Politico Headline: ‘Has Obama Set Loose A New Willie Horton?’

November 2, 2015 3:27 p.m.

Politico published an article on Monday about the release of thousands of federal prisoners that carried the provocative headline: “Has Obama set loose a new Willie Horton?”

Horton was featured in an infamous attack ad campaign that hurt Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential run against George H.W. Bush. The ad targeted Dukakis’ support of a weekend furlough program for prisoners. Horton, a convicted felon, committed another rape while on furlough.

The ad featured Horton’s mugshot with a voiceover that said Dukakis “allowed first degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison.” The ad was criticized for its racial overtones because Horton was black.

Politico’s article looked at the plan in which 6,000 inmates are set to be released:

Get TPM in your inbox, twice weekly.
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Reducing the prison population is a key part of Obama’s push for criminal justice reform in his last year as president. He sees it as a way to both repair broken communities and spare taxpayers the cost of housing low-level criminals. A bipartisan coalition in Congress is on board, too.

But the mass release set to be completed Monday will test the resolve of this new consensus heading into an election year. The infamous Willie Horton ad is on the minds of activists on both sides: They haven’t forgotten how the grainy, black-and-white mug shot of a bearded black man helped sink Michael Dukakis’s 1988 presidential campaign. As Massachusetts governor, “he allowed first degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison,” says a narrator, before describing how Horton kidnapped a couple and raped the woman while out on furlough.

The people released between Friday and Monday are not first degree murderers – they’re low-level drug offenders, and almost a third are immigrants just headed for a different type of pre-deportation detention — but opponents of sentencing reform are already looking for the next Horton.

But the headline and sparked some serious backlash on Twitter:

Read Politico’s full report.

Latest Livewire
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Director of Audience:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: