Tuesday, July 23, 2013

History Channel: Epic Fail

Evan Andrews, writing for the The History Channel, in an epic fail, attempts to reinvent the wheel with a list of "7 Famous Pardons." The piece begins by suggesting the pardon power is a tool to "circumvent the justice system." Indeed, potentially. In the real world, every year, for about 224 years, that would be - by far - the least common purpose / use of the pardon power. Red flag up!

The piece doesn't go two paragraphs before it dramatically notes:
The first ever act of presidential forgiveness came in the wake of an armed rebellion. Fed up with a costly federal tax on distilled spirits, in 1794 a group of whiskey-producing Pennsylvania farmers took to the streets and burned the home of a local tax inspector. The attack came on the heels of several other protests and many politicians—most notably Secretary Alexander Hamilton—argued that it threatened the stability of the newly formed United States.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Shame on Andrews and the History Channel. See hot tips, below, on the first presidential pardon. As it happened, the only two men convicted of treason (several others were merely indicted) and pardoned in relation to the Whiskey Rebellion were pardoned in the month of November, 1795, not in the month of July (as the History Channel piece suggests). It is true that, in June, Washington granted respites, delaying their executions. But Washington pardoned no one in July of 1795. Who knows where Andrews got this "information" came from ?! Maybe Troy read it in a local paper before going out to shoot some gators.

Jimmy Hoffa makes Andrews' list of "pardons" - Hoffa's sentence was actually conditionally commuted. And though the piece calls Hoffa's release "controversial," it completely ignores its most controversial aspect - the suspect constitutionality of the conditions attached by Nixon! Or, as the U.S. District Court (in a famous opinion) put it:
Under Article II, Section 2, Clause One of the Constitution the President has the "Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment." The instant case challenges the exercise of that power in granting plaintiff Hoffa's conditional commutation, and alleges that the condition prohibiting Hoffa from participating in union management until 1980 unlawfully infringes on his First Amendment rights of speech and association, amounts to additional punishment and a bill of attainder as well as contravening the double jeopardy clause, all in violation of the Fifth Amendment, and contends that the condition was imposed outside the normal pardon application procedures, without due process of law, and in spite of the fact that Mr. Hoffa never "accepted" the condition.
Andrews notes Eugene Debs' prison sentence was also commuted. Well enough. Neither he nor Hoffa was ever pardoned - the catchy title of the piece notwithstanding.

Andrews also offers up this - as what many might find a somewhat startling revelation: Harry Truman actually commuted the death sentence (not pardoned) of his own would-be assassin (Oscar Collazo). OK, admittedly, that is fairly interesting stuff. But we are not so sure it is any more interesting than the fact that Jimmy Carter actually set the man (Collazo) free! And Collazo never even asked to be released! He never applied for clemency. He never even expressed regret for his behavior! Really, Jimmy Carter did that! And that seems at least as interesting as the piece's observation that Carter asked Bill Clinton to, finally, pardon Patricia Hearst. Yet, Andrews says nothing about Carter circumventing the judicial system to spring Collazo from prison!

Throw in the fact that several people people complicit in the generally more well-known (and, unfortunately, successful) assassination attempt on Abraham Lincoln were recipients of federal executive clemency and ... well ... you have a first rate literary disaster. You can witness this train wreck of a piece for yourself here.

Meanwhile, if you would like to hear a discussion of the first pardon, on record, listen here. Amazingly, the discussion identifies writers like Andrews and specifically explains their well-known condition (at 2:46 mark). If you would like to also learn about the incredible significance of the Lardner Warrant, look here. After having done all of that, you might send your brushed-up resume to the fine folks at History Channel - pronto! They appear to be in dire need of good help. And, evidently, the mere ability to do simple web searches could get you well inside the door, where history is made (up?) every day.

1 comment:

beth said...

Thanks for this piece. You're right, very few know the distinctions but you would expect The History Channel to educate.

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