The Spin Stops Where, Exactly? O’Reilly Pitches Soft Balls to Huckabee


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On Monday’s O’Reilly Factor, Mike Huckabee made his first television appearance since serial felon Maurice Clemmons (allegedly) murdered four police officers on Sunday morning. Since the murders, the media have lambasted Fox News analyst and former Arkansas governor Huckabee for having commuted Clemmons’ life sentence back in 2000. I had been curious as to how Fox would choose to handle this story, given that Huckabee is directly involved in it and has his own show on Fox News.

On the one hand, I commend Huckabee for facing the music and confronting the matter in person. (HuckPAC released a written statement on Sunday.) He is, as O’Reilly notes, a “stand-up guy” for doing so. On the other hand, regardless of the defensibility or indefensibility of Huckabee’s decision to commute Clemmons’ sentence, Huckabee should be taken to task for lying about it and blaming the criminal justice system, which would have kept him behind bars for a very long time. That hardly constitutes “stand-up” behavior, although O’Reilly, it seems, would beg to differ.

First, Huckabee claims to not have been able to foresee that Clemmons would re-offend, when, in fact, not only did he already have a lengthy rap sheet, but he actually tried to commit several violent crimes prior to and even during his sentencing, which should have given Huckabee some indication of Clemmons’ future behavior.

“Well, Bill, first of all, I think the uh, the tragedy of this, if I could have known nine years ago this guy was capable of something of this magnitude obviously I would never have granted the commutation.”

Really? He had been convicted of six felonies. His lack of repentance and intent to re-offend were more than evident, judging from his courtroom behavior alone. The Seattle Times reports (hat tip: Michelle Malkin):

During one trial, Clemmons was shackled in leg irons and seated next to a uniformed officer. The presiding judge ordered the extra security because he felt Clemmons had threatened him, court records show.

Another time, Clemmons hid a hinge in his sock, and was accused of intending to use it as a weapon. Yet another time, Clemmons took a lock from a holding cell, and threw it toward the bailiff. He missed and instead hit Clemmons’ mother, who had come to bring him street clothes, according to records and published reports.

On another occasion, Clemmons had reached for a guard’s pistol during transport to the courtroom.

How could Huckabee have even considered the possibility that Clemmons wouldn’t reoffend? I doubt that Clemmons even considered that possibility.

Huckabee then blames the criminal justice system for his decision to commute Clemmons’ sentence:

The post-prison transfer board, the process…they recommended to me as governor for his commutation, which didn’t release him; it simply cut his sentence to forty-seven years.

Arkansas prosecutors repeatedly cautioned Huckabee against commuting the sentences of violent criminals, and Huckabee had a habit of blaming prosecutors for not working to keep criminals behind bars even as he commuted their sentences. The Arkansas Leader reported in 2004 (also via Michelle Malkin):

“I’m offended as a prosecutor and as a citizen. He can blame the prosecutors, but ultimately he’s the man responsible,” [Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry] Jegley says. “He’s the only one who can sign on the dotted line.

“All he has to do is look in the mirror and say, ‘I let (convicted rapist) Wayne DuMond go free who then killed at least once and probably twice.’”

Jegley says the governor ignores the will of the people when he reduces a life sentence without parole that was handed down by a jury.

“He has obviously disregarded the jury’s decision. It’s a crying shame that a sitting governor would be so insensitive to victims’ right and disregard the system,” says Jegley, who points to several clemency cases where felons went free and then committed more crimes.

Then, Huckabee lied about Clemmons’ sentences, saying that he was given 108 years for two crimes he committed when he was 16, when in fact, he was sentenced to 60 years when he was 18 after having been convicted of five felony charges which he racked up at age 17, for which he was sentenced to 48 years. So while Huckabee was honest about the length of the sentences, he lied about their number, the number of crimes Clemmons committed, and Clemmons’ age when he committed the crimes. But what are four violent felonies between friends? He was just a kid, so long as you fudge his age a bit.

Strangely, O’Reilly takes Washington state’s judges to task for not explaining why they let Clemmons back out on the streets time and time again.

O’Reilly: But the judges in, in Washington state, they knew all of his history from age 16 onward.

Huckabee: Yeah, by this point this guy’s a career criminal…

O’Reilly (interrupting): Right, he’s a career criminal.

Huckabee: …and escalating sense of violence and psychotic behavior, and no, there’s no, no explanation for why he was out on the streets.

O’Reilly: Okay, let me ask you this: most judges who do this kind of stuff, in our experience – and you follow the program, you know about Jessica’s Law and, and we hold the judges accountable – they will explain why they do what they do. They hide behind some kind of statute or this and that. I just think that’s terrible. Be like you. Be a stand-up person. Come in and say “this why I did what I did.” Am I wrong?

Huckabee: No, I think it’s important that people understand the process and the, the reasoning behind decisions. Sometimes it’s difficult and it’s complicated, but I think, for the most part, people can understand that you’re acting on what you know, not on what might happen out there in the future. This case with Washington judges certainly, uh, there was a pretty good, long history of adult behavior on this guy’s part.

O’Reilly: And two judges, two judges signed off on this crazy bail. Governor, thanks very much for being a stand-up guy. We appreciate it.

Had Huckabee not commuted a six-time felon’s multiple sentences he would not have been in a Washington judge’s courtroom getting sentenced for committing more violent crimes in the first place. Furthermore, Huckabee is somewhat notorious for doing exactly what O’Reilly accuses the judges of doing: refusing to explain his actions, which, as governor, he was legally required to do.

In addition, [Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry] Jegley, Saline County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Herzfeld and others have accused Huckabee of violating the state Constitution when he commutes sentences without explanation. The Constitution requires the governor to give reasons why he grants clemency to criminals.

“He doesn’t do it,” insists Herzfeld, who recently had a clemency overturned because Huckabee did not explain why he commuted a murderer’s life sentence.

I find it disappointing that O’Reilly would choose to whitewash Huckabee’s role in the story. He may very well not have known any better, but I tune in to the Factor for its well-researched segments and O’Reilly’s hard-hitting but usually civil interviews. He generally treats his guests kindly but fairly and does not let them off the hook the way he did with Huckabee.

Huckabee’s refusal to hold violent felons accountable for their actions led to the deaths of four police officers Sunday morning. The irony in O’Reilly’s refusal to hold Huckabee accountable for his decision to commute Clemmons’ sentence, along with those of 11 other murderers, should not be lost on us. The moral of the story is that we as a society – be it through the media, through our leaders, or through the justice system – must hold people responsible for their actions. O’Reilly is usually pretty good about doing just that, but in this case, he let Huckabee completely off the hook for his decision to commute Clemmons’ sentences, for lying about the facts of the case, for blaming the criminal justice system even as he singlehandedly undermined it, and for not explaining his decisions when he was legally required to do so.

The spin, it appears, did not not stop at O’Reilly’s desk last night.