Governor snaps at Omaha newspaper for its own error

PRESSING: Gov. Dave Heineman takes a swipe at the Omaha newspaper over errors.

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. — The governor of Nebraska struck back Tuesday at the state’s largest newspaper, saying, in essence, they make mistakes too, in the wake of the paper’s series of blockbuster stories about miscalculated prison sentences.

The newspaper revealed in June that the state corrections system has been miscalculating some prison sentences since 1995, shorting the prison stints for some of the state’s most dangerous criminals — in defiance of state Supreme Court rulings in 2002 and 2013 that laid out how the sentences should be calculated.

On Sunday, the World-Herald reported that the governor and attorney general ignored another Supreme Court ruling while dealing with the debacle. The court ruled that prisoners who are released too early can get credit for time they were out, but only if they don’t commit new crimes.

Apparently tired of being hammered by the Omaha World-Herald week after week, Gov. Dave Heineman snapped back when asked by World-Herald reporter Paul Hammel about the prison miscalculations during a press conference on another topic. Heineman responded by holding up a copy of Tuesday’s World-Herald, where a story about his new lieutenant governor incorrectly said he would serve for the next 93 days. It should have said 100 days.

Heineman pointed out the newspaper’s error in calculating Lt. Gov. John Nelson’s term to the end of the calendar year, when in fact he will serve until the first Tuesday after the new year begins. He said even a second-grader could get that right, questioned how many editors missed the error and expressed doubt that the newspaper would write a front-page story explaining the mistake.

“Everyone makes mistakes, even the Omaha World-Herald,” he said sternly.

Hammel, who did not write the story in question, responded on Twitter saying so far no assaults or new crimes have resulted from the paper’s error “unlike the 135 by inmates.”

The newspaper’s reports prompted state officials to add more than 2,000 years to the sentences of 550 inmates, round up some 20 inmates and haul them back to prison, discipline several corrections employees (including two who retired before they could be fired) and launch criminal and personnel investigations. It also has prompted a special investigatory legislative committee to hold hearings on the matter.

This is the second time this week the governor has taken on the media in the waning days of his 10 years at the helm of state government. On Monday, when asked about having three lieutenant governors during his tenure (the previous two resigned amid controversies), he shot back that the Lincoln Journal Star has had three publishers during that same time.

“The Journal Star’s had three publishers since I’ve been governor … just to put it in perspective,” he said.

Actually, the paper has had four publishers in that time, but who’s counting?

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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