NY Times Eagerly Jumped on Gov. Perry's 'Stunning Rebuke,' But Turned Sour After Case Dismissed

When you're a Republican running for president, it's phony charge on the front page of the New York Times, but vindication on Page 11. Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who was smeared with trumped-up charges of abuse of power by Democrats in Texas while running for the Republican presidential nomination, was finally vindicated on Wednesday, as the last of the phony charges were dismissed: “Texas Court Dismisses Case That Dogged Perry’s Presidential Campaign.” It was the top story in the paper’s National section Thursday, on Page 11. When the partisan charges were first filed in 2014, it made the front page, with Times' reporters excitedly reciting details of the "stunning rebuke" of Perry and his presidential hopes.

Fernandez seemed reluctant to remove Perry from the hook in his Thursday report.

The highest criminal court in Texas dismissed a case against former Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, apparently ending the long-running abuse-of-power accusations that dogged Mr. Perry during his failed run for the Republican nomination for president. In its ruling, the court tossed the one remaining charge against Mr. Perry and upheld the previous dismissal of a second charge by a lower court.

A grand jury in Travis County indicted Mr. Perry in 2014, charging him with abusing his power while in office in 2013 when he pressured the district attorney in Austin to step down by threatening to cut off state financing to the anticorruption unit in her office. He became the first Texas governor in nearly 100 years to face criminal charges.

After admitting that the case “appeared to sour his efforts to attract donors and break into the top tier of candidates in the crowded Republican race for president,” Fernandez gave most of the time to unsubstantiated liberal complaints about the dismissal of charges.

The case against Mr. Perry began when a nonprofit government watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice, filed a complaint accusing the governor of misdemeanor and felony offenses over his veto threat. A Republican judge appointed a special prosecutor -- Michael McCrum, a San Antonio lawyer and former federal prosecutor -- and a grand jury began hearing the case.

Mr. Perry’s critics said they saw a different form of politics at play in the dismissal of the case. There are nine judges, all but one Republicans, on the Court of Criminal Appeals. One recused himself from the case. The ruling was 6 to 2, with only Republicans among the majority. Only one of those who ruled for Mr. Perry was appointed by him, Judge Elsa Alcala. “A highly partisan court has handed Rick Perry a gift,” said Craig McDonald, the director and founder of Texans for Public Justice.

Mr. Perry approached the case with a swagger, turning his booking session in Austin into a pep rally. Afterward, he went out for frozen custard with his legal team, and over the coming months enjoyed the support of Republican leaders and a bipartisan group of lawyers who filed an amicus brief. Those lawyers, including Alan Dershowitz, called the charges unconstitutional.

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Mr. Perry appeared to take a swipe at both Texans for Public Justice and the special prosecutor, telling reporters that those who pursued the charges should be held accountable, although he did not mention anyone by name.

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Mr. McCrum said he did not have any immediate plans to appeal the ruling. He said that the six judges gave Mr. Perry special consideration and based their decision on what he described as assumptions instead of facts. “Six members on this court did back flips and created new hoops to jump through, and did everything possible, to give Rick Perry an out on this whole situation,” he said.

At the time it was big news, with the Times refusing then-Gov. Perry the benefit of the doubt and placing it on the front page of the August 16, 2014 edition, a story also penned by Manny Fernandez: "Texas Governor Indicted in Case Alleging Abuses --Vetoing a Foe's Funding -- Charges Against Perry Interrupt Presidential Ambitions." The politically motivated indictment was a "major roadblock" and a "stunning rebuke" that "threaten[s] to tarnish his legacy," and noted “The indictment could mar the legacy of Mr. Perry.”

Even many liberals and Democrats found it overzealous on the part of Texas Democrats, but the Times’ news pages tried its best to pump the story back to life.

On August 28, 2014 the Times’ David Montgomery tried to keep the politicized hit job alive, insisting the dubious partisan indictment had merit, with a "complicated back story" and "deep roots.”

And some in Texas say the most important political context was the animus Mr. Perry harbored toward the district attorney’s office that, the prosecution alleges, led him to jump on a drunken-driving arrest to improperly attempt to force Ms. Lehmberg from office. The special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, a former assistant United States attorney during the George Bush administration, told reporters last week that he had a sound case against Mr. Perry.

Montgomery used the classic evasion, "some say," to put forward liberal arguments:

And some in Texas say the most important political context was the animus Mr. Perry harbored toward the district attorney’s office that, the prosecution alleges, led him to jump on a drunken-driving arrest to improperly attempt to force Ms. Lehmberg from office....Some speculated that Mr. Perry may have entertained other motives, including the opportunities to hinder a troublesome agency and, if Ms. Lehmberg resigned, to appoint a Republican to an office traditionally occupied by Democrats.

Clay Waters
Clay Waters
Clay Waters was director of Times Watch, a former project of the Media Research Center.