The Truth, Mainly - 09/12/1994

Tidying up the public image before the next 'undertaking'
by Leon Satterfield

Ben, baby. We gotta talk. We got image problems.

Yeah. The Otey thing. How'd you know?

First, the good news, Ben. You played the Pontius Pilate card like a real pro the afternoon before we, uh, before we did it. You know, when you said "While I derive no pleasure in the taking of a human life, the death penalty is the law in Nebraska and I support it."

That really finessed the responsibility thing. Out of your hands. You were just doing what the law said to do. No need to remind anyone that the law also says you could have called an emergency meeting of the Board of Pardons and that your vote could have stopped the, uh, well, could have stopped what happened.

Worked so well that Don used it too when he said "I don't think anybody takes any great joy in this undertaking. At this time, this is the law of our state."

Nice word, "undertaking." Let's keep that one on file for down the road.

I can tell you're already feeling down, Ben, but I gotta give you the bad news too. We gotta go further than deploring the "carnival atmosphere." "Carnival" has nice wholesome associations, but PR-wise some of the people on our side of the fence at the pen that night were anything but wholesome. Made Freddy Krueger look like Mr. Congeniality. Bad ink, babe.

The folks holding up the sign saying "Nebraska State Pen 1st Annual BBQ" were probably just expressing youthful exuberance, but it didn't look good, Ben. Didn't look good at all. Didn't fit with the reverence-for-life thing we've been trying to develop.

Neither did the "Fry Wili" signs, or the banging on the skillet.

The hell of it was, Ben, all that stuff got on television.

And calling it a carnival atmosphere isn't going to fix the appearance of racism, Ben. I know we attract lots of folks to our side because death row is reserved for people who murder whites, not for people who murder blacks. But, Ben, we've got to stifle these folks when they hold up signs saying "Buckwheat Says: The Death Penalty is Otay," or "Nebraska—The Good Life for Whites."

Imagine what that can do to the sale of Nebraska products outside the state. This could get serious, babe.

And the swastikas, Ben. I've never seen a swastika at a carnival. They got to go next time. What with all the WWII anniversary stuff, swastikas give off real bad vibes right now.

Yeah, I got a headache too. Must be allergy time.

But there ought to be some way of getting all that energy to work for us. When they were yelling "Go Big Red," it gave me an idea. Maybe we could get the UN-L cheerleaders out there for the next one. Give the whole thing an even more wholesome touch than calling it a carnival, wouldn't it? Maybe some drill teams from the junior highs in town?


OK. Just an idea. Run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes, I always say.

Well, how about this one? You remember someone suggested having the, uh, the conclusion of the undertaking at halftime of a Big Red game. It was a joke, but hey, think about it. People already having a nice time because we're up 35-zip. Could be real feel-good PR, Ben. If it happened in Memorial Stadium, nobody could find too much wrong with it.

And we'd have more control too. We could confiscate the BBQ signs and the swastikas when they go through the turnstiles. Let's run it by Don.


Well hey, we gotta get rid of those swastikas some way. Not the image we want to project at all.

Don't let it get you down, Ben. You got a clear majority behind you. Right? We just got to be more careful next time, that's all I'm saying. Don't want to offend anyone. Bottom line time coming up in November, baby.

Oh, one more thing, Ben. Got to do something about those witnesses inside. Especially if they're going to write in the newspaper about what happens when you, uh, when you conclude the undertaking. Voters don't like to read that "a single puff of smoke—about equal to that produced by a normal pull on a cigar—arose from where the chair's electrical ground was connected to his left leg, and what appeared to be a large blister appeared near that point."

Not good press, Ben. Not what happens at carnivals. Might make people think the whole undertaking's a bad idea. Might leave us way out on a limb.

Oh, and Ben—I realize that Nazi Germany was a death penalty state too, but those swastikas, we got to get to the folks with those swastikas. Just got to. They'll ruin us.

And cheer up, Ben. We'll get it right the next time we, uh, the next time we undertake the undertaking.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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