Monday, August 22, 2016

Toobin Doubles Down on Sloppiness

In his new book on Patricia Hearst, CNN legal analyst and New Yorker contributor Jeffrey Toobin asserts Hearst was the first person in American history to receive a commutation of sentence from one president and a presidential pardon from another. It is a catchy assertion that he has repeated in interviews while hawking the work (see examples here). The problem is that Toobin is wrong. Really, really wrong (see proof here). Indeed, the error is of such a brutal, magnificent nature, one is easily led to the conclusion that he is inexcusably incompetent in his writing / research or - at a minimum - in dire need of assistance / supervision.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders alerted Toobin to a world of information contradicting his assertion and his response was to say he found it all "fascinating." Today, Saunders writes:
Toobin told me Monday he regrets the error and welcomes all corrections that improve the record. He didn’t know about the pardons Ruckman cited. He should have said Hearst was the first such recipient in “modern American history.” (See Saunders' column on the matter here).
We are pleased (relieved, frankly) to learn of Toobin's sense of error, but we find his recalibration - at best - still more sloppy guesswork. At worst - he appears to want to believe that the steam roller of evidence presented to him was a mere "improvement" on his very fine work.

Yes, it's pretty clear, Toobin just doesn't get it.

Toobin's book provides no reference for his original assertion and, apparently, he did not provide one to Saunders. And with good reason. It was a ridiculously dumb thing to write. Can Toobin now produce a source which says no recipient in "modern American history" has benefited from clemency from two presidents? We are guessing not. But, even if he could, it would only prove one thing: there is at least one other person as clueless about the pardon power as Jeffrey Toobin. Unfortunately, the recalibrated assertion is just as foolish as the original (in-print, repeated) version. Here's why:

We don't know what la-la land Toobin wanders around in, but political scientists operationalize (define) the "modern" presidency as the period of time from 1900 forward or, alternately, from the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt forward. Almost all of the examples we provided of commutations and pardons granted by different presidents were in the 1900s (click here). One notable example was from the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt (Dinshah Ghadiali). Roosevelt pardoned individuals whose sentences were commuted by presidents before him in at least four other instances (in 1937, 1943 and 1944). That's right, FDR did - five times - what Toobin's book claims no other president had ever done once!

But maybe FDR is not "modern" enough for Toobin. He has his own definitions to work with ... at least when embarrassingly pushed into a corner. Two of the examples we noted were from the administration of Harry Truman, in 1945 and 1951. Is that "modern" enough? Oh, surely not. Ancient history.

On June 1. 1945, Harry Truman commuted the ten-year prison sentence of one Kurt Malzahn to time served. Then, on July 27, 1956, Dwight Eisenhower granted Malzahn a full and unconditional pardon. 1956? Why Toobin wasn't even born by then. Not nearly "modern" enough!

Leonard Layton was sentenced to death in March of 1932. His sentence was commuted to life in prison, by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. On June 3, 1967 (when Toobin was 6-7 years old), Lyndon Johnson granted Layton a full and unconditional pardon.

Maybe "modern American history" did not begin until the Beatles broke up. Who knows? Toobin needs to have a come-to-Jesus moment. He was / is really sloppy on this front ... perhaps because of too much eagerness to appear catchy, perhaps out of laziness, perhaps out of habit, perhaps because he simply had no idea where to turn to get good information to accurately assess his guesses, perhaps simply because, damnit, he is Jeffrey Toobin of CNN and the New Yorker ... and he can be that way if he wants too. Regardless, it's all slop.

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