The Ad That Ushered In An Era Of Tough-On-Crime Politics

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In 1987, the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune newspaper in Massachusetts wrote this about a local criminal case: "The question everyone wants answered is how a cold-blooded murderer ever got out in the first place."

One year later, the entire nation was asking the same question because of this 30-second television ad (above).

The Willie Horton "Weekend Passes" ad upended the 1988 presidential race. Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis had a 17-point lead over Vice President George H.W. Bush, before the ad aired.

But of course, Dukakis lost the race, and the ad shaped how politicians talked about crime for a generation - to the point where Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois says, "The ghost of Willie Horton has loomed over any conversation about sentencing reform for [almost] 30 years."

The nation is gearing up for another presidential election now, and the way candidates are talking about crime has dramatically changed. So, has the Horton ghost been purged from American politics?

Beth Schwartzapfel asks the question in her piece "Willie Horton Revisited," featured by the Marshall Project, a non-partisan news organization focusing on criminal justice, and she joins Here & Now's Meghna Chakrabarti with details.


This segment aired on May 22, 2015.


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