No Matter How Big the Lie

As he has done before, Willie Manning is awaiting the court’s decision about whether to allow DNA testing. He must be aware that his life still hangs in the balance; but he probably knows also that his story has now reached a wider audience, who are coming to his case with an open mind. He may have learned that newspapers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times took his story nationwide and beyond. He may know that broadcasters have interviewed representatives from the Innocence Project (see video on Democracy Now), his attorneys (see Al Jazeera) and his supporters (see blogtalkradio) and publicised their viewpoints.

Willie is less likely to know that the analysis has probed more deeply. The ACLU’s blog notices in Willie’s case the hallmarks of other innocent death row exonerees: ‘false snitch testimony, junk science, and racial bias’. The Huffington Post includes a report by the Innocence Project’s David Protess , who notes that the prosecutor in Willie’s case, DA Allgood, has a record of successful prosecutions in murder cases that have subsequently been overturned by DNA testing. Andrew Cohen in The Atlantic describes how Justice Randolph ‘in just a few paragraphs helped illustrate the dubious rationale behind so many of these flawed capital cases’. Steve Lendman’s blog  ‘Unjustly sentenced to death’ includes the ACLU’s arguments against the death penalty as part of his analysis of Willie’s case.

What a contrast with the past weeks! Outside Mississippi Willie’s case went unnoticed. Inside Mississippi first reports in the local press of his petition did not even mention his request for DNA testing, although this formed a significant part of the document. And as recently as a week before the stay of execution the Jackson Free Press, founded as a progressive newspaper, published an article headlined Mississippi Preps for Year’s First Execution, using a picture at least as ghoulish as the photos of the execution chamber on the Parchman website, and an almost gleeful statement about Mississippi’s’s second place in the league table for executions. There was not a mention of the many arguments against executions (see Death Penalty Harm).

This was nothing, however, compared with what Willie has had to contend with in the past. After a court reversed its decision in 2006, a local television station hosted the prosecutor in Willie’s case, who vilified Willie as Beelzebub, the Devil’s lieutenant (see Clive Stafford Smith’s article in the New Statesman).

John F Kennedy said “No matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as the truth.” This is a technique that was also familiar to Adolph Hitler, who observed: “(T)he most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”

When the spotlight falls again on Willie’s case, as it inevitably must, perhaps we should pay closer attention to Willie’s opponents and what they are saying. Are they repeating over and over their statements about Willie’s ‘frivolous request’ and ‘eleventh hour demands’? 

Fortunately for Willie, there are people now watching his case who are coming to it fresh. And fortunately they include many with both critical awareness and a belief in justice. It is not by chance that this comment from the Mississippi Innocence Project was chosen by the Huffington Post as their second choice for quotation of the week.

“There is no good reason to execute anyone without performing the testing that could definitively prove guilt or innocence.”

We must hope that Mississippi’s media, along with that of the rest of the world, will now take seriously their responsibility to report Willie’s case fairly.

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