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Televising Executions: Overview of the Arguments 

Executions have been public events for much of Western history, and at times people close to the victim participated. During the 20th Century in the U.S., public lynchings occurred in addition to public executions. Both the nature of the public deaths and the excited crowd behavior lead to 'private execution statutes,' which helped to support the death penalty and undercut a growing abolitionist movement. 

Current interest in televising executions has supporters with different opinions on capital punishment. Some people support capital punishment and believe it would deter if only the public saw it. The father of one victim interviewed in Sister Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking believed “what we should do is fry the bastards on prime-time” to “see if that doesn’t give second thoughts to anybody thinking of murder”

Interestingly, the condemned man also thought the execution should be televised because it “would change some minds” when people to “see what they are really doing”. Some legislators such as Senator Mark Hatfield agree, as well as talk show host Phil Donohue who wanted to televise an execution. 

Others believe executions should be televised because it is a government function and democratic accountability demands that it be done in public. Still others believe that there is a First Amendment Right that would allow the media to televise or webcast it. If a newspaper reporter with a notepad can be in there, isn't it discrimination to keep out a television reporter with a camera? 

During preparations for the execution of Timmothy McVeigh, an internet entertainment group (best known for requested the Bureau of Prisons have a webcam in the execution chamber. The BOP says it's out of the question and there's an important interest in "not sensationalizing the event, maintaining prison security and respecting the privacy of the condemned individual." Entertainment Network Inc (ENI) would like to have the event on a website, with $1.95 access, payable by credit card (to discourage minors viewing it) and with the proceeds going to bombing victims.  More on this topic

"One must kill publicly or confess that one does not feel authorized to kill" -Camus

Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America

“Hey, man, you shouldn’t be killing people for no four hundred dollars” – condemned man speculating on his final words to the executioner (Prejean's Dead Man Walking). 

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Death At Midnight: The Confessions of an Executioner

Fear & Loathing in An Age of Show Business  

Paul's chapter from Criminal Justice Ethics that discusses the history of public executions and whether a televised execution would deter, brutalize (cause increased violence), or undermine support for capital punishment. 

Explore the issues raised by an internet entertainment group's request to webcast McVeigh's execution

Critique of reasoning in Entertainment Network v Lappin (Why Is A Photographer at an Execution A Criminal?)

Why we should either televise executions or abolish the death penalty

Paul's article for Newsday on televising McVeigh's execution

More Death Penalty info from CJ Ethics



Robert Johnson's Death Work: A Study of the Modern Execution Process does an awesome job of explaining what is involved in an execution from the perspectives of inmates, executioners and witnesses. 

Bedeau, Death Penalty in America: Current Controversies

Sister Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty. The book is so much better than the movie. Prejean's religious belief is the basis for asking questions about executions and social justice. 
California First Amendment Coalition v Woodford is not about televising executions but deals with restrictions on what witnesses can view. It allowed the press and witnesses to see the condemned from the moment he enters the execution chamber and thus expands some of the 'right to watch.' (9th Circuit Court of Appeals, 2002. Adobe/.pdf 30 pages)

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