Media Change on Capital Punishment Essay

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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 fro...

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...reading as to why capital punishment has become more prevalent. However, while Garland argues that media has increased support for capital punishment, Baumgartner contends that media has made people more aware of the injustices linked to the system in general. In complete opposition, Gray defends an idea that the rise in support and media have no relation. Support has never been uniform and the policies of capital punishment haven’t changed, therefore Gray writes that media can’t change perceptions because it’s simply spreading that which is already known. It’s obvious that there are many conflicting views on the cultural change that occurred. One is left with the questions: Will there be another cultural change (if there was one) that can make the death penalty either more or less appealing? Why did the question of innocence not become fully important until 2000?

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