Newsmax works (most of the time, anyway) to defend Mike Huckabee against criticism of clemencies he granted as Arkansas governor that had deadly consequences.
By Terry Krepel
Newsmax just can't quite seem to decide where it stands on Mike Huckabee's history, while governor of Arkansas, of granting clemency for people who later committed crimes. Or maybe it has -- it just regrets that one time it criticized him over it.
Before we get to the current controversy, however, let's first go back a few years to Newsmax's more rabid Clinton-hating days.
In a November 2002 article, Newsmax uncritically quoted Huckabee, who was seeking re-election as governor at the time, claiming that Bill Clinton was "running the campaign of his Democratic opponent, Jimmie Lou Fisher, who has made a 1984 rape case the central focus of her bid to replace Huckabee as the state's chief executive." The article added: "Clinton's role in resurrecting the rape case against Huckabee is particularly ironic, given the still unrefuted charges that he himself raped Arkansas businesswoman Juanita Broaddrick in 1978."
The case in question is that of Wayne DuMond, accused of raping Ashley Stevens. While DuMond was awaiting trial in the case, unidentified people broke into his house, hog-tied him and castrated him. As Newsmax noted, "His testicles ended up in a jar displayed on the desk of the local sheriff, Coolidge Conlee."
The article went on to identify DuMond's victim as "the daughter of Clinton cousin and campaign contributor Walter Stevens," asserting that "Stevens herself botched descriptions of the truck DuMond was driving at the time of the crime - and even got the color of his eyes wrong." Newsmax allowed Huckabee to claim that Fisher's campaign "completely mischaracterized his role in the case":
"My opponent has used one issue," Huckabee told Imus, "and that is over a commutation that was actually done by [Clinton's successor] Jim Guy Tucker. ... He commuted the sentence of Wayne DuMond, a convicted rapist, and then the parole board released him. In the middle of that, I did give consideration to an earlier release, but I denied it."
But evidence suggests that Huckabee's role in DuMond's clemency was much greater than what Huckabee claimed. As the Arkansas Times reported, Huckabee and a senior member of his staff exerted behind-the-scenes influence to bring about Huckabee's parole, including an off-the-record meeting with the state parole board.
Nevertheless, the tone of Newsmax's article reflected the widespread belief of Clinton-haters like Newsmax that DuMond was an innocent victim of the Clinton crony machine.
That 2002 article also curiously omitted one significant fact that threw a wrench into that belief: In 2001, DuMond was arrested in connection with the killing of a Missouri woman, Carol Sue Shields. He was convicted of the murder in 2003 and sentenced to life; he died in prison in 2005. DuMond was a suspect in another Missouri murder in 2001, but he had not been charged in connection with it.
When Huckabee began his quest for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, Newsmax curiously flip-flopped: Under the headline "Huckabee's Record: Anything But Conservative," a July 3, 2007, article by Dave Eberhart attacked what it called Huckabee's "liberal policy of criminal pardons" while Arkansas governor:
Case-in-point: Wayne Dumond, a convicted rapist who was released during Huckabee's tenure as governor and who subsequently sexually assaulted and murdered a woman in Missouri following his release.
One of those "critics of President Bill Clinton" who gave the DuMond case "celebrity status," of course, was Newsmax. (Also, by this time, Newsmax was in the throes of moderation on Clinton, which may have also played a role in the flip-flop.)
Eberhart followed this a week later with an "exclusive Newsmax interview" of Huckabee that included a section subheaded "Ex-governor Responds to Critics" that, strangely, did not mention the DuMond case.
Flash forward to 2009, and another case linked to another Huckabee pardon: the killing of four police officers in Washington state allegedly by a man named Maurice Clemmons, who was later killed by police. Clemmons, a former Arkansas resident, had his prison sentence on a variety of charges commuted in 2000 by Huckabee.
Newsmax's response to the Clemmons case was to provide a forum for Huckabee to spin the story. And spin he did in a Nov. 30 column, claiming to "take full responsibility for my actions of nine years ago" yet blaming the Arkansas Post Prison Transfer Board for actually setting the guy free.
Huckabee also misleads by claiming that Clemmons "was 16 years old when he was charged with burglary and robbery. He was sentenced to a total of 108 years based on the way in which the sentences were stacked." But it wasn't a first-time case for a youthful offender, as Huckabee suggested; the sentence total is the result of five separate sentencings in 1989 and 1990, not just for "burglary and robbery" but also aggravated robbery, theft of property, probation revocation and firearms possession.
Huckabee was also disingenuous about other efforts to keep Clemmons in prison: "When he violated terms of his parole by participating in additional crimes, he was returned to prison and should have stayed there. For reasons only the prosecutor can explain, charges were not brought forth in a timely way and the prosecutor ended up dropping the charges, allowing him to leave prison and return to supervised parole."
A Dec. 1 follow-up Newsmax article by David Patten began by continuing to be kind to Huckabee, giving him the opportunity to address "the many incorrect reports and rumors swirling around his decision to reduce Clemmons' sentence."
But then, later in the article, Patten references not only DuMond but also states that "Huckabee's critics have compared the incident to the controversial Willie Horton furlough that derailed the 1988 candidacy of Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic presidential nominee." Patten then tried to put a curious spin on that: "Political historians say, however, that what actually torpedoed Dukakis wasn't the clemency issue, but rather his dispassionate response during a debate to a hypothetical question about whether he would favor capital punishment if his wife were raped."
Patten kept playing interference for Huckabee with a Dec. 6 article -- now curiously deleted from Newsmax's website; a screenshot of the article's headline as retrieved from Google cache is here -- that again sought to deflect blame from Huckabee for granting clemency to Clemmons, this time by blaming authorities in Arkansas and Washington state for "fail[ing] to keep him incarcerated" after numerous parole violations. As ConWebBlog reported at the time, Patten featured an Arkansas judge, Marion Humphrey, who favored clemency for Clemmons, but Patten failed to note just how close Humphrey is to Clemmons: he officiated at Clemmons' wedding.
Patten also buried criticism of Huckabee. It wasn't until the 22nd paragraph that Patten gets around to featuring Jegley, whom Patten made sure to note is "a Democrat." Patten waits until the very end of his article to allow Jegley to respond to Huckabee's claims that Jegley's being a Democrat is behind his criticism.
That one unfortunate instance in 2007 aside, it seems that Newsmax will stand by Huckabee on the issue of clemency. Then again, Newsmax does have a bit of an issue with misplaced loyalty, Bernard Kerik being the prime example.
But if a more attractive conservative surfaces in the 2012 presidential campaign -- or if another Huckabee clemency goes bad -- all bets are likely off.