Thursday, January 19, 2006

An extraordinary interest in US executions

A couple of days ago, after reading the BBC's article about the execution of Clarence Ray Allen, the convicted murderer from California who spent 25 years on death row, it occurred to TAE to wonder just why the BBC finds the use of the death penalty in the US to be so particularly worthy of its attention. And there can be little doubt about the special interest the BBC takes in US executions. Consider the BBC's coverage for the year 2005:

  • An article on the execution of Donald Beardslee in California
  • An article about a last minute temporary stay of execution for Michael Ross in Connecticut
February March
  • An article about the Supreme Court ruling that the death penalty for crimes committed by juveniles iunconstitutionalal
  • Kevin Anderson reports that legal rulings in the US are "whittling away" at the death penalty
  • An article claiming that prisoners in the US executed by lethal injection may be "aware" as the poison kills them.
May June No articles

July August
  • Daryl Atkins is ruled to be fit enough to be executed.
September No articles

October No articles

November December So, to sum up, for the year 2005 the BBC covered the executions of 5 specific individuals (and clemency grant of 1) with 21 articles, and touched on the death penalty in the US more generally in an additional 7 pieces. This, in a year in which 60 convicted criminals were executed throughout all of the US. Even if we ignore the BBC's Tookie Williams campaign and count all of its 11 articles on him as one, the BBC still averagied more than an article a month about the US death penalty.

The BBC also repeatedly reminded its readers that the US ranked 4th behind leader China in total number of executions for the year 2004, a fact which presents us with an interesting comparison.

A definitive figure on the number of executions in China for the year 2005 could not be found, but Amnesty International estimates that the figure was "at least 3,400". How many articles do you suppose can be found on the BBC website specifically about executions in China? TAE did a google search on the BBC's site for "china execution [month] 2005". The relevant results were:

January - none
February - none
March - none
April - none
May - none
June - none
July - none
August - none
  • UN envoy cautions China on human rights (with a specific mention of executions).
  • China top court gets power to review death sentences.
October - none
November - none
December - none

So, 3,400 executions in China merits only 2 stories on the death penalty in general, and zero stories on any specific execution, while 60 executions in the US merits 7 stories in general and 21 stories about specific executions. Or, put another way, executions in the US, which total only 1.76% the number of executions in China, get 1,400% of the amount of coverage given to executions in China. And the 1,000th execution in the US since 1976 is, for the BBC, a "landmark" and "milestone" requiring 3 stories, while the 1,000th (and 2,000th, and 3,000th) execution in China since January 1 last year passes by entirely unremarked upon.

Just what is it about US executions that so attracts the attention of the BBC?


Blogger Qaz said...

Easy Peasy Scott, BIAS! I noticed on R5s China week, there was mention of Human rights Issues but CP never came up.

Why dont you ask them, the replays from the beeb, are a joy in spin, it always brings a smile to my face.

You see Scott, the Euro elites are clever and cultured and the Yankies are crass, and anything they can dream up to support that reinforces them and makes them feel safe.

Be it the lies about Katrina compared to the thousands killed thru state neglect in France heatwave a few summers back, or just shouting chimp everytime they see GWB. The weak always lash out, and euroworld is very,very weak.

11:47 PM  
Blogger Simon Lazarus said...

"Just what is it about US executions that so attracts the attention of the BBC?"

Let me guess...anti-American bias?

Notice how they lagged on their "coverage" of the true guilt of Roger Keith Coleman, whose DNA pinpointed him as the true killer. On our blog, we nailed the "Beeb" for doing a story on Coleman's case which left out the evidence outside of the DNA which convicted him. The BBC let the reader think that some hick redneck US state sent an innocent man to his death. Then, when the DNA nailed Coleman, the BBC story on the test spent half a page saying how this case "could have" rocked the death penalty in America - which it didn't.

I wonder - why doesn't the BBC do a poll on the support for capital punishment in the UK? If they are on the side of righteousness, they shouldn't be upset to try. However, we think that they would get the shock of their lives - that their loyal watchers and listeners actually support DP, probably by a 70-30 margin.

But, the BBC wouldn't report on that, either.

3:50 AM  
Anonymous tired & excitable said...

It is interesting to watch the change in tone of BBC coverage of the Thai trial of the killers of Brit tourist Katherine Horton, now that they have been sentenced to death. Horton was beaten with a parasol pole, raped and then dragged out to sea and drowned. The Thai murderers are now on death row.

The woman's family is grateful for the verdict but Brit elites know better. A British Foreign Office spokesman said: "The government opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and has made this clear."

Of course that includes the propagandists at the state-owned BBC, whose lurid TV coverage has gone suddenly cold following the verdict.

Highly doubtful that the execution will be widely covered since there's no anti-American angle.

As usual, the clapped-out Brit public stays sullenly silent, doing nothing.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

It's no coincidence that one of the most democratic nations on Earth is one of the few with the death penalty, and one of the very few where citizens retain the right to bear arms. These facts are so alarming to the political elite in this country, because it could give the serfs dangerous ideas, that the nation concerned must be vilified at every opportunity.

1:12 PM  
Blogger The Christopher said...

Nice article. Besides bias, there are three possible other reasons.

One is the liberal-leftist mentality that non-whites cannot be critized. There are self loathing about imperalism and every other past "wrong" of the Britian.

The second is that they are scared of China. They know the US is an easy target to verbally attack. It's the same with the radical Muslims. The BBC will blame the US for the cause of Islamic terrorism, rather than having the bullocks to attack Saudi Arabia.

The third is that the leftists at the BBC are sympathic to their red friends in China.

2:27 PM  
Anonymous Jeffrey Mushens said...

Like most Brits I like America and Americans. But I disagree with the death penalty. I don't believe in state sanctioned killing. I believe the US should meet this ethical standard. I hate seeing the US in the same bracket as truly bad states like China or Iran. But the question of anti-American bias at the BBC is separate. You say that the BBC is state-owned and imply it reflects the view of the state. From a Labour Party perspective I assure you we regard the BBC as anti-Government.

Jeffrey Mushens

9:35 AM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


A few points:

First of all the death penalty is not, on its face, a moral abomination. Its use has been ubiquitous throughout history in every corner of the globe, by both "good" and "bad" states alike. Attempts to shame the US by drawing parallels over its use of the DP between it and "bad" states are specious. Its use of capital punishment puts it alongside places like Japan, India, and Singapore just as much as alongside China and Iran.

There are, of course, reasonable arguments to be made for eliminating its use. But there are also instances in which the use of the death penalty can be reasonably argued. In other words, people ought to be able to disagree about it without worrying about being held out as the moral equivalent of the likes of China or Iran.

Indeed, the continued existence of the death penalty in the US is precisely the result of one of the US's virtues relative to the likes of China and Iran...democracy. Like it or not, the people of Texas, Viriginia, et al do not share your view of the DP. If they did, the DP would not exist there. In fact, it is only because a minority of elite bien pensants managed to subvert democratic principles by imposing their own moral standards on a disagreeing majority that you do not continue to have the DP here in Britian. Even after years of promoting the assumed moral superiority of nations that have abolished the DP, only recently did public support for the DP in the UK dip below 50%, and there remains a plurality in favor of bringing it back. (FYI, even Labour party members are evenly split about the issue.) Whatever other virtues your dislike of the DP may hold, democratic support is not one.

On the seperate topic of BBC bias:

I have certainly not intended to imply that the BBC reflects the view of the government. It clearly does not, as its coverage of Iraq proves. But this does not make the BBC unbiased. Rather, the BBC promotes its own agenda, which is primarly a left of center, vaguely anti-American agenda. To the extent that the BBC is anti-government (which I agree it often is), it is so from a left-of-center perspective.

My problem with the "state-financed" aspect of the BBC is not that it acts as a spokesman for the government. It is, rather, that the wider population is forced to finance the promotion of an agenda with which many of them do not agree. This is not the hallmark of a free society. Certainly, at least, in this day and age, given the number of players in the private market competing to provide quality information, and the unparalleled access to information that we all get as a result, the argument for forcing people to fund a state-mandated news provider has long since lost any validity, if indeed it ever had any. The license fee should go, thus making the BBC as an organization accountable to an audience that will voluntarily finance it, if there be any.


11:56 AM  
Blogger Alan said...

> Just what is it about US executions that so attracts the attention of the BBC?

The fact that a supposed democratic, civilised country sees fit to officially murder it's citizens even when they are old, infirm or mentally unstable. We expect that from the likes of China - we don't from the so called leader of the Free World.

12:30 PM  
Anonymous tired & excitable said...

Mr Mushens

...the US should meet this ethical standard -- huh? Sorry, but you mean the assertion you plucked from the air. You seem perturbed that others might disagree.

"State sanctioned killing" is a slippery and meaningless phrase. Life-saving procedures not available on the NHS? Free coal in cold weather (hmm...ethical emissions standards there)? Fatal fallout from the criminal fraud, waste and mismanagement ubiquitous in your dismal public sector? Abortion?

From a Labor Party perspective... -- That adds up to less than 25% of the population, assuming unanimity in your ranks, which there isn't. How about a referendum, then? Thought not. Yet you claim the moral high ground.

So, in true British nanny-state style, we end up back at your finger-wagging starting point: you know better. Of course.

Put politely, bias and BS go together, and you have higher priorities than braying piously about the Great Satan.

Yet you avoid the central questions: Why should Brit taxpayers be forced to pay for BBC crap? And why should Americans tolerate state-sanctioned disingenuous defamatory drivel about the land they love?

Because you and Jack "Neville" Straw say so. Right.

12:37 PM  
Blogger Simon Lazarus said...

"The fact that a supposed democratic, civilised country sees fit to officially murder it's citizens even when they are old, infirm or mentally unstable."

I agree.

The US Supreme Court, in upholding the rights of doctors to execute people in Oregon just because they are in pain is an abomination.

But I see liberals are fully in favor of this. When Dr. Harold Shipman did it, he is evil. When doctors do it in America, they are doing good work.

Liberals, thy name is hypocrisy.

Simon Lazarus

3:37 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


You say:

"The fact that a supposed democratic, civilised country sees fit to officially murder it's citizens even when they are old, infirm or mentally unstable."

Any serious and good faith discussion of the issue must be preceded by agreement on a few basic notions.

First, that there is a fundamental distinction (both moral and practical) between murder and the state enforcing the death penalty, just as there is a distinction between kidnapping and the state sending someone to San Quentin.

Second, that there is a fundamental distinction (both moral and practical) between a citizen and a convicted criminal.

I would also suggest that advanced age and infirmity is hardly a reason not to punish someone for having committed a crime, particularly if the age and infirmity came about during the course of trying to prevent the punishment from being enforced in the first place.

Like I said earlier, there are certainly reasonable arguments to be made against use of the DP, but having framed the issue as disingenuously as you have, it seems that you are not that interested in making them.


4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course you all missed the obvious reason for the "bias": American stories are more interesting than Chinese ones!

I can pretty much guarantee that if you compared the number of stories on ANY subject, the number of American varieties will be more than the Chinese. I mean China has a monopoly on natural disasters. More of them happen in China than anywhere else. Want to try counting up the natural disaster stories and seeing which country wins out, America or China?

You know the answer would be America.

It must be bias lol!

5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hear ! Hear ! Alan.

But these fellows are proud to be in a small group of advanced countries who still have state-sponsored execution: China, Saudi (GWB's mates), Iran, US of A.

The axis of execution.

7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott - where's your control group? Have you counted and compared BBC stories about the US and China that are not negative? I think you will find that there are far more news items about the US as a whole than China and this general pattern will explain most of the 'anti American bias' that you conclude from the relative amount of reporting on the death senetence.

Ted Waine

1:36 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...

Alan-cheering anon,

The connection between US use of the death penalty and, say, Saudi Arabia's use of it is entirely spurious. What makes places like SA, Iran, and China objectionable are characteristics that have nothing whatsoever to do with the DP.


2:18 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


I have no doubt there are more news items in general, positive or negative, about the US than about China. Some of that disproportion is probably justified...the US is, afterall, a bigger player in world politics and events than is China. You won't see me wondering why the BBC has more stories about US middle-east policy than Chinese middle-east policy.

But the question at hand is: What explains the BBC's disproportionate interest in what is, afterall, not even a national issue in the US, but is instead a local state issue? Does the BBC think that its audience is 800 times more interested in US executions than in Chinese executions? Or that executions in the US are 800 times more relevant to the world than executions in China?

Perhaps the BBC does think such things, but if it does, I have to question its judgment. On the other hand, perhaps it is the BBC staff that is particularly interested in US executions, for reasons having to do with their own politics and prejudices.


2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott, we expect barbarity from the Saudis, Chinese etc.
Not from you; you were supposed to be the good guys.

But the world is revising that opinion, and it doesn't make me at all happy to write that.

6:59 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


As I said earlier, there are plenty of reasonable arguments to be made against the use of the DP, but that it is, unquestionably, barbarous on its face (as you seem to think) is not one of them. Indeed, support for the use of DP still maintains a plurality here in the UK. Are UK citizens, therefore, barbarous as well?

Again, the DP exists in certain states in the US strictly as a result of democracy (even as it has been abolished in the UK despite democracy). The same cannot be said about China, Iran, etc.

And, lastly, while we (the US) are not perfect, we are the good guys. If "the world" is changing its judgment on that, then "the world" is having a hard time seeing the forest for the trees.


7:28 PM  
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