BROOKE GLADSTONE: The listeners' varied reactions to the execution tapes often echoed the convictions of academics and critics on the issue of televising executions. This week after the broadcast of the tapes CBS newsman Mike Wallace stated the major case in favor.
MIKE WALLACE: It is public policy in America to put people to death in many states, but the American people who vote for the politicians who favor the death penalty let them see it!
BROOKE GLADSTONE:First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus [sp?] added another widely held position -- that if the public saw what went on in the death chamber, opinion would swing against the death penalty.
MARTIN GARBUS: You will find some racial patterns, the enormous proportion of people executed being black. You'll also find that many of the people have I.Q.'s of 55 and 60.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall believed that most Americans supported the death penalty precisely because they knew so little about it. The testimonials of the listeners we just heard suggest it can go either way. Paul Leighton [sp?] is a professor of criminology at Eastern Michigan University. He says information is frequently irrelevant.
PROFESSOR PAUL LEIGHTON: By and large researchers have found that people don't know a lot about the death penalty but they also don't really care. They have strong opinions that just don't really change because of exposure to information, and a lot of it seems to be kind of almost an ideological pre-disposition.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Studies conducted in the '90s do suggest that support for the death penalty drops if people are required to be active participants such as jurors or executioners.
PROFESSOR PAUL LEIGHTON: So there is some way in making the death penalty more real seems to have the effect of decreasing support, but we don't know quite how this would play out in terms of a televised execution. Would people really see it as real? Or is this kind of reality TV or is this just another program?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Just another program, answers Wendy Lesser, author of Pictures at an Execution.
WENDY LESSER:...the way people watch the news and not get disgusted or outraged by it, I have no doubt that people could begin to watch executions and view it as another from of reality--
ROBERT J. LIFTON: Or you'd have something worse.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Robert J. Lifton [sp?] is the author of Who Owns Death?
ROBERT J. LIFTON: You'd have an outpouring of vengeful, sadistic feelings on the part of the public, and we all have some of those feelings.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Paul Leighton says that there is some evidence to suggest broadcasting executions might actually increase violence rather than deter it.
PROFESSOR PAUL LEIGHTON: Following a well-publicized execution in particular, homicides actually increase rather than decrease, and the basic reasoning seems to be that people get the message that violence seems like an acceptable way to resolve a problem, and that's the message that gets out much moreso than crime doesn't pay, because people identify with the state and they don't identify with the criminal.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:The only media outlet that requested permission to record the execution of Timothy McVeigh was a small Internet site. The request was denied, but attorney Martin Garbus still sees the recording and dissemination of executions as inevitable.
MARTIN GARBUS: Nobody wants it to happen, but you will be watching it on your computers at the same time that the state is denying you; you're going to have people walking into these executions with little cameras that are then going to be shown all over the Internet.