Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts

So it turns out (via the New York Times) that Texas executes too many people for the state’s daily newspapers to cover them all.

The state has put 441 inmates to death since 1982, more than the next six states combined. That includes 334 since the start of 1997, a period in which Texas accounted for 41 percent of the national total.

Hey, Texas: You’re Number One!

Given the routine nature of the state-sponsored executions – along with a knee-buckling freefall in advertising revenues – cash-strapped newspapers all across Texas have abandoned comprehensive coverage of capital punishment, relying instead on one Michael Graczyk, who has witnessed more than 300 deaths in the past 25 years.

From the Times report:

An Associated Press reporter based in Houston, Mr. Graczyk covers death penalty cases in Texas, the state that uses capital punishment far more than any other, and since the 1980s, he has attended nearly every execution the state has carried out — he has lost track of the precise count.

What we have here is one man watching Texas exercise the government’s ultimate power. The Lone Star State has turned into the Lone Stare State.

(Your groan goes here.)

Another groaner:

Newspapers sometimes use The A.P.’s reporting rather than their own — or they do not cover the executions at all. What was once a statewide story has become of strictly local interest.

Representative case study:

This year, the state has put to death five inmates in cases from Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth. The [Fort Worth] Star-Telegram covered one, wrote about two other cases in the days before the executions, and on the remaining two did not publish any articles, either its own or The A.P.’s.

“It depends on whether the crime was particularly newsworthy,”  [executive editor Jim] Witt said.

Geez, and all this time I thought it was the execution that was newsworthy.

I must be wrong.

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5 Responses to Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts

  1. Former TX Gov. Mark White has had second thoughts about capital punishment, though he was a proponent at the time he held office. In contrast, during President Bush’s tenure as governor, so many inmates were executed that they had to use an “electric couch” to keep pace. Financially strapped newspapers have cut back on sports coverage, prompting some professional teams to hire scribes to cover games, so it wouldn’t be surprising if TX papers were soon to start outsourcing execution coverage.

  2. Michael Pahre says:

    While not entering into the arguments over whether or not we should have a death penalty, one of the main arguments in favor of it is that some consider it an appropriate punishment for particularly horrendous crimes. Capital punishment does not happen in this country for petty theft.

    If so, then every single execution was the result of a particularly horrendous crime committed earlier by the executed person — and the Fort Worth Star Telegram should, under its editor’s own criterion, therefore be covering every single execution because they are the result of newsworthy crimes.

    The Star Telegram is not following its own criterion for newsworthiness.

  3. Curmudgeon says:

    “So it turns out (via the New York Times) that Texas executes too many people…”

    I know that reading the times can be unhealthy, but this is taking it a stretch.

    Cruel and unusual punishment, I would contend.

    • jcarroll7 says:

      I’m not sure what you mean, Curmudgeon, especially in light of the rest of that sentence (“for the state’s daily papers to cover them all”), but I yield to no man in my admiration for the lonely fight you wage.

  4. Seth Stuck says:

    Didn’t know if you had seen the recent opinion poll on capital punishment, so I thought I’d share it with you here to add some context to your post:

    Two-Thirds Continue to Support Death Penalty: http://digg.com/d317FSM

    Don’t know if this adds any substance to the point you’re addressing (it doesn’t seem like it), but I figured it couldn’t hurt to pass the info along…

    -Seth

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