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Jewish World Review June 11, 2001/ 21 Sivan 5761

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports

Time to execute your TV sets --
AS McVeigh Day approaches yet again -- his execution is still on for today at this writing -- Americans might give some thought to executing their televisions. Or at least shutting them down for the day.

Think of it as a concession to decency, or a protest of its vulgar opposite. For little can be less decent than the media spectacles being planned as part of McVeigh's final send-off. I'm already weary of the news-event soundtracks - those tragi/dramatic mini-scores that get written at times like this - even before they're played.

The O.J. trial had one. Hostage situations always have one. The Oklahoma City bombing had one. For McVeigh, I imagine a somber bass-filled dirge. Silence would be nice.

The networks are more ready to roll than ever, having had a month to fine-tune the details since McVeigh's initial execution date was postponed. Now, as we approach the next date and time - slated at the moment for 8 a.m. Monday - the media is like the Roman legion heading off for Germania.

In the next several days, Terre Haute, Ind., where McVeigh will be executed, and Oklahoma City will be transformed like movie sets as media troops occupy city streets, build scaffolding and platforms, and erect tent cities among miles of wires and cables.

Celebrity talking heads are doubtless getting last minutes hair cuts and highlights in preparation for one of the greatest ratings contests to come along in a while. They're busy brushing up on names and dates, scouring old clips for fresh angles and practicing solemn expressions in front of dressing room mirrors.

CNN reportedly is sending some 50 reporters to the two cities, starring Susan Candiotti and Bill Hemmer. (He's the one who looks 12 even with glasses.) Then there's Greta "The Point!" Van Susteren. Between her legal analysis on "Burden of Proof" and "The Point," Van Susteren will be doing everything but administering the lethal injection.

Brian Williams on MSNBC is slated to be in the studio at 7 a.m. (execution at 8!), working with reporters on the scene in Oklahoma City and Terre Haute. And man-on-the-street interviews will be predictable.

Cornering the empathy market, Katie Couric of NBC's "Today" show will be in Oklahoma City, probably overlooking the site of the bombing where dozens (hundreds?) will gather to pay homage - to the dead or to Katie? Hey, isn't that Charles Gibson from "Good Morning America" over there?

So it is, and so it goes. It's easy to blame the media for such exploitation, but what would we have them do? Nothing has a nice ring to it. Ignore McVeigh feels right, but ignoring the execution of the nation's worst terrorist isn't an option. If one news outlet covers it, every news outlet has to cover it. And like it or not, McVeigh is news.

But we the people don't have to watch it. Media people always defend themselves against criticism the way all merchants do: The market demands; the market provides. Give the masses blood, and they will love you for it. Entertain them, amuse them, keep them distracted by the spectacle and they won't notice that decency was sacrificed at the altar of television ratings.

But what if they threw an execution for a celebrity mass murderer and no one watched? A TV moratorium on Monday would send all the right messages. More important, turning off our sets would honor McVeigh's victims, who deserve better than the glorification of a narcissistic thug. Try it. It's the red button next to the words ON/OFF.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.

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© 2001, Tribune Media Services