Why media groups are fighting, again, for access to Idaho executions

For the second time in seven months, Idaho is preparing to kill a convicted criminal in the name of all Idahoans.

And for the second time in seven months, the first phase of this procedure could occur behind a shroud of secrecy — in direct conflict with a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that holds that witnesses should be allowed to view an execution, from start to finish.

That’s why Idaho media groups, including the Statesman, went to U.S. District Court to petition for access to the execution of Richard Leavitt, scheduled for Tuesday. This is why media groups will appear before the 9th Circuit Court today to appeal a district court ruling that sided with the state.

This isn’t one of those First Amendment fights that wins the news media much sympathy from readers and viewers. It plays directly into the critics’ worst stereotypes of a self-important and voyeuristic media. But this is, nonetheless, an important access issue.

Reporters are the public’s witnesses to an execution. The job is every bit that somber, every bit that essential. Reporters are there to confirm what corrections officials will invariably assert after the fact: that an execution was conducted in a humane and dignified manner.

Is there any public function where government should be held more accountable?

Idaho’s execution protocol compromises the media’s public function. If Tuesday’s execution adheres to state guidelines, Leavitt will be brought into the execution chamber, restrained and hooked up to the IV catheters that administer the lethal injection, all before witnesses are ushered into the chamber.

These are important steps in the procedure; the insertion of the catheter is at least as delicate and crucial a step as the actual lethal injection itself. But reporters — and, by extension, Idahoans — are expected to accept on faith that these steps have been carried out smoothly.

Consequently, in a 2002 California case directly on point, the 9th Circuit ruled as follows: “The public has a First Amendment right to view the condemned as he enters the execution chamber, is forcibly restrained and fitted with the apparatus of death.” Yet Idaho did not heed this ruling in the Nov. 18 execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades, and has no intention of heeding it in the Leavitt execution.

Even though he ruled against the media, I can’t be too critical of U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge’s decision Tuesday. Lodge said the media groups have a “strong claim” on First Amendment grounds. He also criticized media groups for filing their complaint on May 22, less than a month before the execution date, and questioned media groups’ assertion that the state could change its protocol without delaying the execution.

“The public has an interest in viewing the whole execution process, but it also has an interest in seeing the judgment enforced without disruption.”

Fair enough.

But I’d also criticize the Correction Department for insisting on a procedure that runs counter to case law, prompting the media groups to file their complaint. I’d also point out that Leavitt faces execution in connection with a 1984 murder.

Idaho doesn’t exactly rush into executions, not that it should. It’s not too much to ask that the state find a way to abide by legal precedent.

Killing in your name

If citizens are going to be a party to killing of prisoners, then we should not only be "allowed" to see the event but be required to do so. Perhaps if all the local TV channels carried this...and nothing else... from start to finish we wouldn't be so interested in carrying on this barbaric punishment.

Come on State of Idaho let us see this ugly act.

Toward the end

of Richert's report, he finally mentions that Leavitt faces execution in connection with a 1984 murder. If he had taken the time to describe the details of that murder, you would have a real vivid picture of the word barbaric.

Don't Expect Effort By Third Rate Media

The big lie by the liberal media is just what you pointed out: They will not tell you the truth, the facts, if it harms their liberal narrative. Witness the Trayvon Martin shooting, the Troy Davis case (death penalty case in Savannah, GA) and many other stories in which the media spins a liberal narrative to fit their agenda. Richert and the Statesman's writers are the same. I knew the police officer who was brutally murdered by Troy Davis, but the liberal media refused to tell Americans the whole story. The Lib Media turned a murderer into a victim, and the victim, Mark MacPhail....well, the liberal media just ignored him. Why would a liberal media bother telling American sheeple that MacPhail was a married father of two toddlers, a decorated Army commando (Airborne Ranger).....no, the media does not want you to know the truth for fear of harming their agenda, their prepackaged and canned narrative.

KR's argument is fatally flawed....

he believes it is his duty to report that the execution was (or was not) "carried out smoothly" and that it "was conducted in a humane and dignified manner." He mistakenly believes that all Idahoans share his understanding of smoothly, humanely, and dignified and therefore believes he can represent us all when he reports it went roughly, inhumanely, and undignified. Hold the government accountable by using an objective measure: was the condemned executed at the time and place ordered or not. Journalistic voyeurism - "smoothly" hiding behind the people's right to know and an "undignified" argument.

Well said!

Well said!

I am

not overly concerned about a convicted killer's humane and dignified execution. I would not be too upset if these sickened b%#tards were executed in the same manner as what their victims had to endure.
Kevin, if your and the other news media want to play hall monitor as to whether or not these people are "killed" in a humane manner, so be it, but I could care less.

It's also not too much to ask...

... that 3rd parties actively attempting to interject themselves into the execution process file their motions a little earlier in the game: "Plaintiffs ignore how heavily courts have emphasized the need for challenges related to executions to be brought in a timely manner[.]"

This is especially true if the issue was fully identified at the time of the *November 2011* execution of Rhoades.


Exactly, where were these media patriots a few months ago when there was time for an actual hearing on the merits on this? The goal was to obstruct and delay and the execution, nothing more. If they cared about what they claim to care about, they would have brought the challenge earlier.

Media Vultures

Media in America are dishonest, self-congratulatory vultures, who could care less about the First Amendment, and more about being 'liberal,' and politically correct. The vultures will interview and film grieving parents, will publish incorrect, inflammatory information that gets people killed (refer to the Koran in the toilet lie that the media promulgated), promote hatred and racism with false stories, etc.. The Trayvon Martin case in Florida shows just how low, just how racist the media can be. The vultures, including Idaho media, promoted racism, violence, and divisiveness while publishing distorted and fabricated information.

Richert and the Statesman Klan are not in their jobs to ensure a "humane and dignified" execution. Give up your delusions of grandeur, you third-rate journalists! The legislature, the Dept of Correction, the witnesses will ensure proper procedure is followed, not biased media vultures.