Sunday, December 14, 2014

AP Writer's Epic Fail: The Wahlberg Application

Steve LeBlanc of the Associated Press has produced a piece re Mark Wahlberg's application for clemency which begins with the odd observation that the application "has focused fresh attention on excusing criminal acts." Odd, of course, because Mr. Wahlberg has served his time (45 days, back when he was 18 years old, in the 1980's). Wahlberg has not flaunted, bragged about / glorified his troubled past (as many do). He has expressed remorse repeatedly. A life-time of responsible, law-abiding behavior followed his conviction, as well as a world of charitable good works.

Mr. Wahlberg is not asking to be sprung from prison. He is not being asked to be declared "innocent." He is simply asking the state to officially recognize that which is beyond dispute - he is most certainly no longer the young punk that committed those criminal acts. To officially recognize responsibility, penitence and rehabilitation is not to "excuse" anything, in any sense of the language!

LeBlanc writes that it is "politically risky" for governors to grant pardons. But it appears even more risky for journalists to write about them! and for readers to read what they have written!

LeBlanc casually notes, for example, that
Massachusetts hasn’t approved a pardon in more than a decade. Republican Mitt Romney didn’t pardon anyone before he left as governor in 2007. Only now, in the twilight of his eight years in office, has Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick recommended any pardons. 
And without a word of analysis, much less condemnation. Why have these governors neglected their constitutional duty? Why did they refuse to participate in the State's system of checks and balances? Has no deserving person existed in Massachusetts in decades? Really? Do such persons only exist in Arkansas? or Illinois? No comment from the AP. Nothing!

LeBlanc says Wahlberg's case "has touched off a firestorm of criticism nationwide" but fails to observe a large degree of this "criticism" has resulted from 1) his celebrity 2) his political disposition 3) false reports that he blinded one of his victims 4) the now boiler-plate desperation slander that a "hate crime" was committed and 5) the always present misconceptions of the public re the pardon power - misconceptions often resulting from irresponsible use of language by journalists.

The piece then says Wahlberg "underscores the bad politics that pardons can represent" because, for example, Mike Huckabee’s "presidential aspirations were fouled in part by pardons [including] one in 2000 of a felon who later killed four Seattle-area police officers. MEMO to Mr. LeBlanc, Huckabee did not "pardon" the criminal you have referred to.

It then says Tim Pawlenty "took flak for pardoning a Minnesota sex offender who was accused of reoffending in 2010" and "later withdrew from the race for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012." MEMO to LeBlanc, the "reoffending charges" were later dropped altogether and the individual had  actually earned (by statute) a pardon by a State Board. Minnesota Governors do not even have the power to grant pardons unilaterally. Nonetheless, the point is well made: poor reporting (or fear / concern about it) can have an impact on public perceptions.

LeBlan then hops to a 1995 example, when a Massachusetts Governor commuted the sentence of a man who spent 23 years in jail for murder. MEMO to LeBlanc: This is comparable to Wahlberg's case? Seriously?

Journalists can do better. If pardons are "risky," it is largely so because journalists refuse to report on the topic in a professional, responsible and fair manner. Politicians certainly know this. And they are probably prone to be more concerned about public perceptions (shaped by the media) than they are the actual logistics of clemency decision making.

See complete epic failure here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What journalists need is another Edward R. Murrow who can show them how to report a pardon story.

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