Donaldson Blames Reagan for Furlough Program That Released Willie Horton

December 3rd, 2018 7:30 AM

Appearing as a guest on Sunday's Reliable Sources on CNN, former longtime ABC News reporter Sam Donaldson misleadingly tried to tie Ronald Reagan to the Massachusetts prison furlough program supported by Michael Dukakis which allowed convicted murderer Willie Horton to escape prison and attack others.

But Donaldson did not inform viewers that the Massachusetts program was unusually liberal compared to other states and that it allowed murderers serving life prison sentences to have time out of prison before their parole release dates had even been set.

After beginning the show by having a mostly positive discussion about former President George H.W. Bush, the panel shifted to criticism of the former President over his attacks on 1988 Democratic candidate Dukakis for supporting a furlough program that allowed Horton to go free. Host Brian Stelter posed:



Sam, was it really a kinder, gentler time the way it's sometimes recalled? I mean, think about 1988, the Bush campaign, Lee Atwater was the campaign manager. Roger Ailes was a media consultant. This famous Willie Horton ad that supported the Bush campaign tore down Dukakis.

Pretty ugly kind of campaigning, and yet it seems H.W. Bush really separated campaigning from governing and saw a big difference between the two. But was it really a kinder, gentler time?

Donaldson lamented:

I think the Ailes-Atwater combination in 1988 took politics to a terrible level that it had not been before. Politics has always been at a terrible level in many respects, but they took it farther. Willie Horton -- I've interviewed Willie Horton after the election in the prison where he resides in Baltimore in the state penitentiary in Maryland.

He then added:

Lee Atwater said to reporters, 'I'm going to make Willie Horton the most famous black man in America,' because he'd been released on a weekend -- he raped a woman in Maryland and savaged her boyfriend, and they blamed Governor Dukakis's program.

Notably, a Google search shows no sign other than Donaldson's recollection that Atwater made such a statement about making Horton "the most famous black man."

Donaldson then tried to provide cover for Dukakis's liberal views on crime as he continued:

Of course it was a program brought to Massachsetts by a Republican governor who took it from another Republican governor who was the first one in the nation to have a weekend release program. That man's name is Ronald Reagan.

Not only did the veteran journalist not note any differences between the Reagan-supported program in California and the one in Massachusetts, he also did not mention reports that Dukakis had resisted making the program more strict even if he was not the one who initially started it, thus making him have some responsibility for the flawed way that it operated.