Brian Williams, Meet Cameron Todd Willingham

Pretty much everyone seems to have waken up this morning still aghast at the wild applause Rick Perry got last night for his boast about the number of people he has executed.

It is disgusting.

But Brian Williams, who otherwise did a decent job as moderator, failed miserably here. How do you ask this question and not mention Cameron Todd Willingham?

Not only did Governor Perry deny Willingham’s appeal for clemency even though an expert arson investigator had rebutted all the solid evidence in the case, Perry fired investigators who were about to provide Willingham’s innocence.

Perry killed an innocent man and then engaged in a cover-up to hide that fact. The story of Cameron Todd Willingham deserves to be a central issue in Perry’s campaign.

Yet Williams–even while he exposed Republicans as blood-thirsty kooks–failed to even mention Willingham’s name.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

33 replies
  1. radiofreewill says:

    Perry is Romney’s Hilary.

    And, since Williams couldn’t follow-up with the obvious on the execution topic – if Bachmann has any skill at all, then she’ll graciously pass the ‘idiot’ mantle to Perry and watch him sink into the darkness of heartless vacuous pride over killing an innocent man.

    That way, Michelle can jockey back into position as Romney’s Hilary.

  2. pdaly says:

    If Gov. Dukakis’ action of releasing Willie Horton early from jail was successfully used by opponents to hurt Dukakis’ run for President, then surely someone (Democrat or Republican) should be able to hang the murder by Texas Government of an innocent man around Perry’s neck.

  3. pdaly says:

    OT: Boston NPR radio station WBUR’s “OnPoint with Tom Ashbrook” show today 9/8/11 at 11am EDT will be discussing Top Secret America with Dana Priest and Glenn Greenwald, and folk musician Vance Gilbert.

    You can join the conversation. Call 1-800-423-8255 during the live broadcast or send in questions/comments live via Twitter or Facebook. Some questions/comments are read on the air by host Tom Ashbrook.

    For Twitter/Facebook links, see

  4. klynn says:

    Thanks for the post EW. Williams is not as astute as you. And our country is worse because of that fact.

    What a sad night the debate turned out to be.

  5. BoxTurtle says:

    @pdaly: Let me get this correct. You think that america in general is going to care that a poor man with a prison record was wrongly executed?

    Can you remember anytime that anyone lost office for executing an innocent man?

    But how many Gov’s have lost office for pardoning someone?

    Boxturtle (Political calculus is so simple sometimes)

  6. BoxTurtle says:

    @klynn: Makes me wonder if there’s somebody off camera signaling Williams when to drop a subject.

    Boxturtle (Thinks the goal was to boost Perry and dump Bachmann)

  7. pdaly says:


    Point taken, but if by ‘anyone’ you include Osama Bin Laden who killed ‘3,000 innocent people on 9/11’ then yes, killing innocents leads to loss of ‘office.’

  8. BoxTurtle says:

    @pdaly: Osama stayed in “office” after than longer than any American president except FDR.

    But I was intending to limit the question to the US political system.

    Were I a USA, I would charge Perry with voluntary manslaughter for that execution.

    Boxturtle (I’d be replaced at once, but I’d leave with my head held high)

  9. Surtt says:

    Obama has claimed the right to murder citizens without a trial and few have objected. I don’t see where the outrage is going to come on this. Bad times are ahead.

  10. klynn says:


    We were watching a PBS Frontline special last night, The Nature of Evil and Religion. The content was challenging and brought a great deal of dialogue into our home. Our daughter-of-klynn then heard the debate response replayed as you note above.

    She jumped right on how this debate moment could be added to the Frontline special. She asked many questions about eternity and how does God (for Christains) judge those in power. She asked, “If someone uses their power in multiple ways to deny an innocent person justice, is that not a systemic spiritual problem within that politician? If someone uses their power from a number of angles to kill an innocent person, does that fall into a state of unforgivable action because the first act of using political power would be forgiven but the other acts would be ‘cheap grace’? And if you then use your action of murder to further establish your political power (bragging about your execution rate) is that pretty much a full embrace of eternity in hell — if you are a Christain, which Perry claims to be? From the perspective of eternal opportunity would this not be a kind of a “had your chance and you muffed it,” spiritual moment for Perry? This is all the more reason to not listen to him or follow his lead. To cheer him is to embrace his walking further away from faith.”

    “Perhaps the heat and fires in Texas are just a primer for Perry’s eternal destination,” she quipped while noting what is going on in Texas is very serious and that it would not be her choice as a leader of a state to cut fire department budgets by 75%…

  11. rugger9 says:

    I would think it would make it into some ads, although Box Turtle is correct in how the RW Wurlitzer will play the response. After all, the GOP thinks some people are worth more than others, and Willingham wasn’t one of the ones worth looking at. As for Dukakis, any tools needed to bash D’s are fair game, even if the hypocrisy must be “managed” later. FWIW, it’s why Huckabee isn’t too keen to run, he’s got a “Horton” too, with more intervention on Huck’s part to free the perp.

    In the end, however, it will be lost $$$ for Texas that will cause changes, when it becomes known for hillbilly “justice” and people start canceling conventions and such. That’s why AZ is regretting SB1070 so much, as well as half-heartedly doing something about Arpaio.

    OT – the supermarket rag Globe [if I remember which one correctly, it’s all a blur y’know] says Arpaio is looking into the falsified birth certificate, so it must be time to recycle the birther stuff. Too bad I recycled all my BC Generator paper.

  12. klynn says:

    Another point about Perry…

    His calling SS a Ponzi is way out of line. Just finished hearing about this from a group of seniors out having coffee and talking politics.

    The group said Perry needs to get his Ponzi schemes straight.

    This group of seniors pointed out:

    The tax breaks for the wealthy are a Ponzi scheme against those on and paying into SS because their tax breaks are being paid for with our SS dollars. The second Ponzi scheme is to suggest to privatize SS. This means you have to hire a financial adviser to open a 401K, pay his fees and then the adviser cannot even guarantee that your $$$ will grow or even be safe and maintain no loss. With the fact that the leadership will not even regulate the banking and finance industry to protect seniors 401k’s, I think it is pretty clear, privatizing SS is a Ponzi scheme.

    SS is safe investing for seniors.

    Tax breaks for the wealthy = a Ponzi scheme on the nation.

    Privatization of SS paired with an unregulated financial sector = a Ponzi scheme on retirees and future retirees.

    Thank you very nice group of seniors in Columbus Ohio for your “coffee talk” and sharing your perspectives!

  13. Bill Michtom says:

    pdaly, since Osama was assassinated,fitting nicely into the US’s due-process-free “justice” system, you have absolutely no way of knowing that he was guilty of 9/11. He was already more guilty than the Nazis who WERE accorded due process.

  14. BoxTurtle says:

    @klynn: But would support Obama over Perry, given that Obama has already tried to cut SS and Medicare? By the time election rolls around, there will be no difference between Obama and the GOP nominee on SS & medicare.

    Boxturtle (it ain’t like there’s much difference now)

  15. thatvisionthing says:


    This is why you need Mike Gravel, or someone like him (is there–?) on stage with the other candidates. He’d go where moderators wouldn’t. Of course GE-NBC’s Chuck Todd disappeared him. But, oh, I still treasure his moments. Gravel calling out Hillary and Barack on their vote for (Hillary) or absence to vote on (Barack) the Iran authorization to use force bill, and Hillary laughing in response — priceless. Frost-Nixon? Gravel-Hillary.

  16. John Rogers says:


    Actually that’s not a bad point since there’s ample Federal authority under the Civil Rights Act of 1871 for going after state officials for acting under color or law or office to deprive individuals of rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

  17. klynn says:


    To the credit of the coffee talk group, they are no happier about O’s Super Congress and the SS policy “kill jobs” they are tasked with carrying out.

    I simply relayed the portion of their addressing the Perry Ponzi scheme commentary.

  18. BoxTurtle says:

    @klynn: If I were Obama, I’d be getting real nervious. If there’s no difference between him and the GOP nominee policy-wise, the voters will go with the GOP simply because they haven’t screwed up yet.

    Boxturtle (Bush? Bush who??)

  19. klynn says:


    It is quite mutual EW. We (the kids included) love you too. You have no idea how much you influence their perspectives and our family dialogue.

    Even if you are a Mich fan. ;)

    We share an appreciation for Zingermans and that is where our Ohio-Mich issue gets put to rest!

  20. BoxTurtle says:

    @klynn: Never heard of Zingermans. Went out to their web site. Started drooling. Boss came in on me and halfway through the dirty look he gives for shopping on company time he told me to mail him the URL and walked away.

    Boxturtle (not sure if I’m in trouble or not, but I know what to bribe with)

  21. thatvisionthing says:

    No mention of innocence-is-irrelevant-to-courts? One of the headlines on Democracy Now yesterday was:

    Georgia Sets New Execution Date for Troy Davis

    Georgia has scheduled an execution date for the death row prisoner Troy Davis, whose case has been taken up by death penalty opponents across the globe. Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of an off-duty white police officer. Since then, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony, and there is no physical evidence tying him to the crime scene. A judge has signed an order for Davis’s execution sometime between September 21 and September 28. It is the fourth time in as many years that Davis has been scheduled for execution. The U.S. Supreme Court turned down an appeal from Davis in March.

  22. Mary says:

    So, EW, did you ask for a comment from Ramesh Ponnuru?

    It was Bush’s creepiness over mocking the woman he was sending to her death that sealed my opinions of Bush, at a very non-political moment in my life.

  23. thatvisionthing says:

    Also, just wanted to say youtube did a better job of followup than Brian Williams did — after playing the embedded debate clip here, the related video that came up next was “Barry Scheck on Rick Perry Execution” — a clip from Ed Schultz show that exposes and refutes Perry and would have been wonderful for Williams to have questioned Perry with.

    Have to say, though, the Scheck video came up as next this morning, but it didn’t do that for me again just now. I had to go scrolling to get the link.

  24. Watt4Bob says:

    @klynn: A good friend once explained to me that there were sins-of-the-flesh, and sins-of-the-spirit.

    She told me the sins-of-the-flesh are to be expected of human beings, and can be forgiven, the sins-of-the-spirit are the ones that send us to hell.

    I’ve always been thankful for that conversation …

    …and I’ve always wondered why the nuns who first taught me about sin didn’t have as good an explanation.

  25. pdaly says:

    @Bill Michtom:
    “since Osama was assassinated,fitting nicely into the US’s due-process-free “justice” system, you have absolutely no way of knowing that he was guilty of 9/11.”

    True. The only way we “know” of his guilt –or death for that matter– is because the Government told us so. (although wrt guilt, at least someone believable such as Richard Clarke has said as much).

    IOIYAR is a curious thing. I marvel at the way Bush, Jr.’s abject failure on 9/11 was in no way a stumbling block in the subsequent grab for more power for a “Unitary Executive.” The Press and Congress belief it too, for they refused to announce ‘Bush lied us into war’ or even to shout the word ‘torture’ despite the fact that Bush put our troops in harm’s way and turned them into torturers.

  26. alinaustex says:

    Gov Perry is a very capable and aggressive retail politician .He could very well be the nominee for the GOP . Furthermore he is not to be trifled with in the general election -especially if the Obama economic recovery is still weak. And thatvisionthing @28 we see Mr Scheck down here in Austin about twice a year. As a ‘sidebar’ Mr Scheck has had a pretty good fan base in law enforcement . Not only does the Innocence Project exonerate wrongfully accused individuals- the new DNA methods that are used by Scheck’s outfit also clears cold cases by matching the perpetrators with unsolved crimes.

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