ABC investigative reporter Brian Ross on Wednesday continued his habit of offering up critical takes on Republican front-runners and ignoring Democratic scandals. So far this year, the correspondent has featured four hard-hitting segments on GOP candidates and only one on a Democrat.
During a piece on "Good Morning America," Ross investigated a developing story of whether then-Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee used his influence to secure the release of a convicted rapist who went on murder two women. The story has received major play on the left-wing blog site Huffington Post, a point Ross mentioned, but he left out any attribution of the web page's very liberal leanings.
So far in 2007, according to a Nexis search, "Brian Ross Investigates" has looked into Fred Thompson twice and once for Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. In other words, four tough queries on 2008 Republicans and only one for a Democrat. He has, for instance, done no stories on Clinton's hiring of document thief Sandy Berger.
Ross opened the segment with what has become a trademark, a sneering, sarcastic tone that is common for his reports on Republicans. Raising the issue of hypocrisy, he began, "Mike Huckabee has told Republicans he's tough on crime, not afraid to order the death penalty as governor of Arkansas." Ross then recounted details of the case that would question this concept.
On October 9, 2007, the day of Fred Thompson's first presidential debate, Ross used the same over-the-top tone to attack Thompson for his work 34 years ago on the Watergate hearings. He asserted, "...A much different, less valiant picture of Thompson emerges from listening to the White House audiotapes made at the time as President Nixon plotted strategy with his aides in the Oval Office."
On November 5, 2007, for ABC's "World News," Ross looked into the criminal past of a Thompson advisor. The journalist took this snide swipe at the former senator's relationship with the man, Phil Martin, and how Thompson has been "traveling in style":
Fred Thompson has been traveling in style during this campaign on a Cessna Citation Five private jet, owned by close adviser and long-time friend Phil Martin, the tall man in the gray jacket.
For an October 23 story on Rudy Giuliani and his connection to an alleged pedophile priest, GMA co-host Diane Sawyer introduced a Ross piece by noting that the former mayor has been "dogged by questions about his past," The investigative reporter then noted that some of the accusers want to know "why Giuliani is defending and protecting" the man accused of sexually abusing teenage boys.
In comparison, Ross's lone investigative look into a Democrat, Senator Hillary Clinton and her relationship to fugitive liberal fund-raiser Norman Hsu, contained little flowery language. At the conclusion of the August 31, 2007 "World News" piece, however, he did note that Barack Obama also received money from Hsu and that "as the candidates shake the trees for money, there will no doubt be even more bad apples to fall before the campaign is over." But that seems to condemn everyone and, in general, Ross mostly stuck to reporting the facts of the case and certainly never suggested that "a much different, less valiant picture" of Clinton was emerging.
National Review is reporting that some of the information in the Huffington Post piece has come under fire.
A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:13am on December 5, follows:
DIANE SAWYER: And the hot candidate in the spotlight. What did former Governor Huckabee do that has a grieving family saying they paid the price? A Brian Ross investigation.
ROBIN ROBERTS: Now to the race to '08. As you heard in the newscast, the latest polls show former Governor Mike Huckabee surging in Iowa, not so much in New Hampshire. And now, a controversy from Huckabee's past could throw a new road block in to his path to the Oval Office. ABC's chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross joins us and has been following this. Good morning, Brian.
BRIAN ROSS: Good morning, Robin. Mike Huckabee has told Republicans he's tough on crime, not afraid to order the death penalty as governor of Arkansas. But new details are emerging this morning about his role in pushing for the release of a convicted rapist, who then went on to rape and murder two more women. Ashley Stevens was a 17-year-old high school cheerleader in Forest City, Arkansas, when she was raped at gunpoint.
ASHLEY STEVENS (Rape victim): Broad daylight. For about an hour.
ROSS: Her attacker, Wayne Dumond, was caught, convicted and sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years to Ashley's great relief.
STEVENS: That way he wouldn't come after me again. 'Cause he told me if I ever told anyone, he would come back and kill me.
ROSS: But the fact he was going to prison forever was, for you, a sense of security? Until then-Governor Mike Huckabee began to push for Dumond to be free, a controversial move that Huckabee is now trying to play down, claiming as he did Tuesday in Iowa that he was not involved in the parole board's decision.
HUCKABEE: Someone brought up his case. Frankly, it was simply a part of a broader discussion. I did not ask them to do anything.
ROSS: But Huckabee's account is being strongly contradicted in Arkansas. Huckabee made a rare personal appeal to the parole board on behalf of Dumond, according to former parole board member Charles Chastain.
CHARLES CHASTAIN PHD (University of Arkansas, Little Rock): He said, "Well, the case I wanted to talk to you about is Wayne Dumond." He went on to say, that "I think this is the guy who maybe grew up on the wrong side of the track and may have gotten a raw deal."
ROSS: Ashley Stevens even went to the governor's office to personally plead her case to Huckabee face-to-face.
STEVENS: And I said, "This is how close I was to Wayne Dumond." I said, "I will never forget his face. I said. And you will never forget mine." I said, "He's the one that raped me."
ROSS: Fellow ministers lobbied Huckabee for Dumond's release. And it was widely known in Arkansas that Ashley Stevens was a distant relative of Governor Bill Clinton and some Republicans in the state felt her attacker had been singled out for overly harsh treatment and should be free.
CHASTAIN: Immediately, all the other board members who voted on that case decided a apparently that if the governor wants it, he gets it.
ROSS: Shortly after the man was freed, he moved to Missouri where he raped and murdered two women, including Carol Ann Shields, the mother of a teenage boy. Her family now blames Huckabee.
LOIS DAVIDSON (Mother of murder victim): And I can't imagine anybody wanting somebody like that running our country. 'Cause he could make bigger mistakes than that.
STEVENS: I just felt like it was my fault -- because I just tried to do everything I could to keep him in jail because I knew that was going to happen. I felt so sorry for those families.
ROSS: Huckabee says he had no way to know the freed convict would rape again, but the website Huffington Post has obtained these letters written to Huckabee by at least two other women who also reported to him they were raped. After first denying these letters were genuine yesterday, a spokesman for the governor last night confirmed to us that at least one of them was received by the governor's office but he went ahead anyway.
ROBERTS: All right, Brian. Thanks very much.
SAWYER: Gonna hear about that story all day today, that's for sure.