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An Exhibition of Conservative Paranoia

Exhibit 70: Denial of Reality Attack, Trump Propaganda Division

The Media Research Center's Brad Wilmouth doggedly defends President Trump over a muddled message regarding whether he supported the death penalty for the later-exonerated Central Park Five.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 5/16/2018


The last time we checked in on former Media Research Center "news analyst" and current NewsBusters blogger Brad Wilmouth, he was aggressively denying that that Louisiana Republican Rep. Steve Scalise spoke to a white supremacist group in Louisiana in 2002 -- despite the fact that Scalise apologized for doing exactly that.

Now Wilmouth has latched onto a new lost cause. He wrote in a Sept. 17 post:

Since Donald Trump began his run for President in June 2015, parts of the dominant liberal media have repeatedly parroted the incorrect claim that, in 1989, Trump ran a newspaper ad in which he urged the execution of a group of young black and Hispanic teens who ended up eventually being proven "innocent" in spite of confessing to the infamous rape and beating of a Central Park jogger that year.

In fact, the ad in question did not specify that the Central Park Five should be executed as it came at a time when the death penalty was illegal in New York. There had been a push for the state legislature to enact a new law to reinstate capital punishment which would require overriding the veto of then-Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo -- who had vetoed a death penalty bill a month before the attack.

The defendants could not have been sentenced to capital punishment since it was not an option at the time of the crime.

Additionally, when Trump was asked about the ad in May 1989 on Larry King Live, CNN claims he stated that he only supported the death penalty for adults -- which would have excluded the Central Park Five because they were all between the ages of 14 and 16.

Note how Wilmouth parses Trump's ad to focus on how it "did not specify that the Central Park Five should be executed." In fact, the ad does reference the Central Park attack, the ran just a few months after it occurred, and the headline on it blared, "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!" It seems pretty clear who Trump was talking about, even if he did not do so to the specificity that Wilmouth demands.

Wilmouth also argued that the Central Park Five deserved prison because, even if they weren't guilty of the attack they were sentenced, they must have been guilty of something:

In the film, The Central Park Five, as far-left film maker Ken Burns pushed a sympathetic view of the five teens, the documentary actually admitted that their defense attorneys had considered arguing that they could not have committed the attack on the jogger because they were busy "beating up other people" at the time. Their defense attorneys presumably had conceded that they were part of a group of dozens of teens who attacked as many as eight different random people in the park on the same night, including one man who received a skull fracture.

Also of note, as some have pushed the angle that, because the Central Park jogger was a white woman while the defendants were minorities, Trump was motivated by racism -- but what has been overlooked is that he also came to the defense of a black woman in Brooklyn who was raped and thrown from a four-story building a couple of weeks after the Central Park attack, and right after the death penalty ads ran in May of that year.

[...]

As for the issue of the Central Park Five being "exonerated" or proven "innocent," with some accounts even asserting that they were "acquitted," such claims are an overstatement given that, after another man -- convicted serial rapist Matias Reyes -- in 2002 confessed to attacking the jogger in 1989 and claimed that he did it alone, there was never another trial to determine their guilt. After DNA testing linked Reyes to the crime, the city's prosecution chose to vacate the convictions for all five.

Since there really is a phenomenon that people sometimes confess to offenses they did not commit, it would seem feasible either that the Central Park Five were pressured into confessing to a crime they did not commit, or that Reyes -- who apparently had nothing to lose by confessing -- falsely claimed that he was the only assailant who took part in the attack.

It is possible that a jury would have found them not guilty if they had had the benefit of Reyes's testimony at the time, but, as they had already served their sentences, they were not tried again, and the sentences were simply vacated.

While Wilmouth does acknowledge that New York City paid a "generous settlement" to the Central Park Five -- which non-biased observers would argue is equivalent to the exoneration Wilmouth denies exists -- he complains that it was a "political decision" by Mayor Bill Di Blasio made "against the advice of the city's attorneys." But the newspaper link Wilmouth supplied as evidence of this also pointed out that the settlement averted a trial over the case by the Central Park Five defendants in which they were seeking $111 million.

Wilmouth engaged in a spate of Trump defending in February, in the wake of Trump calling for "due process" for aide Rob Porter, who had been accused of spousal abuse. In a Feb. 10 post, he complained that "had to inject suggestions of racism into the discussion by bringing up debunked claims that Trump used an ad to demand the death penalty for black teens who were actually innocent."

Wilmouth rehashed some of this in a the next day:

On Sunday's MSNBC Live, host Yasmin Vossoughian repeated the discredited claim that President Donald Trump in 1989 used an ad to urge the execution of a group of underage teens who turned out to be innocent, as she even gave a forum to one of the teens, Yusef Salaam, to rail against Trump talking up "due process" for members of his administration accused of domestic violence.

At 4:37 p.m. ET, after recalling the case of White House aide Rob Porter resigning after the airing of spousal abuse charges, the MSNBC host read a tweet from Trump asking for "due process" before she then brought up the Central Park Five case:
But Trump himself has been known for making serious allegations without allowing justice to run its course. In 1989, when five African-American and Latino teenagers were accused of raping a jogger in New York's Central Park. Trump bought a newspaper ad suggesting they should be executed. The so-called Central Park Five were later exonerated.
But, in context, the 1989 "Bring Back the Death Penalty" ad came at a time when capital punishment was not a legal option in New York because the old law had been struck down by a court ruling. At the time, there had also been a movement for the state legislature to pass a new death penalty law which was likely to be vetoed by then-Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo.

Because there was no death penalty option on the books at the time, capital punishment could not have been applied to the Central Park Five even if a new law were passed.

[...]

In fact, in an interview with CNN's Larry King from May 1989, Trump stated that he believed a new death penalty law should only apply to adults, contradicting the claims by liberals that the point of the ad was to advocate the death penalty specifically for the Central Park Five. Additionally, the ad only called for the death penalty for those who commit murder, and the Central Park attack victim survived.
Wilmouth overlooked the part of the Larry King interview in which he also said, according to the CNN article to which he linked, that "Trump told King his newspaper ads were not 'pre-judging' the five teens, but rather advocating for their execution if they were to be found guilty."

Wilmouth dug in further in a Feb. 15 post, claiming that "a transcript recently posted in Nexis" of the Larry King interview showed that "Trump argued against executing juveniles and pushed instead for longer prison sentences ... and responded to questions about his ad calling for New York to pass a new death penalty law for murder cases." But even if Trump served up an after-the-fact explanation of the ad on TV, the fact remains that his ad did, in fact, suggest the death penalty for minors.

Wilmouth again insisted that the Central Park Five weren't "completely innocent" because they may have been involved in other attacks in the park that night.

To sum up: Even though he admitted that the death penalty doesn't apply to minors, Trump appeared to calling for it anyway and only later clarified he didn't want it to apply to minors. It's a muddled message, something Trump is prone to -- muddled enough that Wilmouth should know better than to try and defend Trump over it.

But then, defending Trump no matter what is what the MRC does these days.

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