Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bruni: Creative, But Still Wrong

We have already commented on Frank Bruni's commentary on Mark Wahlberg's clemency application (see posts here), but Bruni is doubling down on his wrong-headed analysis and his downward slide is something to see!

Bruni proudly wields a colorless anecdote re Wahlberg's use of eye glasses which he (Bruni), evidently, believes sheds profound light on the substantive merit of Wahlberg's pardon application. After spending a couple of "days" with Wahlberg, years ago, Bruni has concluded Wahlberg exhibited a pattern of bad behavior, almost four decades ago, when he was 16-years old, and when he committed an offense so heinous that he served only 45 days in prison.

In the Morning Joe clip (below), Bruni says Wahlberg's argument for pardon is that, well, "he was 16 at the time." And that is when it becomes perfectly obvious that, for whatever reason, Mr. Bruni just can't think clearly, or very fairly, about this case.


Bruni admits "everyone" says Wahberg is a "great person to work with and an outstanding guy" and that he "probably is a different man." Yes, "probably" is as far as Bruni is willing to wander away from the comfort of his ginormous blind spot. But he then tosses those critical reference points (at least for those who believe in - and are truly interested in - rehabilitation) like a classically over-zealous prosecutor forsaking a handful of frivolous charges in plea bargain negotiations with an indigent defendant. Notably, to date, Bruni and his ilk can't find a single person - not even an anonymous person - to slam Wahlberg's character and reputation ... in the current decade ! Dear Reader, do you realize how hard it is these days to not be able to find an anonymous slanderer?!

For centuries, presidents and governors have considered community service and social good works in clemency decision making, without Bruni's permission and insight:
It's easy to give back money when you make that much money and if we start factoring in financial contributions into pardons, that's just income inequality transferred into criminal justice. I don't think we need to do that. 
The giant ball of flame barrels through a field of straw men. It may be easy to give, but many don't.  As long as we are waxing sociological, "ease" is certainly a relative notion. "Financial contributions" here means donations to organizations that do things like provide counselling and programs to high risk youth. And, of course, the "factoring" consideration would pack a lot of serious journalistic punch were "financial contributions" required. But they are not. They are simply fairly considered with a host of whatever other arguments an applicant can make for penitence, rehabilitation, social responsibility and integration back into society as a law-abiding and productive citizen. 

Presidents have granted pardons to farmers, for all sorts of crimes, that landed then in federal prison, for much longer periods of time, so they could return to their fields for harvest. A President, Bruni would keep them in over-crowded, expensive prisons, protecting himself from 1) any accusation of agricultural bias and 2) any possible negative interpretation of his decision-making concocted by the worst, most uninformed. Signals are more important to Bruni than the boring, raw merits of a pardon application - like the fact that one of the victims thinks Wahlberg should be pardoned. Boring, irrelevant stuff. Admittedly, it appears we have a lot of governors like Bruni!

Bruni says we can't give Wahlberg a pardon ... not because the crime was so horrible, not because the application is weak, or horribly flawed, not because Wahlberg hasn't changed, not because he does not deserve a pardon ... but "because we give so few of them." Brilliant. This is the exact bone-headed argument that Scott Walker uses to justify his "policy" of granting no pardons at all. As he puts it, if he does justice in one case, others will demand the same. God forbid there would be a break out of justice on Walker's (or President Bruni's) watch. 

Then, the coup de grace. Bruni says - sounding really authoritative, informed - "The whole point of pardons is to remove restrictions that keep people from rebuilding productive lives." Because such restrictions have had "almost no effect" on Wahlberg, he is (in Bruni's mind) ineligible for clemency. Pure unadulterated, inexcusable nonsense. He could hardly be more wrong. One could write a doctoral dissertation on the categories and levels of error therein.

Bruni - at this point - is so far in over his head he can only resort to re-convening the court now closed for almost four decades, serving as judge and jury and accusing Wahberg of committing a "vicious racial hate crime." A great sound bite for a six-minute segment and drive -by viewers with little appetite for the yawns prompted by rigorous discussions of fairness and justice. Bruni's "arguments" are the rough equivalent of a football player on the way to a sure touchdown, and dropping the ball before actually crossing the goal line, in an attempt to look really cool, impressive. Epic fail. 

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