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I was channel surfing the other night, looking for something new under the sun. There it was. The Execution Channel. For $39.95 plus tax, I could watch the execution of Timothy McVeigh by federal agents. For an extra 10 bucks, I could purchase a video. “Collect the series,” the voice on the advertisement said. An 800 number flashed across the screen as I scrambled to grab a pen and piece of paper. The series? Purchasing the right to view an execution? Suddenly the concept of must-see TV made sense. I needed to know more. I left the television on and dozed fitfully, keeping an ear cocked for the sound of the announcer’s voice. Hours later, I heard it again. “On May 16, 2001, Timothy McVeigh will die by lethal injection,” the ad began. On the screen, an eerie overlay of his photograph superimposed on the rubble of the federal building he blew up in Oklahoma City. As the announcer spoke, McVeigh’s image grew more distinct, and the remains of the building faded from view. “It will be the first time since 1963 that federal authorities have executed someone. You can be there.” The camera scans to a memorial service for the victims of the blast. Tear-streamed faces, and row upon row of grief-struck family members holding hands. “Crime victimizes us all,” the voice said. Was that Willie Horton in the background? The image flitted by so fast it was almost subliminal. Then a quick panorama: a corpse at a crime scene, a broken store window, the smoldering ruins of a burned building, a man-child apparently selling drugs. The screen then shows a tiny casket. The remains of a child undoubtedly killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. The sound of sobbing. It is a gut-wrenching and terrible moment. Then a book-lined study, and a professor of criminology at something called the Institute of Biblical Justice. I forget the man’s name. “Executions are an important part of our history and culture. Until recently, society recognized the importance of swift and public justice. With the Execution Project, we can begin to experience again the spiritual renewal of doing justice.” As he speaks, the screen quickly shows first a lithograph of a guillotine. Then a painting of a hanging. Finally a photograph of an electric chair. “Each month, we will offer viewers a one-hour videotape of crime and its consequences. “Experience for yourself the ravages of crime, and learn, first-hand, through victim-impact statements and interviews with victims and their loved ones the devastating impact of criminal behavior.” The screen then shifts to the sight of a man sitting in a cell. He clutches himself and rocks gently. He is dressed in prison coveralls. The camera quickly shifts to his tear-stained face. “Hear from the condemned about how their crimes weigh upon them. And learn the shocking truth about the redemptive power of executions for victim and victimizer.” Then a shot of Attorney General John Ashcroft. “Let’s stand together as a nation and send a message to all who would break the law. Crime does not pay, and we will deal swiftly and forcefully with heinous acts of violence.” The staccato voice of the announcer. “Order now. Just $39.95 you can watch live the execution of Timothy McVeigh. For an additional $10, you will receive a tape of the execution. Each month collect another chapter in this important series. Just dial 1-800-EXE-CUTE. Act now. Collect the series.” Norm Pattis is a name partner at New Haven, Conn.’s Williams and Pattis.

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