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Reporter's Notebook: The McVeigh Execution

Aired June 9, 2001 - 09:33   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Time now for another one of our regular movements here at CNN SATURDAY MORNING. We're at the SmartBoard. Time to talk about "Reporter's Notebook" and some of the questions which you have about the McVeigh execution.

First we'll talk to Kelly Wallace about the president's trip in just a moment, but let's go to Terre Haute, Indiana, where Jeff Flock is standing by now with the latest on this.

And Jeff, I should warn you, we've got a lot of criticism about our coverage. We'll talk about that just -- in just a moment, but there are some specific questions first about what is going to happen on Monday morning.

Max and Audrey Copenhagen have this: "Who actually starts the IV? Is the person who administers the lethal medication identified, and what is the medication?"

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nobody is identified, first of all. And keep in mind, none of these people are doctors. These are Bureau of Prisons officials. And in terms of the medications, sodium pentathol is the first one. That causes unconsciousness. Then something called pancuronium bromide, which is a muscle relaxer that stops breathing, and then potassium chloride, finally, that stops the heart.

O'BRIEN: All right. Another question from Xavier, Davenport: "Is the government concerned about possible terrorist attacks related to the execution of McVeigh?"

FLOCK: You betcha. They're not saying a whole lot about that, but I talked to the chief of police here yesterday. He's got about 100 officers that will be deployed out there, or members of the Indiana State Patrol that'll be here as well. ATF has sent a bomb truck in. They don't really want to talk a whole lot about this, but they realize it's a potential threat, and I think the most telling thing that he said to me, which was, you know, "If I had 10,000 officers, I couldn't possibly cover every area that I needed to cover in this town. Sure, we're a target, but we're hoping that everything goes OK."

O'BRIEN: And of course it's not limited just to that town too, I'm sure there'll be heightened alerts all across the country on Monday. This is kind of long, I'll paraphrase as I go along. "The execution of McVeigh in a federal institution is taking place after almost 40 years. It's important that there be a recording of the incident, particularly when there are people who have been permitted to view it live by the court. Now, even if the recording is not made public, it should be done just for the sake of history." This is a question from Dr. T.K. Roy, who is in Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

This is a big issue right now, isn't it, Jeff?

FLOCK: Yes. You know, I talked to Dan Dunn (ph) yesterday when we had the Pennsylvania case, we received word of the Pennsylvania case, where the judge ordered that it be recorded, and then, of course, that was -- that order was stayed.

I said, "Can you do that?" And he said, "Yes," he said, "I really would rather -- you know, obviously we're going to fight against it, but it would be possible to do that. We would be prepared to do that if it came down to that." And of course, that, I think, is going to a higher court now, and we'll see where that winds up.

O'BRIEN: All right. Now let's get to the criticisms of the media. I could go on and on here, Jeff, in all honesty.

FLOCK: Great.

O'BRIEN: We got a tremendous number of e-mails from our viewers this morning who are upset with our coverage. And this is a fairly indicative one. "I mean no disrespect to those of you who have suffered -- to those who have suffered from this awful tragedy. However, I find the second-by-second interminable nonanalysis of this procedure to be insufferable and unjustified. It panders to an appalling, almost medieval mob blood lust. News is a reportage of events that have happened. Whether one agrees with the death penalty or not, this endlessly repeated and inflated anticipation does CNN no credit when so much news around the world goes unreported. Your editorial values are in serious need of review." And that is from Tom Mackelopp (ph), and Mr. Mackelopp, that is a very cogent argument.

And unfortunately, Mr. Jeff Flock is going to have to respond to that on behalf of all of us at CNN. Go ahead, Jeff.

FLOCK: Well, No. 1, we appreciate the feedback. Number two, I would make the point that, A, this is a tremendous -- the enormity of this crime, I think, has no parallel, so that is point one. The fact also is that this is not just about Tim McVeigh, but that we would be here anyway because this is the first federal execution in some -- almost 40 years, and that obviously focuses on the death penalty issue as well.

And that is going to be part of our coverage over the course of the next 24, 36 hours. So there are multiple stories here that are playing out. And given the developments of the last several days in terms of appeals and all that sort of thing.

And the other point that I would make is that some would argue the other side of this, which is that the more attention that it comes to it, then perhaps there's better opportunity for closure for those in Oklahoma City, people who have been affected by all of this. I've not heard those kind of complaints from the victims and the family members of the victims of this crime.

Again, this is a -- news is nothing more than an ongoing debate of what goes on and whether we're spending too much time on one issue or not is a valid debate.

O'BRIEN: It's a hard debate in this particular case, and I think it's something -- I can just tell you, to all of our viewers, we're constantly grappling with this one. And what Jeff said, it makes it a very difficult -- it's not as cut and dried as it seems.

And on that note, I don't want to heap all this criticism on you, Jeff, but you just happen to be in the firing line right now. "Your coverage of the execution of Timothy McVeigh is unfortunately giving an evil terrorist the attention and visibility he originally sought to obtain, securing his recognition in the history books. Why not spend equal time reporting on the biographies of his victims? The victims deserve the tribute of prime-time coverage." That from Rob DeLabelle (ph).

And we should point out to Rob, I think, that we do a fair amount of that, don't we?

FLOCK: I think we have devoted certainly some time, but of course nowhere near the amount of attention that we've focused on McVeigh. I mean, think of the documentaries over time of a man of somebody like an Adolf Hitler.

You know, this -- an examination of all this, again, I would submit that reporting less on this is not necessarily any great help to anyone. I think this was certainly a terrible act, and it needs to be focused on, and how this plays out, what this culture and what this society chooses to do about that in terms of punishment, I think is tremendously important. It has tremendous impact.

I mean, people have talked about, you know, photographing the execution and perhaps providing, you know, a kind of a platform that way. I mean, I think, wisely, that's not being done. That's my own personal opinion.

And so I think there are always checks and balances on what we do, and we are -- I can just tell you from this chair where I sit right now -- constantly thinking about those things that we report, wanting to bring as much information, because that's our mission to you, that we can, without, as has been alleged in that comment, pandering to any of the more base instincts that we may all have.

O'BRIEN: And Jeff, before you get away, if you were given the opportunity, would you witness the execution as a member of the media?

FLOCK: Yes, I would. I would have no doubt, having talked to other reporters who have witnessed executions, that it would have a profound impact. I talked to my daughter about this the other day. She said, "Daddy, you're actually going to be in there?" And I said, "Well, I don't think so." The media is going to (inaudible) decide amongst itself, and that ought to be a pretty interesting meeting anyway.

But I would. I would want to see, as I said, this is a decision, collectively, as a culture we have made as to how this crime will be punished. And I think seeing that is part of being who we are.

O'BRIEN: All right. Some tough issues, well put. Thank you, Mr. Jeff Flock, for engaging in a bit of a journalism colloquy here on CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

FLOCK: Thanks, Miles, appreciate it.

O'BRIEN: And good luck on the coverage.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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