CAMPAIGN ’88 : Dukakis-Crime Issue Surfaces in Magazine


Vice President George Bush’s presidential campaign strategists are privately thanking the Reader’s Digest for aiding their effort to tag Bush’s anticipated Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, as soft on crime.

“Getting Away With Murder,” an article in the pocket magazine’s July issue, focuses on the case of Willie Horton, a convicted murderer in Massachusetts who was serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. While out of prison on furlough last year, under a controversial release system Dukakis had defended, Horton broke into a young Maryland couple’s home, raped the woman and stabbed her husband.

“I have never seen an issue take on a life of its own like this issue,” Bush campaign manager Lee Atwater said of the furor over the Horton case and Dukakis’ role.


Bush’s advisers are counting on the magazine’s massive readership among middle-class Americans--just the kind of voters the GOP is trying to convince of Dukakis’ congenital liberal leanings--to feed the fires of controversy. To help things along, they distributed reprints of the seven-page article by Robert James Bidinotto to 700 Bush partisans at a party unity conference in Atlanta, where Dukakis was relentlessly attacked as an old-fashioned Democrat of the left trying to masquerade as a man of the center.

Dukakis did not originate the prisoner furlough system; his Republican predecessor, Gov. Francis Sargent, did. The article says, however, that Dukakis as governor strongly resisted efforts to restrict furloughs for prisoners serving life sentences without parole.

Last March, in the face of a public outcry and with his presidential campaign well under way, Dukakis reluctantly signed a bill to prohibit furloughs for first-degree murderers.