Clemency

The Press and the White House Gild Obama's Clemency Lily

Obama has not issued more pardons and commutations than any other president or the most in a single day.

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The recent surge in commutations granted by President Obama is impressive, especially compared with the number he issued prior to last year. Obama's annual commutation average was 0.25 during his first term and less than four during the first six years of his administration. By contrast, he has shortened 1,155 sentences since January 2015, an average of about 578 per year. He also looks a lot more merciful than his four most recent predecessors, whether measured by total commutations or percentage of petitions granted. But The New York Times got a little carried away in covering this week's clemency actions, which included 78 pardons and 153 commutations.

The Times called Obama's total of 1,324 pardons (which clear people's records, typically years after they have completed their sentences) and commutations (which let prisoners go free early) "by far the largest use of the presidential power to show mercy in the nation's history." As clemency expert P.S. Ruckman Jr. pointed out on his blog, that was clearly wrong. Several presidents have issued more than 1,324 pardons and commuations, including Harry Truman (2,031), FDR (3,307), Calvin Coolidge (1,546), and Woodrow Wilson (2,453).

Office of the Pardon Attorney

The Times also falsely suggested that there's nothing unusual about the dramatic backloading of Obama's clemency actions, saying "most presidents—including Mr. Obama—have waited until the end of their presidencies before issuing pardons and making grants of commutation." In fact, Ruckman noted, "most presidents have granted clemency early in their administration and continued to do so every month of the term." Obama, by contrast, has had many months and two entire years with no clemency grants at all. So far he has issued 94 percent of his pardons and commutations in the last two years of his presidency and 81 percent in his last year. Ruckman notes that the number of clemency actions this year is about 1,300 percent higher than the average for the previous three years, compared to an average fourth-year surge of 73 percent for all other presidential terms.

Today the Times corrected these mistakes and added this note to the bottom of its story:

An article on Tuesday about pardons issued by President Obama erroneously attributed a distinction to his use of clemency during his two terms. His decision to pardon or commute the sentences of a total of 1,324 people is one of the largest uses of clemency by a president—not "by far the largest." (Several presidents exceeded that number when both pardons and commutations were counted.) The article also referred incorrectly to the timing of presidential pardons and commutations. Clemency has often been granted throughout presidential terms, not solely at the end of those terms.

The White House itself seems to have misrepresented Obama's clemency record by claiming that the 231 pardons and commutations issued on Monday were "the most individual acts of clemency granted in a single day by any president in this nation's history." That assertion was repeated in many news reports. But as one of Ruckman's readers pointed out, Truman pardoned "1,523 specifically named persons"—all "convicted of violating the Selective Training and Service Act"—on December 23, 1947.

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  1. Maybe the fawning press could pivot to criminal justice reform.

    1. But then how would their chosen one of the hour be so magnanimous and wise in the future?

  2. The New York Times printing Fake News!!!!!!

    I am shocked, shocked I am.

    Looks like the 8 floors of its building its renting out contain the fact checkers

  3. I’ll give the guy credit for this, but it’s too little too late. He is still the worst president in history. I guess Hillary could have fixed that for him. Too bad for him.

    1. I dunno about that. I don’t like the guy, but Wilson was pretty fucking horrible. Unrepentant racist, WWI enabler, general fuckstick.

      1. What’s FDR, chopped liver?!

        1. And don’t forget Johnson. He’s definitely in the running, as well.

      2. Agreed. Wilson is in a class of his own. President Obama isn’t the worst president ever. He just makes President Bush look slightly better. Both men were below average, though.

        1. Fuck off. Bush was a disaster. Obama was just pretty bad.

  4. The White House itself seems to have misrepresented Obama’s clemency record by claiming that the 231 pardons and commutations issued on Monday were “the most individual acts of clemency granted in a single day by any president in this nation’s history.” That assertion was repeated in many news reports.

    The White House is the largest source of Fake News.

  5. Just more proof… we must have a system of laws for blocking fake news!!!!

    1. Or maybe, just maybe, journalists could stop ripping press releases and rewriting them as news stories. And maybe, just maybe, they could start doing actual reporting before they publish a story. But if the New York Times isn’t capable of having editors in place to make sure proper reporting is happening, I’m not sure I have much hope for the industry as a whole.

      1. Journalism is *hard*!

        /Fake News Barbie

      2. This whole idea of taking a press release and slapping your byline on it has been rampant in science reporting for a couple of decades. (with the twist there being that the part that the reporter adds is usually sensationalistic and wrong.) For a long time (at least since the late 80’s) the political reporting version of this was to get the DNC or RNC talking points and incorporate them into your own article. But now they have devolved to simply putting a wrapper on the press release.

        It really is a sad thing that journalism is largely a thing of the past.

        1. Cyto, they’ve revolutionaized journalism by crowdsourcing editing and fact-checking!

          1. Leaving fact checking to the readers is part of the”sharing economy”. Who doesn’t like sharing?

            1. “You can make up your own mind!”

  6. Obama, by contrast, has had many months and two entire years with no clemency grants at all. So far he has issued 94 percent of his pardons and commutations in the last two years of his presidency and 81 percent in his last year.

    What’s the rush? It’s not like they were going anywhere.

  7. Didn’t Jimmah Carter start off his term by issuing a blanket pardon to all the Vietnam War draft dodgers? There were quite a few of those as I recall.

    1. That still only counts as one.

  8. Personnel shakeup for the democrats:

    “Critics, including some within the party, say the party has become dominated by East and West coast elites who can’t connect with working class folks in the country’s interior.”

    So who’s the best person to deal with this disconnect? If you answered iconic NYC liberal elite icon “Schumer”, give yourself a gold star!

    http://www.foxnews.com/politic…..-rout.html

  9. “WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This is down eight percentage points from last year.”

    Gallup

    “Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low”

    September 16, 2016

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/195…..w-low.aspx

    The decline seems to have started circa 2004 after the invasion of Iraq, but it fell from 47% to 32% over the course of the Obama presidency.

    One of the reasons Trump supporters disregarded media reports of Trump’s sexual . . . um . . . imbroglios is surely because they don’t trust the press, but with only 32% of Americans saying they trust the media, that distrust goes far beyond Trump supporters.

    One of the reasons so many people distrust the press is because the press is full of crap.

    They have the Overton window all backwards in their minds or something. Policies and politicians may be limited by what is considered politically acceptable, but what is considered politically acceptable is not determined by the media.

    When they hype Obama, it doesn’t change much. Obama’s approval rating averaged 48% over the course of his presidency. The only thing hyping Obama seems to have changed is the credibility of the press.

  10. Christ, what an asshole.

  11. “The press and the White House guild Obama’s clemency lily”

    These euphemisms are getting pretentious

  12. Today the Times corrected these mistakes and added this note to the bottom of its story:

    its becoming standard practice to “Run the claim as the headline” and bury any caveats in the story….

    i’ll bet by this time next year, it will have evolved into “make easily-disprovable-claims in the headline”…. and run the corrections the following day, after the story has already made the twitter-rounds and become ‘established fact’.

  13. by far the largest use of the presidential power to show mercy in the nation’s history.

    Gerald R. Ford was in office less than a third of the time of Obama and had more pardons and commutations yet the NYT sees now as the time to try to put a high shine on the colossal turd that is Obama’s legacy. I wonder how the murder-droned children in the Mideast feel about Obama’s merciful nature?

  14. “pardons (which clear people’s records, typically years after they have completed their sentences) and commutations (which let prisoners go free early)”

    Here’s the relevant language from the Constitution: “The President . . . shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

    So a reduction of sentence is either a pardon or a reprieve (I’ve seen “experts” explain it both ways) – so in either case, why not use the constitutional language?

    1. I’m partial to the term “partial pardon” which Black’s Law Dictionary uses for commutations.

  15. This is all about nothing. How many pardons/clemencies a president issues in one day is a totally meaningless number. The total number obviously means something, but beyond that I’d be more interested in the distribution over their whole term than per day, and the latter is a terrible, terrible proxy for the former. I don’t know enough about statistics to know when a correlation is considered meaningful or not, but my money, in this case, would be on not. And I’d think, to whatever extent distribution matters, which isn’t much, that consistency would be preferable. This back loading kind of screams that its just about politics.

  16. This administration has an out-sized image of itself because they have been so “transformational” – though I doubt they realize (yet) what form that transformation has taken, because they refuse to acknowledge the degree of the shift to the GOP that has occurred in the country-at-large. It is one of the problems of living in a bubble of your own creation.

  17. It is only fake news when the Time says it is so. Otherwise it is not news that is fit to print.

  18. Gild the lily? Eh?

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