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Jewish World ReviewJuly 12, 2000 / 9 Tamuz, 5760

Evan Gahr

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Geraldo's Food for Thought -- IT DOESN'T QUITE RANK with segregated water fountains. But when he "reported" from Texas last month on the execution of Gary Graham, Geraldo Rivera seized upon a new symbol of the racist American way. Or did he concoct a new symbol?

On CNBC's "Upfront Tonight," "Hardball," and his own show, Geraldo fretted that the poor innocent killer had suffered through six last meals because of last-minute stays of execution. "Gary Graham told me he already had six last meals, coming that close to death a half-dozen times," Geraldo said June 21 on "Upfront Tonight." "And whatever your feelings about the death penalty, if that is not barbaric, nothing is." Like a good liberal Geraldo finds it inconceivable that anyone could disagree with him.

Actually, it is highly debatable whether six last suppers for the man Jesse Jackson likened to Jesus is barbaric. More importantly, Graham didn't have six last meals, his lawyer, Richard Burr, tells The American Spectator. Did Graham even say what Geraldo repeatedly attributed to him?

According to a transcript of his interview, broadcast June 21 on "Rivera Live," Graham actually told Geraldo a slightly different sob story. He was probably the only "black man in America that's actually been offered six last meals six times." When the interview clip ended, Geraldo upped the ante. He asked Court TV anchor Nancy Grace, "What do you think of a system in which a man will now be getting his seventh last meal?"

Presto: an urban legend was born. The next night, CNN reporter Charles Zewe asserted that Graham refused a last meal but had "picked out" five previous ones.

Says who? "Graham said that" himself, Zewe tells TAS. Does his word alone suffice? "There's a little bit more than that."

Like what? "You have to go through our PR department" to arrange an interview. (Of course, just as CNN never waves microphones in the faces of the kin of plane crash victims without going through the proper PR channels.)

Fine, not everyone is so hopelessly cynical that he won't take a convicted murderer and admitted rapist at his word. But journalists familiar with the case and/or the criminal justice system found the claims by both Rivera and Graham hard to swallow.
"That ain't right," says Associated Press reporter Michael Graczyk. He witnessed the execution and has covered the Graham case since at least 1993. Moreover, even a cursory Lexis-Nexis search renders both Graham's assertion and Rivera's apparent embellishment highly dubious. Ditto for an exhaustive search for this article. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice had "no idea" how many meals Graham requested or consumed.

Rivera's executive producer referred a call to CNBC's press department. A spokesman asked what's the "difference between having six meals and being offered" them. Actually quite a bit. But it's not like journalists are supposed to worry about facts or anything.

For whatever it's worth, here is a detailed analysis of the six meal whopper.

Graham's lawyer, Richard Burr, tells TAS Graham had six total execution dates (including June 22, when he actually died by lethal injection). According to Burr, only two "came down to the wire" which, of course, is when last meals might have been requested or consumed. Burr says Graham refused a last meal in both close cases -- last month (as was widely reported) and nearly seven years ago. On August 16, 1993, Graham was less than six hours away from execution when a court intervened. On April 28, 1993, then Texas Gov. Ann Richards also saved Graham just in the nick of time.

In 1988, before Burr represented Graham, he also won a stay of execution hours before his client's scheduled execution. But again, no published record of a last meal consumed or requested. In other words, the numbers fall well short of what Geraldo and Graham asserted.

Interestingly, it was under Gov. Bill Clinton that a condemned killer's last meal really did seem barbaric. In 1992, then candidate Clinton left the campaign trail to oversee the execution of a brain-damaged man. He reportedly left some pecan pie from his last meal for later. (It seems this "barbaric" ritual of last meals can be quite the sumptuous feast. One killer executed in Texas about a month before Graham requested beef fajitas, a blooming onion, fried chicken (white meat), jalapeno peppers, a large Caesar salad with blue cheese dressing, rolls with butter, vanilla ice cream, three bananas, one Coke, a pot of coffee, and a pack of cigarettes.)

JWR contributor Evan Gahr, a former press critic for the New York Post, writes often for The American Spectator. To comment click here.


06/27/00: Time for To Execute a Murderer
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06/08/00: For voting rights purposes, should criminal offenders be judged not by the content of their character but the color of their skin?
05/10/00: Feminist Majority Rule
05/02/00: The Tin Man's Doctor
03/07/00: Bob Jones hypocrisy: Liberals are lecturing Americans on "anti-Catholicism"?
02/03/00: The red and the Black: The Left-wing Extremist in Bill Bradley’s Camp
01/06/00: Looking backwards: An anchorman's version of the 20th Century
12/16/99: Yellow journalism for the Pink Lady?
12/07/99: How to make the American Psychological Association squirm

© 2000, Evan Gahr. This article first appeared at The American Spectator Online