The Magazine

Pardon Me, Mr. President

In the realm of criminal justice, Clinton gets a free pass from the media

Aug 28, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 47 • By DEBRA J. SAUNDERS
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Serena Nunn and Shawndra Mills came closer to the Pofahl profile. But the question remains why Clinton granted House clemency, and why his press office misrepresented the reason for her and Orozco's release. After I called the White House for more information, Siewert left a voicemail: "It's essentially, these came to our attention. These are the ones that got to the president's desk."

The July commutations, notes Monica Pratt, were "an admission [by the White House] that there's a problem here." When George W. Bush admits a problem -- when he allowed for DNA testing in the Ricky McGinn case, for example (testing that would confirm McGinn's guilt) -- his critics respond by demanding still more leniency. When this administration admits a problem, the media become mute and barely notice that the White House is letting major dealers loose while women like Kemba Smith -- sentenced to 24 years after her drug kingpin boyfriend died -- languish behind bars. There has been no loud call for this administration to reexamine drug policies that too often defy fairness.

Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington noted, "There is a national movement to encourage Clinton to free hundreds, if not thousands, of people like Pofahl. It's called Jubilee Justice 2000." Yet Jubilee Justice 2000 is garnering a tiny fraction of the coverage bestowed on those who wanted Governor Bush to commute the sentence of convicted killer Gary Graham. Then again, talking about federal prosecutorial overkill won't help keep a Democrat in the White House.

Debra J. Saunders is a columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and the author of the book The World According to Gore.