Tuesday, January 23, 2007

[Letters Never Printed] On misinfotainment:

My husband and I wrote this letter to NBC and the Boston Globe soon after the West Wing episode "King Corn" aired in January 2005. The West Wing is not the only program that has misrepresented Turks and other muslims. I'm posting this now because I think the information and opinions here are still relevant and may be new to some writers, producers, TV viewers and blogwatchers.

You can rent Season 7 of The West Wing including "King Corn" from Netflix. I've provided a link below.

We enjoy The West Wing and generally find its treatment of issues intelligent, which is why its characterization of Turkey in a recent episode was particularly disturbing.

In “King Corn” (January 26, 2005), news broadcasts told of a Turkish woman who was to be executed by beheading as punishment for adultery. This storyline was obviously meant to evoke a recent real-life news item about Turkey’s debate of a proposed law that would make adultery a crime. The fictional case strays too far from the real one, however. (The proposal was later dropped and it certainly never called for execution as punishment.) The West Wing irresponsibly portrays Turkey, which is a modern, secular democracy, as an Islamic state engaging in the kind of barbarism being used by terrorists but which many Americans wrongly associate with Islam itself. Americans who know little about Turkey might believe this case is either real or really indicative of the kind of country Turkey is. In fact Turkey has not executed anyone since the early 80's. (How many have been executed in the U.S. since then, I wonder?) As part of its bid to gain admission to the European Union it moved to ban the death penalty completely 2 years ago.

Turkey’s population is 99% Muslim but it is not a religious state. It has a secular parliamentary system modeled on European governments. Turkey once had a female Prime Minister and has many female representatives in its parliament. Women can choose whether to cover their heads and many do not (in fact, women are not allowed to wear head scarves on the campus of a state university or while working in a government office). Women can divorce and remarry freely. Turkey is an important long time ally of the U.S. and is proof that “Islamic country” and “democratic country” are not mutually exclusive identities.

West Wing is a drama and its producers may choose to fictionalize real events to lend maximum drama to the show. But if they do this, they need to invent country names as well as events-- they did this with “Qumar,” which is Iraq thinly disguised. In our society, where entertainment and news are so often indistinguishable from one another, it is irresponsible to give the impression of telling the truth while leaving a perception that is outright false and damaging to the image of a people.

Netflix: West Wing Season 7, 2005 (including "King Corn")

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

According to the Clark County, Indiana, Prosecutor:

Since the U.S. death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 1,061 convicted murderers have been executed (as of Feb 1, 2007).

Of those executed, 11 were female. (The last was Frances Elaine Newton in Texas on September 14, 2005).

Of those executed, 22 were under the age of 18 at the time of the murder. (The last was Scott Allen Hain in Oklahoma on April 3, 2003).

Of those executed, 611 (58%) were white and 366 (34%) were black.

Of those executed:
892 (84%) were executed by lethal injection, including 406 of the last 410 executions.

153 were executed by electric chair (The last was Brandon Hedrick in Virginia on July 20, 2006).

11 were executed by gas chamber (The last was Walter LeGrand in Arizona on March 3, 1999).

3 were executed by hanging (The last was Billy Bailey in Delaware on January 25, 1996).

2 were executed by firing squad (The last was John Albert Taylor in Utah on January 27, 1996).

Executions were held in 32 different states: 382 (36%) were in Texas.

In the 38 states and federal government that currently have death penalty statutes, five different methods of execution are prescribed: Lethal Injection, Electrocution, Lethal Gas, Firing Squad, and Hanging. The vast majority of jurisdictions provide for execution by lethal injection. 20 jurisdictions provide for alternative methods of execution, contingent upon the choice of the inmate, the date of the execution or sentence, or the possibility of the method being held unconstitutional. Only one state does not have lethal injection as a primary or optional method of execution. Nebraska is the only state that provides for electrocution as the sole method of execution. No states provide for Lethal Gas, Hanging, or Firing Squad as the sole method of execution.