Media Change Essay

2049 words - 9 pages

A campaign commercial in the Texas gubernatorial race in 1990 showed former governor Mark White walking through a hallway displaying large photos of the men put to death during his administration in 1983 to 1986. White declared, “Only a governor can make executions happen,” as ominous music played in the background. “I did, and I will” (Garland 3). A decade later, governor Terry Sanford’s numerous statements against capital punishment were so well known that prisoners on Texas’s death row referred to them in their clemency appeals (Garland 6). These examples highlight some of the extreme samples of death penalty support in the US. However, in the history of the United States, support has been far from uniform. The death penalty, which is still used in thirty-five states, is a peculiar institution. Historically, capital punishment has been used as a form of justice by almost all modern and Western countries in the world. However, by the end of the twentieth century, every Western nation except for the United States eliminated the death penalty. In the public eye, the death penalty has evolved from gruesome, open displays of governmental power to possibly more humane methods implemented in an orderly fashion behind prison walls. A cultural change, which may have been provoked by media, shifted the population’s opinion on the death penalty. This point is highly debated because while there is a lack of hard evidence for the claim, many academics support media as the driving force behind the approval of capital punishment. Capital punishment has always been a flawed system. What media and news outlets have done is create awareness of those flaws. Whereas the elites of other prominent nations were able to impose nationwide abolition from above despite public objections, American elites are unable and unwilling to end a punishment that has a storied place in popular culture.
In the 1950s and 1960s, academics and politicians in the United States generally did not view opposition to the death penalty as a major political liability. Many of them were outspoken opponents of capital punishment. During this period, public support for capital punishment was rapidly deteriorating, falling by twenty-six percent from 1953 to 1966 (Garland 27). In today’s society, however, support for the death penalty has grown to almost 65 percent, which is a drastic change from just four decades earlier. This provokes the question, Was there a cultural change that made the death penalty more acceptable in today’s society? How did media contribute to this change?
Throughout the past decade, there has been much debate on the role of media in capital punishment. David Garland, a professor of law at New York University and the author of Peculiar Institution, provides evidence that connects the death penalty to values of modern human nature. While neither the glamour nor the gore that used to characterize public executions remain today, capital cases still generate extensive...

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