Retroactive rehabilitation

Like most every reporter these days, I have a couple of tried-and-true online reference points that I consistently return to for that hard-to-find information. One of those is the Encyclopedia of Arkansas (encyclopediaofarkansas.net).

Run by the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Main Library the EoA has proved to be an exhaustive and trustworthy clearinghouse of all things Arkie. Most everything I've ever read there turned out to be spot on.

I say “most” because of a recent discovery.

Looking for a bit of biographical info on former governor Mike Huckabee, I recently turned to the EoA. After reading just a few paragraphs of their entry on him, however, I was taken aback. Over and over again, the entry seemed to gloss over most of the scandals that occurred during Huckabee's tenure as governor. Whenever the entry did mention scandal, it was in the sunniest terms — usually referring to Huckabee's troubles as “public relations” problems.

For example, on Huckabee moving into a triple-wide mobile home while the governor's mansion was being refurbished (a move that was criticized at the time as basically creating a months-long photo-op for his friend$ in the manufactured home industry): “While the mansion needed the upgrade, Huckabee received criticism from opponents and in the media for the cost of the renovation and for the triple-wide mobile home that was brought to the grounds for the family to live in during the remodeling. Critics said that by living in the mobile home, Huckabee was promoting a national stereotype of the state. Huckabee attempted to ease the situation by appearing on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and by eventually donating the mobile home to a sheriff's ranch for disadvantaged and troubled youth in Clark County.”

Or how about this passage: “While many of the state's governors have exercised their power to issue pardons and clemency, Huckabee received attention toward the end of his first term for several high-profile pardons and commuted sentences. In addition to political opponents and the press, some victim's rights groups also created unpleasant public relations situation (sic) for the governor's office.”

I'm assuming here that “unpleasant public relations situation” includes criticism of the role Huckabee played in the pardon and release of convicted rapist Wayne Dumond, who went on to rape and kill again after Huckabee pressured the parole board for his release (there is no EoA entry on Dumond, by the way).

And those are the two scandals that even get a passing mention. Others — the Target “wedding registry,” the misuse of the mansion fund and the state police plane, his flouting of the FOI, the crushing of computer hard drives in his waning days in office, and more — never even get on the table (by contrast the EoA entry for Huckabee's would-be opponent, Hillary Clinton — written by historian Nancy Hendricks at ASU — includes information on “Travelgate,” “Cattlegate,” “Billing-gate,” “Filegate,” “Monicagate,” “Whitewatergate,” the Vince Foster suicide, Clinton's failed attempt to establish a national health care system, the Starr investigation and Bill's impeachment).

The author of the entry on Huckabee is Dr. Trey Berry. At the time Berry wrote the Huckabee entry in 2004, he was a history professor at Ouachita Baptist University (he has since moved to UA Monticello). Reached by phone, Berry said that his employment at OBU had nothing to do with the content of the Huckabee entry he wrote for the EoA.

As you'll remember, Huckabee has considerable pull at OBU, having been on the board of trustees there since 1991. In 2005, the school announced that Huckabee would direct its new Center for Education and Public Policy at the Michael D. Huckabee School of Education — an appointment currently put on hold by Huck's presidential aspirations.

Berry said that, as a Democrat, he probably “erred on the side of caution” in recounting the scandals Huckabee weathered during his time in office, thinking that some might otherwise consider the entry a hit piece due to his political affiliation. He said that he will likely revisit and revise it in the future, with an eye toward recounting more of Huckabee's trials and tribulations.

While Berry's explanation seems wholly genuine, it's easy to see why some might smell a rat. Back in August, the Associated Press reported that in November 2005 someone using a state computer had — among other things — edited the entry on Huckabee on the online encyclopedia wikipedia.com. Removed were references to Dumond and the state-owned airplane. In light of the wikipedia.com editing and Huck's crushing of the computer hard drives the EoA entry could easily be seen as something more sinister than a plain old puff piece. While Dr. Berry might well be innocent of malice, Huckabee has proved time and again that one of his core beliefs is, if you don't like how history turned out the first time, you can always rewrite it later. Two questions: Can you blame us for being suspicious? And: Is this really the guy some people want in charge of the NSA?



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