Have the News Media Helped Kill Capital Punishment in the U.S.?


When Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley signs a bill abolishing the death penalty, it will join 17 other states and the District of Columbia to do that, political scientist Danny Hayes of George Washington University writes in the Washington Post. Erosion of public support for the death penalty has occurred because many Americans believe capital punishment is justified, but they worry that innocent people might be executed.

Hayes cites “The Decline of the Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence” by political scientists Frank Baumgartner, Suzanna DeBoef, and Amber Boydstun, for saying that since the mid-1990s, news coverage of the death penalty has increasingly focused on exonerations and wrongful executions. In earlier eras, the debate in the media was more frequently about other issues, such as capital punishment's constitutionality or cost. This shift in media coverage, which has highlighted problems in the death penalty's application, has encouraged the public to evaluate capital punishment in terms of fairness, especially the potential for innocent people to be sent to death row, Hayes says.

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