Shortly after midnight on Tuesday, a lethal injection was administered to Stanley "Tookie" Williams by the State of California. The execution was preceded by days of feverish speculation on cable TV about whether or not Governor Schwarzenegger would grant clemency. Bob reflects on the elements of a made-for-TV morality play
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. The execution early Tuesday of convicted murderer and gang leader Stanley "Tookie" Williams was a made-for-TV drama. Here's Adam Housey of Fox News Channel, with protestors' drums beating in the background, describing the scene.
ADAM HOUSEY:: There are all sorts of media here, as you might imagine, from all over the world - television, radio. And also now with the Internet you've got all sorts of different organizations out there, people that have a certain political opinion.
BOB GARFIELD: Opinions, of course. But this event was more than the usual skirmish in the culture wars, because as made-for-TV dramas go, this one had a celebrity cast. The condemned man was the founder of the notorious Crips, a gangster turned children's book author, preaching against crime and violence. His supporters included the Reverend Al Sharpton, actors Mike Farrell and Jamie Foxx, even rapper/actor Snoop Dogg.
SNOOP DOGG:: Stanley "Tookie" Williams is not just a regular old guy. He's an inspirator; he inspires me.
BOB GARFIELD: So there was an inspirator - and a "terminator" - fictional executioner Arnold Schwarzenegger, now the clemency-denying Governor of California, uncomfortably playing himself.
GOVERNOR ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER:: It's, they're all very difficult decisions to make. You know, that's just being part, is being, being Governor.
BOB GARFIELD: More than just drama, this was a morality play. There was evil, there was vengeance. There was Jesse Jackson speaking of redemption.
JESSE JACKSON:: I'm obviously very - [OVERTALK]
MAN:: Man, oh, man.
JESSE JACKSON:: - disappointed that the Governor has missed a moment to choose life over death, has missed a moment to choose redemption over revenge.
BOB GARFIELD: And Fox's Sean Hannity, in a tussle with Sharpton, literally shouting for justice.
SEAN HANNITY:: Reverend, this all turns on us - [OVERTALK]
AL SHARPTON:: But again, what is the greater good? The Governor- [OVERTALK]
SEAN HANNITY:: Yeah.
AL SHARPTON:: - he's explained to young people that it is more important that this guy be killed out of revenge than to spend the rest of his life - [OVERTALK]
SEAN HANNITY:: Justice.
AL SHARPTON:: - in jail.
SEAN HANNITY:: Justice. Now, here's, here's the - [OVERTALK]
AL SHARPTON:: I wouldn't say to send him home.
SEAN HANNITY:: Here's the issue.
AL SHARPTON:: Just - but let him continue to do - [SOUND TRAILS OFF]
BOB GARFIELD: The story was illustrated again and again with images of the prisoner in various stages of life, images presumably meant to put a human face to the allegory but mainly aired without explanation. No scandal there, exactly. Television, after all, is all about images. But the episode reminds us that drama does not necessarily yield enlightenment, that allegory by sound bite is not the same as truth. What, from all these passionate declarations, did we learn about our society, much less about justice or redemption? What we did learn, finally, was that at 12:35 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, Tuesday, Stanley Williams was pronounced dead. For the rest, TV just wasn't up to the task. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio
stations, broadcasting the finest programs from NPR, PRI and American Public Media, as well as a wide range of award-winning local
programming. WNYC is a division of
New York Public Radio.