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RTNDA protests plans to limit access to McVeigh

Apr 16, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The Justice Department’s plans to limit access to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in the weeks leading to his execution drew protests last week from the Radio-Television News Directors Association.
“Impermissible content-based discrimination” is what RTNDA President Barbara Cochran called Attorney General John Ashcroft’s prohibition of TV interviews in his attempt to limit Mr. McVeigh’s access to the “public podium.”
“The federal government has no appropriate role in determining who or what has access to the public podium that is our nation’s free press,” Ms. Cochran said in a letter to Mr. Ashcroft.
“Indeed,” she said, “video is our society’s common language.”
Mr. McVeigh, who is being held at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., awaiting his May 16 execution, is limited to one phone call a day, approved by the prison warden, of no more than 15 minutes.
His lawyer, Nathan Chambers, told Electronic Media, “He hasn’t agreed to do any calls. At this time, he’s not doing any.”
Asked what’s to prevent someone from taping a phone conversation with Mr. McVeigh and airing it, Mr. Chambers said, “The Department of Justice is saying `No,’ but I don’t know how they intend to enforce that.”
“If Mr. McVeigh gives his consent … does the warden have a role?” asked Kathleen Kirby, RTNDA counsel. “That’s probably a question that’s never been addressed in a court case.”
Meanwhile, by week’s end news organizations were learning more about the makeup and selection of the pool of 10 media witnesses to Mr. McVeigh’s execution.
The 10 reporters, who will brief their counterparts after the death penalty is administered, will include one representative each from a newspaper in Terre Haute, Ind., and a newspaper in Oklahoma City- where the bomb detonated by Mr. McVeigh in 1995 left 168 dead and hundreds wounded-two from national print organizations, two from wire services and one from a radio outlet. Rounding out the pool will be one representative each from two national TV networks and one from an Oklahoma City station not affiliated with either of those networks.
About three hours before the execution, one member of each credentialed news organization on the scene in Terre Haute will decide which one of his or her peers will actually witness the execution.