COMMENTS: Thou Shalt Not Kill Non-Killers

The Supreme Court grabbed Story of the Day honors with a 5-4 decision that prohibited states from executing those convicted of raping a child. CBS and ABC both led with the ruling. ABC alone, anchored by substitute George Stephanopoulos, followed up with a report on the court's second major decision of the day, which reduced the punitive damages against ExxonMobil for its 1989 oil spill in Alaska. NBC led with an environmental story originating from the Department of Energy. The DoE predicted that global energy consumption in 2030 will be 50% greater than today, almost all from the fossil fuels coal, natural gas and oil. Those greenhouse gas emissions will turn global warming into a national security crisis for the United States, the National Intelligence Council warned.

NBC's Pete Williams zeroed in on the words "cruel and unusual" in the court's decision to confine the death penalty to inmates who themselves have killed. Williams noted that only six state legislatures have approved that penalty for child rape and that no one has been executed for the crime since 1964. Thus the punishment is "unusual." On ABC, Jan Crawford Greenburg pointed to a trend on the court to "narrow the scope" of the death penalty, having already rejected it as a punishment for killers who happen to be juveniles or to suffer from mental retardation. CBS' Wyatt Andrews predicted that executions for drug trafficking and kidnapping would likely now be prohibited too: "This ruling, however, makes no mention of using capital punishment for crimes against the country. That is important, because it means the federal death penalty for treason and espionage is still legal."

ABC's veteran correspondent Ned Potter (embargoed link) covered the Exxon Valdez spill when it happened 19 years ago. ExxonMobil claims it has already spent $3.5bn in clean-up costs, fines and penalties. A civil lawsuit ordered it to pay an additional $2.5bn in punitive damages. The Supreme Court called the award "unpredictable in its severity" and reduced that portion to $500m. Potter quoted the Big Oil conglomerate as claiming that Prince William Sound "now looks as beautiful as ever." Disgruntled local residents told him "looks can be deceiving."

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