PAPERS MOVE AHEAD WITH McVEIGH COVERAGE

By: Joe Strupp

Editors Ignore Ashcroft’s Request For Less Media


Newspaper editors nationwide appear to be ignoring a plea from U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who urged them weeks ago to tone down coverage of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s execution next month. In most instances, editors say they will cover the May 16th event as a major story.

“This is an execution of the largest mass-murderer in the U.S.,” said Kerry Luft, national editor of the Chicago Tribune, which had a reporter in Oklahoma City last week and plans to deploy staff at the Terre Haute, Ind., execution site and in Washington, D.C. “I’m covering it like the big news story that it is.”

Other editors, most of whom are still finalizing exact coverage plans, said Ashcroft’s plea will not change their minds because McVeigh’s death – the first federal execution since 1963 – is both historical and dramatic.

“We have taken a measured approach to this, but we do not want to ignore it,” said Leo Wolinsky, Los Angeles Times deputy managing editor, who plans to assign half a dozen reporters to various aspects of the execution. “There is an important story that people need to know about.”

Ashcroft made his request during an April 4 speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference in Washington, D.C. During remarks before some 300 editors, Ashcroft urged them not to give McVeigh too much of a platform for his views.

“I do not want the execution of Timothy McVeigh to become any kind of an event which would promote his objectives,” Ashcroft said in response to a question. “I think it’s clear that (McVeigh’s) indicated that he would be interested in making a certain statement to the effect of how, somehow, he is the tragedy here.”

David Lindsey, national editor for legal affairs at USA Today, said Ashcroft’s words were considered offensive to some editors. “Many people saw it as high-handed,” he said about the remarks. “As if they needed a lesson in sensitivity.”

Keith Woods, an ethics instructor at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fl., said the amount of coverage does not always determine the sensitivity. “The public is always served by knowing more rather than less,” he said. “If all we do is put the microphone in front of McVeigh, we are not serving the public. But if we provide significant information, it is serving democracy.”



Joe Strupp (jstrupp@editorandpublisher.com) is an associate editor for E&P.



Related story:
PRESS GEARS UP FOR McVEIGH EXECUTION (04/23/01)



Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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