In an attempt to defend the Republican Party against a charge of race-baiting, FOX News Channel host Sean Hannity falsely claimed that former Vice President "Al Gore brought Willie Horton to the American people." Hannity's comment came on the November 9 edition of Hannity & Colmes, after a guest, Princeton University professor Cornel West, named Horton, who is black, as an example of the GOP's political exploitation of race.
In 1987, Horton assaulted a man and raped his fiancée after escaping a furlough from prison in Massachusetts. In 1988, then-presidential candidate George H.W. Bush invoked Horton on the campaign trail to portray then-Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis as soft on crime. The Americans for Bush arm of the National Security Political Action Committee also used Horton in an anti-Dukakis attack ad that drew particular attention to Horton's race. The ad was produced by Larry McCarthy, a former employee of then-Bush campaign media consultant and current FOX News Channel President Roger Ailes.
Hannity's claim that it was Gore, and not the Bush-Quayle '88 campaign, who engaged in race-baiting by using the Horton case against Dukakis is false. During a 1988 Democratic primary debate, Gore did ask Dukakis about "weekend passes for convicted criminals." But as Slate "Chatterbox" columnist Timothy Noah noted on November 1, 1999, "Gore never mentioned that Horton was black; indeed, he never mentioned Horton by name."
Moreover, as Daily Howler editor Bob Somerby noted (in documenting a prior instance of Hannity making the same erroneous Horton claim on November 1, 2002), in questioning Dukakis's tacit support of the Massachusetts furlough program, Gore never mentioned Horton's crime. Instead, Gore specifically mentioned two criminals who committed murder after escaping from their prison furlough. Somerby also noted that besides never mentioning Horton, his race, or his crime, Gore also differed from the Bush-Quayle '88 campaign in that he "never ran any TV ads on the topic; and never used any visuals."