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Editor explains shift of paper’s position

Katie Peralta | Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The editorial page editor for the Chicago Tribune spoke Monday night about the paper’s conversion to supporting the moratorium on the death penalty.

The speech by Bruce Dold, the editor, was part of a lecture series hosted by Notre Dame Against State Killing (ND ASK), a campaign pushing for a moratorium on capital punishment in Indiana.

Dold started as a reporter for the Tribune in 1978. He was appointed to the paper’s editorial board in 1990 and was named editorial page editor in 2000. The paper has had a long history for its liberalism, Dold said, citing an instance in the 1940s when Tribune reporters, under then-editor Robert McCormick, reported on America’s cracking of Japanese codes during World War II.

Despite this, the paper has an almost 150-year-long history of support for the death penalty.

This stance changed, however, in March of 2007, when Dold formally announced a shift in the Tribune’s position. The paper’s editorial page emphasized its support for the Illinois moratorium, or temporary suspension, of executions. The state announced the moratorium in 1999, Dold said.

The state went on in 2003 to reform many facets of its judicial system, making the death penalty more difficult to implement. For example, Dold said, the state cannot impose the death penalty on an inmate simply on the testimony of one eyewitness, since that one person’s testimony is often unreliable.

Further, Dold said, police have begun taping interrogations of suspects to prevent false confession, a common error in death penalty convictions.

The newspaper’s announcement last spring was meant to send a message of editorial condemnation.

“You do not have to take a life to save a life,” Dold said. “I do not think that this is an ambiguous question anymore.”

Even though the Tribune adopted this new stance, not all others have. Citing last month’s Gallup poll, Dold said 69 percent of Americans do support the death penalty in cases of murder. Additionally, 66 percent of the nation believes the practice to be morally acceptable, and 50 percent of Americans say there should be more death penalty convictions.

“We are going to have the death penalty, we are just going to have to be more careful about how we use it,” Dold said, referring to the recent reform of the criminal justice system. Complete abolition, he said, is very difficult for people to fathom, but there is generally tremendous support for a moratorium.

Inmates are no longer executed for having “dime store,” or less capable, attorneys, he said.

People in favor of capital punishment, Dold said, may believe certain crimes are so heinous that they deserve no other punishment but death. But there are problems with that thinking, he said.

“No government is flawless enough to decide who lives and who dies,” Dold said.

While the Catholic Church’s teachings about the right to life is often discussed at Notre Dame, ND ASK director Andrea Laidman said students don’t pay much attention to the death penalty.

“Most students here are ‘pro-life,’ but are they really committed to it?” said Laidman, a senior. “They seem to not want to take a stance. These issues should be about the same thing.”

ND ASK continues its lecture series this Wednesday and Thursday with talks by Bud Welch, an internationally known advocate against the death penalty whose daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing.

More information on the campaign is available on its Web site, www.ndask.org.