phyllis, a listener to Dallas station KERA which aired a call in show immediately after the special. In Seattle's KUOW, Aziz held a minority opinion.
AZIZ FROM SEATTLE: Definitely I would watch it, and definitely I would encourage my family to watch it. Kids, I, I think maybe even our relatives -- we would all get together on a first time basis if this was done and, and all of us get together and have a discussion about it.
BRIAN LEHRER: Obviously a call in radio show is far from a scientific gauge of public reaction. Might even be worse than an Internet survey. But the results of a poll conducted by CNN were interesting nonetheless. The CNN program Talk Back Live asked the question should the execution tapes be aired? And it featured viewer reaction.
WOMAN: Bill in the audience you have a problem with these tape--these tapes being aired.
BILL IN AUDIENCE: I think it becomes a, a form of public entertainment and I think this is one type of entertainment that we just don't need.
BRIAN LEHRER: That man's sentiment was the majority opinion at the time. Sentiment started out 2 to 1 against airing the tapes, but as the program went on and they played the actual tapes, voting wound up exactly 50/50. A couple of callers to the program I hosted reported that their opinions were affected by the broadcast.
JENNIFER FROM DAYTON: But I'm just now becoming-- not a fan [LAUGHS] of capital punishment, and mostly just because of listening to the tapes.
BRIAN LEHRER: Jennifer from Dayton was the second to last caller on Wednesday night. She was the first who said the tapes had actually changed her mind in any way. The last caller on that program, Judy from Brooklyn, also changed her mind.
JUDY FROM BROOKLYN: Over the past few years I feel like I've gotten less and less strongly against capital punishment and hearing these tapes today convinced me that I'm not anti-capital punishment.
BRIAN LEHRER: In Seattle a caller was also affected if not moved to switch positions.
MAN: Anito, how does this affect your position on the death penalty?
WOMAN: Oh, I, I guess it makes me feel even, even more strongly against it.
BRIAN LEHRER: It's logical that each side of the death penalty debate would think that broadcasting executions helps their cause. Each side believes it has taken the moral stance and feels that greater attention would only prove them right. What's clear is that tapes like the one public radio aired and any future broadcasts will cause at least some of us to reconsider one of the most serious acts our government carries out. For On the Media I'm Brian Lehrer.