About a year ago, I complained in this space about what I perceived as undue media frenzy (is there such a thing as due media frenzy?) in the wake of the April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, roughly eight miles west of this desk. I caught a fair amount of flak for that piece, largely for comments like this:
I'm definitely sure that I wish all of this would go away. And if McVeigh and Nichols are convicted of the bombing, it's only a matter of time before things get worse, as the local hack politicians go into their usual see-how-tough-we-are-on-crime act and the regulars from the Professional Victims League start angling for televised executions at the Lloyd Noble Center.
Exactly one thing has changed in the twelve months since then: McVeigh and Nichols are being tried separately, rather than as a unit. While there hasn't been, so far, any demand for executions on pay-per-view, an awful lot of people have been falling over themselves to make life easier for the surviving victims of the bombing, claiming that it's a matter of simple justice. And heaven knows those poor people have suffered far more than anyone deserves. Unfortunately, justice, Old Testament mythology to the contrary, is seldom simple, and way too much of what is merely posturing by people who suffer from the delusion that justice and vengeance are interchangeable regrettably, an easy sell to the suffering.
If you subscribe to the notion of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth", a policy which inevitably results in, at best, a bunch of blind people gumming their gruel, there is no way to pay back the bomber(s), be they McVeigh and Nichols or some parties yet unidentified, for the deaths of 168 people. Whatever you think of the death penalty and I, personally, don't think much of it it's clearly not adequate to the task, and even if it were, the attendant brouhaha, with its onslaught of media twerps and exploitable victims, would turn otherwise serious business into more fodder for tabloid television.
Much abuse has been heaped on Judge Richard Matsch for his attempts to protect the jury from tampering and to keep the reporters at bay. And the local media have pointed out the difficulty of balancing the rights of the victims, of the defendants, and of the media. Judge Matsch's reasoning, however, is elegantly simple: of the three parties victims, defendants, media only the rights of the defendants are clearly spelled out in the Constitution. Therefore, there's no need to work the other two into the equation. Do I, as a member of the public, have a right to know what's going on? Only to the extent that it doesn't jeopardize the trial. This matter is too important to be left to the likes of politicians and reporters.
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Copyright © 1997 by Charles G. Hill