Thursday, April 17, 2008

Jake Tapper, correct your error

An angry visitor e-mails to say Ava and I were wrong this morning. Wrong, wrong, wrong, he cries. ABC News reports that Bill Clinton commuted Susan Rosenberg and Linda Evans' sentences AND pardoned them. 'So they were pardoned,' insists the e-mailer.

You know what, there's really no excuse for stupidity. If you're going e-mail and say we're wrong about a public event, do something more than go to ABC News. We linked to the sentences Bill Clinton commuted (January 2001 as he was leaving office). Rosenberg and Evans are on that list. If he was going to pardon them, he wouldn't have commuted their sentences. A presidential pardon alone would have taken care of it. And he didn't pardon them. Click here for the list of his pardons.

Both links go to the Justice Department, not ABC 'News.' I have no idea why ABC News can't get it right. Possibly they want to lie. Possibly they're too stupid to grasp the difference between a pardon and a sentence being commuted. Possibly it was -- as it was for the e-mailer -- too damn much work to actually find out what happened. But the women were not pardoned.

They were in prison and Bill Clinton commuted their sentences (which meant both women were released). He did not pardon them. You can scan the list of his pardons until your eyeballs roll back in their sockets, you will never find them on the pardon list. Ava and I would've pardoned them. Bill Clinton did not pardon them. They were not pardoned.


It's that simple. I really thought we could cover Iraq tonight. But that would require the media doing their jobs.

I have no idea why Jake Tapper can't get it right. Actually I do. Journalism majors are the equivalent of general study majors. They have little grounding in anything but their field and their degree plans are sampling the buffet.

The reality is that the commutation of a sentence is not a pardon. The person still has the conviction.

I'm not going to pretend this is a minor thing because it is not. This is your basic understanding of the Constitution and of the Supreme Court. If you didn't learn that already in your life and your age has two digits, that's really sad. So tonight's entry is just going to be an education tool.

A pardon says you are forgiven of your crime. It wipes away your conviction. There is no need to commute your sentence if you are pardoned. If you're in prison and the President of the United States pardons you, you are immediately released. There is no need to commute your sentence because the pardon overturns the sentence and, most importantly, the conviction. Commuting a sentence does not overturn the conviction. The person is still considered a convicted. If they're filling out a job application, they are required to list it (or lie) because they were not pardoned. A pardon wipes the legal verdict away. They are not the same thing and anyone telling you that they are doesn't know what they're talking about. (A governor cannot grant a pardon for a federal crime, the only one who can is the president.) I have no idea why a news outlet could allow such an error to go out. But it is an error. If it was an intentional error, it is a lie.

Most likely, it is yet another indication of how far from knowledge the country is that we're having to -- instead of talk about Iraq tonight -- spend time reviewing the basic powers granted to the President as head of the Executive Branch.

Here's ABC's out (which does not mean they don't have to correct their error), Howard Wolfson didn't know what Bill Clinton did in January 2001. When the 'pardon' language was used, he didn't correct it.

That's their out when they issue their correction. But someone should have checked it out. Again, this is basic Constitutional powers. The Supreme Court long ago ruled on this. Check the links, go through the list of pardons and the list of "Commutations Granted January 20, 2001." The pardon's list is entitled "Pardon Grants January 2001." Both are dated January 20, 2001. These are official documents from the Justice Department listing who got pardoned and who got their sentence commuted. They are two different lists. They are two different powers. I don't know how to make that any clearer.

This is not splitting hairs. There are two lists because these are two different issues. Bill Clinton, as president, could have exercised his right to pardon Rosenberg and Evans. He did not do that. He merely examined the cases and decided to commute their sentences. Both women's convictions remain on their records. That would not be the case if he had issued a pardon.

When it looked like Nixon would be impeached (before he resigned), this was something people focused on. Would the process go through? If so, would he be convicted and sentenced only to be pardoned or to have his sentence commuted. They were two different things completely. (And I don't remember anyone realistically thinking Tricky Dick would actually do hard time but I do remember many -- including myself -- hoping he would at least have the conviction on his record -- meaning he would have his sentence commuted but not pardoned.)

This goes to presidential powers and why any news outlet would get these very basic options wrong is a question to ask them, not me, not Ava. Take it up with ABC.

I don't think Tapper lied. I think he made a mistake, a HUGE mistake. And if he didn't grasp the difference between the two options Bill Clinton was using on each list, that's why ABC has legal analysts and journalists are taught to make the call. Tapper didn't make the call. Wolfson accepted the term without correction and Tapper ran with it. Tapper's mistake. ABC's mistake for posting it. I do find it outrageous and that has nothing to do with it being about Bill Clinton. My outrage is over the fact that these are Constitutional basics. Ones that the Supreme Court has ruled on. A news outlet needs to get it right. I would hope a high schooler in civics today would grasp it if his or her class had already covered the Constitution. The level of ignorance involved in this is appalling and, hate to break to ABC, but the Constitution has applications beyond the First Amendment.

The Constitution is the Highest Law of the Land. If you're a journalist and it confuses you (which would explain the lack of questioning during the lead-up to the illegal war, explain the illegal war and explain the press' refusal to grasp impeachment in non-sexual matters), you do what you were trained to do, seek out a source.

AP, this morning, did a 'fact check' and also repeated the falsehood that Bill Clinton pardoned the two women. That was early in the day. I assumed it would self-correct. Obviously the press doesn't know how to self-correct.

Now I went to Nixon in the example, but you only have to go to Scooter Libby. When he was convicted, Bully Boy commutated his sentence. Most assume that, as he leaves office, Bully Boy will pardon Scooter. But thus far, that has not happened. The conviction currently stands. What did Bully Boy say? "My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby." That's what happened. Scooter did not get a pardon. A pardon would have wiped away the fines and the community service (which Bully Boy did not commute). A pardon would have overturned the conviction. These are not minor details.

And let's be clear that for Barack not to know the difference was very embarrassing. He tossed out both because he didn't know the facts. How he got to be the president of the Harvard Law Review is a question that needs to be asked because that's so basic he wouldn't have even qualified for slow in Constitutional Law. (Slow, in my day, was the Ayn Rand fanatic who just knew her ditherings had to be worked into his every classroom response. But as idiotic as that man was, he would have grasped the difference between a presidential pardon and the commuting of a sentence.)

When we don't know our own Constitution, when we don't know the Highest Law of the Land, that's nothing to be proud of. It's embarrassing and explains why some think that just because Bully Boy wants more war funding, he gets it. It's why some can't grasp that the war is illegal not only due to international treaties and conventions but also do the Constitution of the United States. No, Congress did not authorize this illegal war. (They have funded it.)

It's over, I'm done writing songs about love
There's a war going on
So I'm holding my gun with a strap and a glove
And I'm writing a song about war
And it goes
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Oh oh oh oh
-- "I Hate The War" (written by Greg Goldberg, on The Ballet's Mattachine!)

Last Thursday, ICCC's number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war was 4032. Tonight? 4037. And we're guessing there because ICCC is down. (That was the number earlier today.) Just Foreign Policy lists 1,199,782 up from 1,199,782 as the number of Iraqis killed since the start of the Iraq War.

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