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Media Urged Not to Give McVeigh Stage

April 13, 2001|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said Thursday that prison officials will sharply limit media access to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh before his scheduled May 16 execution, and urged the press not to become a "co-conspirator" in McVeigh's quest for infamy.

As the first reporters and protesters begin to descend on federal death row in Terre Haute, Ind., prison officials said McVeigh will be limited to 300 minutes of telephone calls, lasting no more than 15 minutes a day, for the remaining month of his life. No jailhouse interviews will be permitted, and reporters will be asked to honor a ban on recording phone calls.

"I don't want [McVeigh] to be able to purchase access to the podium of America with the blood of 168 innocent victims," Ashcroft told reporters at a Washington news conference. "Please do not help him inject more poison into our culture. He's caused enough senseless damage already. . . . I would ask that the news media not become Timothy McVeigh's co-conspirator in his assault on America's public safety and upon America itself."

Ashcroft said the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and the FBI will use encryption software and other technology to thwart any attempts to tap into a closed-circuit video feed of McVeigh's execution, which will be broadcast live over digital phone lines for survivors and relatives of the dead assembled in Oklahoma. Federal law prohibits the broadcast from being recorded.

The heavy restrictions underscore the struggle by federal officials to provide access to an event with global interest while remaining sensitive to victims of the deadliest terrorist act on American soil. Thousands of journalists, activists and spectators are expected to swarm Terre Haute for McVeigh's death by injection, the first federal execution since 1963.

The plea for restraint also continues an emerging theme of media criticism by Ashcroft, who has several times condemned America's "culture of violence" and recently suggested that video games may help foster school shootings. Ashcroft said Thursday that he was not trying to muzzle the media, only asking that they "be responsible."

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