News story or editorial? Slanted Associated Press report on death penalty stacked with opponents

Apparently, most people in Arkansas support capital punishment.

Amazingly, The Associated Press couldn't find — or didn't want to find — any of them to quote.

AP's own news values and principles maintain that the global news agency abhors "inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortions." Yet — based on a story on the wire today — it's impossible not to question whether bias exists in the coverage of the death penalty in the Natural State.

Here's the top of the AP story:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — While outrage on social media is growing over Arkansas' unprecedented plan to put seven inmates to death before the end of the month, the protests have been more muted within the conservative Southern state where capital punishment is still favored by a strong majority of residents.
A few dozen people regularly have kept vigil outside Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's mansion for weeks, holding signs that say "Thou Shalt Not Kill" and "End the Death Penalty." And the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty hopes to draw hundreds of participants to a Good Friday rally at the state Capitol to protest the executions that start Monday — three nights of double executions, followed by a single one. A judge last week halted a planned eighth execution.
"Arkansas is known across the world for the Little Rock Nine and all of that atrocity," said the coalition's execution director, Furonda Brasfield, referring to the 1957 desegregation battle in Little Rock involving nine black students. "And now it's the Little Rock eight in 10, and it paints our state in such a horrible light."
The group is using the hashtag #8in10 to highlight the executions, although one man has received a stay and the seven lethal injections are scheduled to take place over 11 days, the first on April 17 and the last on April 27. Hutchinson set the unprecedented schedule because a key lethal injection drug expires April 30.

I'm certainly familiar with the historical significance of the Little Rock Nine. In 1997, while reporting on desegregation battlegrounds for The Oklahoman, I wrote a front-page Sunday feature on Little Rock Central High School.

But after 60 years, are the Little Rock Nine really what Arkansas is still known for? Might a different source — perhaps one of the "strong majority of residents" who favor the death penalty — offer a different perspective on the state and whether the executions will paint it in a horrible light? The wire service doesn't bother to ask.

In fact, AP quotes six people by name in this report — five of them death penalty opponents. 

The only supporter quoted is the governor — via prepared remarks:

"The families of the victims have not only had to live with the loss of their loved ones through brutal murders, but they've also had to live with the unending review of these cases year after year after year," Hutchinson said in a statement this week. "Now to suggest, after all of the court reviews have been completed, that they ought to be delayed once again shows an incredible amount of insensitivity to the victims and their families who continue to suffer because of these heinous crimes."

How do the families respond to the opponents quoted by AP? They don't get that chance. 

Disagreement in the faith community is noted near the end of the story. But only one pastor is quoted. Guess which side he takes?:

Death penalty opponents are appealing to Hutchinson's Christian faith, pointing out the executions will happen immediately after Easter. About 200 religious leaders signed a letter asking the governor to commute the inmates' sentences to life in prison without parole. The letter, delivered Wednesday, argued that the executions will have a negative effect on everyone involved.
"It hurts the executioners, it hurts the witnesses that are going to have to be there next week to watch those men die," said the Rev. Clint Schnekloth, pastor at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville. "It hurts the people who are preparing the drugs who are afraid that those men, after they're put to sleep, are still going to be awake and are going to burn inside for 40 or 50 minutes like some men have done when they've been introduced to this same cocktail."

Among the many Arkansas residents who support capital punishment, are there no pastors willing to talk about their personal and theological reasons?

Or did AP simply not want to hear from them — or quote them?

Maybe there's a perfectly logical explanation for the slanted nature of this report. Maybe this story is part of a package, and there's an equally one-sided piece on Arkansas death penalty supporters that I somehow missed in my Googling. And maybe there really is an Easter bunny.

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