It's almost incomprehensible: Associated Press journalist Michael Graczyk has served as a media witness for more than 400 executions.
When I worked in AP's Dallas bureau from 2003 to 2005, Graczyk was a Houston-based colleague of mine — and a great guy.
Graczyk, 68, is making headlines this week because of his retirement after 46 years with the news service.
All of the interviews, of course, are fascinating. And all paint a portrait of an accurate, fair-minded journalist: In hundreds of cases, Graczyk has made it a point to interview condemned inmates who were willing. But not only that, he also has given victims' relatives an opportunity to speak, if they so desired.
Here's a journalist who epitomizes the best of his profession.
But right about now, you may be thinking, "OK, but what's the religion angle?" I'm glad you asked.
Each of the stories makes reference to Graczyk's own faith, although the Post fails to mention his Catholic background specifically.
Let's start with AP's religious note:
Graczyk has been asked many times whether he believes the death penalty should be legal. He said he’s a practicing Catholic and respects the church’s teachings against capital punishment, but that he has not made up his own mind.
“I’m not dodging the question,” he said. “I don’t know.”
And in the Dallas Morning News story, a similar account:
When it comes to his personal views on the death penalty and what he’s learned from covering hundreds of executions, he’s almost apologetically agnostic.
“I don’t know,” he said, quickly adding that he’s not dodging the question. He understands the issue and the conflict as well as anybody. As a practicing Roman Catholic, he understands the church’s anti-death penalty teaching.
“I don’t know,” he repeats.
As you might have heard, Pope Francis is making news today by changing the Catholic Catechism to declare the death penalty "inadmissible." GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly has a must-read post on that and the questions that journalists should be exploring. But the church hierarchy's opposition to capital punishment is not a new development, as tmatt explains.
So what about Graczyk's non-dodging dodging of the question? I don't have a problem with it. In fact, I would urge him to dodge the question. Even if he had a strong personal opinion on the issue, readers don't need to know it. Not to get on a soapbox, but I wish more journalists who purport to be impartial would keep their opinions to themselves.
The Post either didn't ask Graczyk the question about his personal feelings or chose not to include his squishy response. But this section of the story does hint that he's a churchgoer:
Graczyk emphasizes that executions are not the only topic he has covered. Texas is “just a terrific place for news,” he said, and his work has spanned tens of thousands of miles, hundreds of cities and towns, and a range of topics including hurricanes and former presidents, sports stories and business stories. “Pretty much everything you can think of here," he said.
But he also acknowledges that “there’s a certain notoriety” that comes with being a regular witness to something most people will never see. Some of what he saw remains seared into his brain, anecdotes he has revisited in public appearances and his writings. When Jonathan Nobles was executed in 1998 for a double murder, Nobles sang “Silent Night” and trailed off after singing about “round yon virgin, mother and child,” Graczyk said.
“I am reminded of that every Christmas when I’m in church and the hymn is being sung,” Graczyk said while driving to Dallas. “People are celebrating the joy of the season, and I’m thinking of Jonathan Nobles.”
Here's wishing Graczyk all the best in his retirement and his future execution coverage. Yes, as all three stories note, he plans to keep serving as a media witness as an AP freelancer.