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McVeigh: The press line forms here

Mar 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh has winnowed down more than 100 requests for interviews to a short list of TV and print news organizations to which he would talk if press is given access to the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., where he is scheduled to be executed May 16.

According to Mr. McVeigh’s attorney

Nathan Chambers, the number of news organizations that have “preliminary approval” from Mr. McVeigh is “way less than 10.”

Mr. Chambers told Electronic Media on Friday that in choosing to whom he’d like to talk, “[Mr. McVeigh] first of all looks for news organizations that have credibility and who have a willingness and ability to fight for access.”

Asked if that means the man convicted of the worst act of domestic terrorism in the country’s history wants to talk, as opposed to merely being willing to be interviewed, Mr. Chambers said, “He expects at some point he may like to make a public statement.”

While CNN thinks it is among those on Mr. McVeigh’s list, Mr. Chambers wouldn’t name any organizations on it.

“Every network has submitted multiple requests,” Mr. Chambers said.

A spokeswoman at the penitentiary said, “We are considering inmate interviews on a case-by-case basis, and we also are considering phone interviews.”

She said officials will weigh the public’s “need to know about the execution”-the first by the federal government in 38 years-against “undue publicity” for the penitentiary’s most infamous death row resident and the need for ensuring “the safe and orderly running of our institution.”

The last person-to-person interview with Mr. McVeigh was done by Ed Bradley and aired March 12, 2000, on “60 Minutes.”

Prison officials requested that none of Mr. McVeigh’s jailers be identifiable in any footage broadcast by CBS. But at least one jailer’s face was seen briefly, prompting the prison to complain and CBS News to explain that it was an “oversight.”

The penitentiary spokeswoman acknowledged the request, but not the complaint afterward, and said the “60 Minutes” incident does not preclude Mr. McVeigh from giving future interviews.

But, said an executive at another network, “It clearly is an issue and a hurdle. The prison is reluctant because of past experience.”

Mr. Chambers said, “I think they’re going to be pretty restrictive.”

While they wait to learn whether they will be able to talk to Mr. McVeigh, each network news organization is deep in plans to cover the execution and protests in Terre Haute, the reaction in Oklahoma City and the debate throughout the country over the death penalty.

“I would expect the bulk of the day to be devoted to this,” said Ramon Escobar, executive producer of dayside programming at MSNBC. “It’s a pretty big event. There are so many things that are unprecedented.”

Neither Mr. Escobar nor his counterparts at NBC News can say who’ll be deployed where yet.

CBS News plans to have Bryant Gumbel co-anchor “The Early Show” from Terre Haute and may dispatch “Evening News” anchor Dan Rather.

CNN may send Bill Hemmer, who earned a nightly show due to his role during the election gridlock in Florida.

And Fox News Channel’s team coverage will be headed by up-and-comer Shepard Smith and John Gibson reporting live from Terre Haute, starting two days before the execution.

Even Channel One Network, which runs a 12-minute daily newscast that reaches more than 8 million students age 11 to 18 in America’s middle and high schools, is struggling with how to cover it.

Jim Morris, executive producer for Channel One News, said he has to find the middle ground between “the gore factor” and the fact that to his audience, “six years ago is an eternity. … This comes across as history if we do it in the wrong way.”

So Channel One’s plans range from a “Question of the Day” related to the first federal execution in 38 years to an interview with the 13-year-old son of a woman killed in the explosion.

“I do want to be careful that we don’t leave the impression that this is the most important story in the world this week,” Mr. Morris said. “For us, wall-to-wall [coverage] would be 12 minutes, and I don’t think this is a 12-minute story.”