FOX News host Sean Hannity and conservative radio host Laura Ingraham repeated the false claim that it was former Vice President Al Gore, and not Republicans, who first used Willie Horton -- an African American convict who assaulted a man and raped his fiancée after escaping a furlough from prison in Massachusetts -- against then-Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. In fact, although Gore did ask Dukakis about the Massachusetts system of furloughs for convicted criminals, Gore never mentioned Horton, his race or his crime.
On the February 15 edition of FOX News' Hannity & Colmes, Democratic strategist and Gore-Liebermann '00 spokesperson Kiki McLean referenced a campaign ad featuring Horton as an example of Republicans playing the race card. Ingraham replied that the ad "was Al Gore's idea," and Hannity asserted that "Al Gore brought up Willie Horton in the first -- in the [Democratic] primary."
In fact, as Media Matters for America has documented, although Gore did ask Dukakis about "weekend passes for convicted criminals" during a 1988 Democratic primary debate, "Gore never mentioned that Horton was black; indeed, he never mentioned Horton by name," as Slate.com "Chatterbox" columnist Timothy Noah noted on November 1, 1999. Further, as Daily Howler editor Bob Somerby has documented, Gore never mentioned Horton's crime but specifically mentioned two other criminals who committed murder after escaping from their prison furlough.
It was the Bush-Quayle '88 campaign that first used the Horton case against Dukakis. After winning the Republican presidential nomination, George H.W. Bush frequently invoked Horton on the campaign trail to portray then-Massachusetts Governor Dukakis as soft on crime. As Newsweek reported in October 1988, Lee Atwater, Bush's campaign manager said, "By the time this election is over, Willie Horton will be a household name." The Americans for Bush arm of the National Security Political Action Committee used Horton in an anti-Dukakis attack ad that drew particular attention to Horton's race.