Networks Continue to Ignore Obama Admin Considering Pardons for Thousands of Drug Offenders

The broadcast networks have still not reported a new Justice Department initiative that would consider clemency for thousands of drug offenders.

As NewsBusters reported on Tuesday, Monday evening's news casts ignored the story while Fox News reported it. The broadcast network blackout continued through Tuesday and Wednesday. Fox News continued with the story on Wednesday evening as Special Report fill-in host Shannon Bream reported that "the nation's top cop today outlined a plan to get more people out of prison."

"Attorney general Eric Holder says thousands more inmates will soon be eligible for clemency," Bream provided the latest from the story. Correspondent Carl Cameron reported, "The Justice Department today announced new guidelines for non-violent drug offenders to apply for clemency from President Obama, and downplayed any risk."

Not just Fox News has reported the story, however. The Los Angeles Times said the administration's initiative "is expected to be a large-scale grant of clemency." Politico noted that the President "is preparing to make much broader use of his power to grant commutations." NPR's Politics blog noted the President will be given "far more latitude" to pardon or commute the sentences of the drug offenders.

Below is a transcript of the Fox segment:

FOX
SPECIAL REPORT
4/23/14
6:00 p.m. EDT

SHANNON BREAM: The nation's top cop today outlined a plan to get more people out of prison. Attorney general Eric Holder says thousands more inmates will soon be eligible for clemency.

The nation's top cop today outlined a plan to get more people out of prison. Attorney general Eric holder says thousands of inmates will soon be eligible for clemency. Chief political correspondent Carl Cameron tells us tonight, while the President characterizes this as righting a wrong, some see a more cynical motivation.

(Video Clip)

CARL CAMERON: Thousands of federal inmates may soon be free. The Justice Department today announced new guidelines for non-violent drug offenders to apply for clemency from President Obama, and downplayed any risk.

JAMES COLE, deputy attorney general: This clemency initiative should not be understood to minimize the seriousness of our federal criminal law, and is designed first and foremost with public safety in mind.

CAMERON: Convicts have to meet six requirements. They must be serving a sentence under old law that is greater than required under current law. Convicted of nonviolent crimes without links to organized rhyme. Have served at least ten years, have no other significant criminal history, good prison records, and no history of violence.

Out of the 216,000 inmates in the crowded federal prison system, half were drug offenders in 2010. That year, Congress passed and the President signed the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act, reducing the disparity between sentences for crack and powder cocaine. This year the new Smarter Sentencing Act with additional reforms has 11 GOP House sponsors and at least 4 Republicans in the Senate who support at least in concept sentencing reform. Tea Party favorites Rand Paul and Ted Cruz who are both gearing up for presidential runs, and Mike Lee of Utah and Jeff Flake of Arizona. Since Congress was already reforming criminal drug sentencing with bipartisan support, conservatives think the President is grandstanding with his executive orders to score political points and energize the political left in an election year that is favoring the GOP.

THOMAS DUPREE, former deputy assistant attorney general: He's aware mid-terms are coming up. This is a potent political issue for him, and it's a way to amp up his base.

CAMERON: Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder went so far as to say felons should no longer be barred from voting, and urged Congressional Democrats to repeal existing laws. During the 2012 campaign battles with Mitt Romney, Mr. Obama used his executive power to unilaterally let illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as kids, the so-called "Dreamers," stay without fear of deportation. The President was a blatant pander to Latino voters back then. Now it's a message to the liberal base in general.

DUPREE:  By making these sorts of executive orders, either on the immigration front or here on the sentencing front, he's sending a signal to his supporters that he's prepared to take executive action unilaterally to accomplish the same thing.

(End Video Clip)

CAMERON: Some Democrats are still less than thrilled. Clemency is always controversial, and could really complicate their already-difficult election year, and they've got to be worried that god forbid, a convict gets out and commits another crime. Which, of course, has been known to happen, Shannon.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014