Patterico's Pontifications

9/7/2004

The Washington Post Compares the Willie Horton Ad to the Ad by the Swift Boat Vets

Filed under: Media Bias — Patterico @ 6:59 am

Recently, Glenn Reynolds has discussed the parallels between the current presidential campaign and the one between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. The Washington Post today purports to find another parallel: one between the Willie Horton ad that helped derail the Dukakis campaign, and the recent ads by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

In many cases, the truth is that the differences are greater than the similarities. However, there are some genuine parallels between the ads — just not the ones highlighted by the Post article.

The article begins:

Separated by 16 years, two of the most famous and controversial TV ads in presidential campaign history share a remarkable set of traits. Both were launched by nominally independent groups, not by the candidates themselves. Both aired in just a few small markets, gaining widespread exposure only through news media coverage. Both were denounced as inaccurate and unfair.

And both the “Willie Horton” spot of 1988 and the 2004 campaign’s initial commercial by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth slammed a Democrat from Massachusetts and helped a Republican candidate named George Bush.

Most of the so-called parallels are bogus. For example, in each case the article finds a parallel in an alleged connection between the ads and the Bush campaign:

In both the Horton and Swift boat cases, the respective Bush campaigns disclaimed responsibility, saying the ads were the work of unaffiliated groups. But in both instances, news media reports subsequently exposed ties between the official campaigns and the independent groups.

The only difference is that the “ties” between the Swift Boat Vets and the campaign of President George W. Bush are a meaningless “web of connections” which, as Spinsanity recently concluded, does absolutely nothing to show that anyone in the Bush campaign was behind the ads. By contrast, as today’s article observes, Lee Atwater said at one point that he intended to make Willie Horton a “household name.”

Another supposedly striking similarity is that “neither of the Bush campaigns specifically repudiated the controversial spots.” Of course, as the article explains, the current Bush campaign has called for an end to all 527 advertising. And George W. Bush has made statements undercutting the message of the Swift Boat Vets’ ads, praising Kerry’s Vietnam service and saying that Kerry should be proud of it. By contrast, the first Bush campaign ran an ad which brought up the Horton issue again.

Can you imagine George H.W. Bush saying that Michael Dukakis should be proud of the furlough program that led to the acts committed by Willie Horton?

Time and time again, the “parallels” cited by the article fail to hold up.

However, there is at least one true parallel between the two ads: a disconnect between the news media’s and the general public’s perceptions on the issue of whether the subject matter of the advertisements was fair commentary. This is exemplified by the article’s discussion of the ads’ popularity, despite the article’s complaint that “the facts underlying the commercials were inaccurate, or at least distorted.” The article lacks evidence of inaccuracy or distortion as to either ad, both of which raised genuine issues that concerned significant portions of the American public.

First the article complains about the Willie Horton ad:

As Dukakis and his defenders pointed out, the prison furlough program in Massachusetts had been started under a Republican administration and had bipartisan support under Dukakis, who ended the program in early 1988. Moreover, the federal government, under President Ronald Reagan and Vice President Bush, had its own furlough program.

Of course, what was so outrageous about the Willie Horton situation was not that there existed a furlough program of any type, but that a convicted murderer serving a sentence of life without parole was furloughed, allowing him the opportunity to rape a woman. The news media always treated this as a simple case of racial hyperbole, while ignoring the fact that this situation was unacceptable regardless of race. Indeed, this is why Al Gore thought the issue of such furloughs was fair game in a debate with Dukakis.

The article’s evidence of inaccuracy and distortion is similarly lacking as to the Vets’ ad:

The Swift boat ad was similarly flawed by several assertions, such as the suggestion, disputed by eyewitnesses, that Kerry’s rescue of a crewmate in Vietnam had been routine, instead of under hostile fire, as his medal citation stated.

The suggestion that the ad is “inaccurate, or at least distorted” because there are witnesses who dispute the allegations is typical of the news media’s attitude towards the Vets. Of course, the version of events offered by Kerry and his eyewitnesses — the version on his medal citation — is also “disputed by eyewitnesses.” Does that make his version “inaccurate, or at least distorted”? Not in the eyes of the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, the supposedly inaccurate and distorted ads by the Swift Vets have scored some real points, highlighting aspects of Kerry’s war record — and his conduct afterward — that Kerry clearly would rather not discuss.

Apparently, the American people have an easier time seeing this than does the news media. This could result in the ultimate parallel between the Willie Horton ad and the Swift Boat Vets’ ads: each may help elect a man named Bush, despite the clear desire of the press to elect the liberal from Massachusetts.

UPDATE: Thanks to Instapundit for the link. If you liked this post, please bookmark and/or blogroll the site and come back often, for more debunking of bias in the mainstream media.

22 Responses to “The Washington Post Compares the Willie Horton Ad to the Ad by the Swift Boat Vets”

  1. I have never thought there was anything wrong with the Willie horton adds. They were factualy correct. The Dems claimed the were some how racist because he was black SO WHAT. The add was factualy acurate. As a matter of fact the Horton issue was first raised by the Dems themselves durring their primary’s They have turned the whole thing into some sort of urban myth proof of Republican dirty tricks. That is a load of pooh.

    cameron (72c0e3)

  2. “That is a load of pooh.”

    And that would different from normal how?

    In the last 20 years, in my experience, the Democratic party has been the party of dirty tricks.

    I do admit that *some* of that may well be that the media is the aprty of dirty tricks, and they are overwhelmingly Democrat.

    (Of course, that doesn’t explain all of it by any means – people are discussing “the Torch” option for Kerry, for instance.)

    Deoxy (e365d4)

  3. As I recall, the thing about Willie Horton is that a lot of damage was done before the general public saw pictures of the guy and found out that he was black. When Republicans pointed this out, some Democrats replied that it was obvious that a guy named ‘Willie’ was black — as if Willie Nelson and Willie Wonka and (a bit later) ‘Slick Willie’ Clinton were all black. If only blogs had been around back then . . . .

    Dr. Weevil (70e07c)

  4. But, Dr. Weevil, don’t you remember? Bill Clinton was our “first black President.”

    Dean (ea88e8)

  5. It’s true. I remember being surprised to discover Horton was black.

    KJ (af20d4)

  6. The Willie Horton case was discovered and first used against Dukakis by Al Gore in the Democratic primary debates. Guess that makes Gore the racist thug.

    Paul (b483ce)

  7. Horton’s mug shot appeared in an ad that was shown in the area where the rape was committed. Critics pointed out that the photo was used to prove he was black, and therefore it was racist.

    It always struck me as odd that none of the ad’s critics could get past Horton’s black skin to see the face of a cruel and violent lifelong criminal. The mug shot was effective not because he was black, but because he looked like a very nasty piece of work.

    lyle (134e80)

  8. My local paper is still calling the Islamic fascists of Beslan “militants”.

    Isn’t it time to get them to start telling the truth?

    M. Simon (52e09b)

  9. The media has done the same thing with the Max Cleland vs Chambliss race. Chambliss called him on putting the special interest of the unions in front of national security (by refusing to vote for the Homeland Security Dept bill because it didnt specify that Homeland Security would be unionized)and the media spin is Chambliss questioned his patriotism. They did the same thing with the McCain/Bush thing in 2000.

    Big E (fe8333)

  10. Good dissection of the Post’s ‘analysis.’

    The Horton ad, the tank picture and the botched answer about his response to harm befalling his family are often cited as singular events which somehow doomed Dukakis’ candidacy — usually without much to support the claim.

    As with Bush 41’s infamous (now debunked) grocery scanner incident, such silver bullet explanations only fascinate political junkies, provide an obvious slant for lazy reporters, and comfort losers who don’t wish to face having run poor campaigns or poor candidates. Both candidates, Dukakis in 88 and Bush 41 in 92, ran poor campaigns against better opponents.

    Cosmo (f789b9)

  11. The left probably still doesn’t realize just how out-of-touch they were in portraying Willie Horton as a victim.

    They are as weak on “social issues” as Republicans, if not more so.

    Social Issue (8e0453)

  12. It’s not just the WaPo; I also noted the “Swiftboat vets have been discredited” line in front page stories in today’s Chicago Trib, the Guardian and the BBC.

    Now we know the pattern to expect from challenges to the mass media’s favored candidate: 1)ignore them, 2) scoff (“what, you’re still talking about THAT?”), 3)do a smidge of investigative work on one aspect of charges, 4) say, “see, that proves nothing about the story is true” and 5) go back to ignoring the story. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Clio (427741)

  13. Now we know the pattern to expect from challenges to the mass media’s favored candidate: 1)ignore them, 2) scoff (“what, you’re still talking about THAT?”), 3)do a smidge of investigative work on one aspect of charges, 4) say, “see, that proves nothing about the story is true” and 5) go back to ignoring the story. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    A five-step process. Reminds me of the five-step process the media has used to deal with the candidates’ respective post-convention bounces (or lack thereof, as the case may be for Kerry). Coincidence?

    Patterico (76a849)

  14. How about another parallel?

    That both ads are based on actual events. Conclusions may be drawn but the facts were there in both cases.

    JohnM (8a6841)

  15. The blowback from the “Willie Horton” ad has always sticked in my craw, and might have been the tipping point when it came to trusting the mainstream media.

    He was convicted to rot, with no chance at parole, and then they let him out. No one argues that.

    I don’t care if he is green and can recite Brain Boru’s death poem: he stays in the hole!

    You cut him loose. He belongs to you.

    TC-LeatherPenguin (d6a383)

  16. They’re just seeding the story that Kerry was defeated by nasty campaigning; much of the coverage this weekend has compared the attacks on Kerry with the supposedly mean-spirited attacks on John McCain in 2002 and Max Cleland in 2002. This is just an attempt to make it appear part of a trend by the Bush family.

    Pat Curley (099d93)

  17. I distinctly recall how I found out that Willie Horton was black: a leftist commentator on TV said something like “Would this have caused so much excitement if Horton were white?”

    Until that point I had just assumed that Horton was white, given where it happened.

    Doc Rampage (337bfc)

  18.     I remember at the time, I heard lots about the Horton ad, but never saw it.  Instead, I say the “revolving door” ad that definitely was made by the Republicans.  The facts in that one were accurate too.

      Another example of media spin: it is true that the prison furlough program was started under a Republican administration.  It’s also true that during Dukasis’s second term, a bill passed the legislature to end furloughs for people sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.  Dukakis vetoed that bill.  He liked to have furloughs for such convicts so that they could demonstrate their “good behavior.”  Then, after several outings, their sentence would be commuted to life with the possibility of parole, and presently they’d be back on the street.

        That let him have it both ways: Dukakis could insist that he was against the death penalty, but for life sentences without parole, while still commuting those sentences.  Musn’t be cruel to convicted killers.  Give them another chance, and, if they commit more crimes, well, too bad.

        Horton, by the way, was NOT the only furloughed prisoner to commit crimes while out.  He became known, but a reporter for a Massachusetts paper did a whole series of articles on the furlough program and the crimes committed by those released under it.  If I recall correctly, there was at least one murder by a furloughed prisoner.

    Stephen M. St. Onge (dc26de)

  19. Willie and the Swift Vets
    Paul Farhi of the Washington Post has a dreadful article in today’s paper comparing the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth to the Willie Horton campaign. I find his piece – which he passes off as a “news” article, not an op-ed – to be only slightly more …

    damnum absque injuria (2c5473)

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