Wednesday, March 26, 2008

No sleep til Clarion

At midnight, we rolled into Clarion. Day IV of the VHAC tour took us to Penn State. Day V will take us to Edinboro and then Erie, which is a 200 mile trip from State College, so rather than biting off all 200 miles late at night or early in the morning, we stopped halfway, which is the sleepy college town of Clarion.

Because of the late hour, I will be brief. My bed here at the Holiday Inn is looking nice. But Harold Wilson, Walter Everett, Ashlee Shelton of PADP, and I were accompanied today by Penn State professor Dr. Frank Baumgartner. Dr. Baumgartner met us for lunch, attended an afternoon event with PSU's Amnesty International chapter, hosted dinner for us, participated in an evening event that also involved Harold, Walt, and I and was part of a series of discussions on "Reframing Public Policy Discussions," and, of course, made time for us to make a stop at the famous Creamery.

Dr. Baumgartner and several of his PSU colleagues conducted a multi-year project examining message framing in the anti-death penalty movement. They did this via a two-prong effort. First, they did a content analysis of The New York Times' coverage of the death penalty dating back to the 1960s. Second, they conducted experiments to see how people react to different arguments about capital punishment.

The analysis of the Times found that coverage of the death penalty has changed dramatically in the last four decades. Until the 1990s, most of the coverage was considered pro-death penalty. But beginning in the late 1990s, the tone of the coverage of the issue shifted to go deeper into problems with the operation of capital punishment.

In the experimental phase of the work, undergraduate students were given moral arguments for and against the death penalty. These arguments did little to move the previously held beliefs of the participants. Then they were given faux news articles about an innocent person on death row. This moved the participants' positions considerably, including those who started the experiment in support of capital punishment.

The work of Dr. Baumgartner and his colleagues resulted in the release of the book The Decline of the Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence, which was released earlier this year.

Today was Walt Everett's last day with us for this week. He's heading to Susquehanna University for their symposium Should the Death Penalty Be Abolished, a two day symposium that will feature Sr. Helen Prejean, among others. Tomorrow Lorry Post of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation will join us again for two days in Erie and Pittsburgh.

Andy in Harrisburg in Clarion

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