Is the mainstream media on Rick Perry's side?
Gov. Rick Perry makes a statement in Austin, Texas on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 concerning the indictment on charges of coercion of a public servant and abuse of his official capacity. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)
It was no big shock Monday when the conservative editorial board of the Wall Street Journal dismissed the indictment against the Texas Republican governor as prosecuting political differences. But what may be more surprising is that the liberal editorial boards of both the New York Times and the Washington Post shared the view Tuesday.
At least as far as legacy media goes, these are the three most influential editorial pages unusually speaking with one mind on the legal troubles of a political figure who can be polarizing.
The New York Times called Perry “one of the least thoughtful and most damaging state leaders in America, having done great harm to immigrants, abortion clinics and people without health insurance during his 14 years in office.”
But with that preface, the newspaper continued: “But bad political judgment is not necessarily a felony, and the indictment handed up against him on Friday — given the facts so far — appears to be the product of an overzealous prosecution.”
A Travis County Texas grand jury indicted Perry on two felony counts of abuse of power and coercion of a public official after Perry first threatened, then made good on his threat, to veto $7.5 million in state funding to the Public Integrity Unit headed by Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. Lehmberg was arrested for driving with a blood alcohol level of more than three times the legal limit and afterward became violent with the police and had to be restrained. She was sentenced to 45 days in jail. Perry said he would veto funding for the unit if Lehmberg didn't resign, which she did not. Perry said he was standing up for the rule of law and would cast the same veto again.
“Mr. Perry should have left the matter to the courts, where both a criminal and a civil attempt to have her removed failed, or to the voters,” the Times editorial said. “But his ill-advised veto still doesn’t seem to rise to the level of a criminal act.”
The Washington Post editorial likewise criticized Perry for opposing Medicaid expansion and his handling of immigration, but also pointed out that Lehmberg's office was investigating alleged diversion of state cancer research funds to Perry's political allies.
“Many people would find it reasonable to pursue the ouster of such a person from such a position,” the Post editorial said. “When Ms. Lehmberg refused to go, Mr. Perry carried out his veto.”
“What everyone should recognize is that this particular kerfuffle fell within the bounds of partisan politics, which, as the saying goes, ain’t beanbag,” the Post continued. “The grand jury, however, would criminalize Mr. Perry’s conduct by twisting the pertinent statutes into a pair of pretzels.”
Perry, in his third term, is not up for re-election in Texas, but has been sounding like a potential candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.
The Wall Street Journal editorial Monday said Perry was indicted for the “high crime of exercising his constitutional right to free speech and his legal power to veto legislation.”
“Usually when prosecutors want to use the criminal statutes to cripple a political opponent, they come up with at least some claims of personal or political venality,” the Journal said. “In this case the D.A.'s office is trying to criminalize the normal process of constitutional government. … Even if Mr. Perry was motivated by political animus toward the public-integrity unit, which has a history of politicized prosecutions, so what? A Texas Governor under the state Constitution has wide veto power. The legislature lacked the votes to override the veto.”
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