I'm going to do something that might be considered a waste of time: suggest a question for Fox News to ask at tonight's Republican debate.
Yes, it's Fox News and they likely have little desire to take suggestions from Media Matters. But the roiling horror of the Troy Davis execution remains fresh in the American consciousness and perhaps that can help us to transcend differences to act in the interest of the common good.
The controversy over Davis' execution makes it almost certain that there will be some discussion of capital punishment tonight, and it's my worry that the wrong questions will be asked that animates this long-shot request. So here goes:
Since 1996, as DNA testing has improved, there have been nearly 80 death row exonerations. Just two months ago, Cory Maye of Mississippi walked out of jail a free man years after an error-riddled travesty of a trial left him condemned to death. Bret Baier or Megyn Kelly or Chris Wallace should ask each candidate whether they support the death penalty, yea or nay. For each person who answers yea (and I imagine that will be quite a few), they should be asked to reconcile their faith in capital punishment with this spate of exonerations: how can they maintain confidence in a system that, as we're learning, is frequently and intractably wrong?
That cuts to the heart of the capital punishment debate. Can we support the state-sponsored execution of prisoners knowing that the judicial system operates with a margin of error?
It's a question that should be asked of all our elected leaders and explored by the press in ways that go beyond the superficiality of political wrangling. At the last debate in which capital punishment arose as an issue, much of the coverage that followed focused on the theatrics and political effectiveness of the candidates' answers.
By presenting a death penalty question in a way that makes clear the fallibility of the system that enforces a policy in which no room for error exists, perhaps Fox News can help foster a broader media discussion and forces us all to reexamine our moral calculus on the issue. Indeed, there's already momentum to build on: theWashington Post's humor blog, of all places, offered yesterday a nuanced take on death penalty morality in light of the Davis controversy.
Like I said, it's a long shot, and I don't expect Fox News to take me up on my suggestion. But as the furor over Troy Davis and the stream of innocent men walking out of death row make clear, it's a discussion that's long overdue.