A strange, even disturbing, interview with Alabama Governor Bob Riley in today's Birmingham News.
The headline is "Riley Angered by Davis Remarks About GOP Plot: Governor Calls Claims in Siegelman case 'far-fetched'" The story is in the usual spot the News has picked out for stories attacking Jill Simpson's credibility. That's the lower right-hand corner of the front page, with an inflammatory headline, a misleading introduction, and a large amount of copy jumped inside where things usually peter out.
Some thoughts about this latest effort from "The Pravda of the South."
* Riley attacks U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) right off the bat. "When it gets to the point where he (Davis) says he believes that the governor of Alabama went to Washington, met with the Justice Department, convinced them to put resources into a conspiracy to get Don Siegelman, that is so far-fetched, that is so totally wrong that I'm disappointed that someone like Artur Davis could possibly believe that." Perhaps I missed something, but I don't recall Davis saying the words that Riley attributes to him. In fact, to its credit, the News gets a response from Davis, and he says he's never said those words.
* From here, the piece has the scent of damage control. The theme seems to be: "Little Rob's affidavit gamble didn't go over so well in Washington, so it's time to bring out Big Bob to attack Artur Davis." One gets the feeling that Big Bob can't believe Artur Davis had the temerity to produce phone-record evidence that contradicted the main point in Little Rob's affidavit.
* Big Bob evidently is so upset that his son got shown up on Washington's big stage that be comes off as irrational. He calls Davis' words at Tuesday's U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing "absurd." And then he says that he and Davis won't be pals any longer. "It's going to be hard for me to have the respect I have had for him . . . because now he is accusing me, he is accusing the governor of something that I think in his heart he knows never happened." Excuse me again, but I don't recall Artur Davis accusing Bob Riley of anything. Riley seems to have Davis and Jill Simpson mixed up.
* You have to admire Davis' ability to keep his cool in the face of such nutty statements. Davis points out that his statement about politics being used to destroy opponents was about Karl Rove, not Riley. "If the governor views that as a reference to him, I would ask the governor to look closely at the whole statement," Davis said.
* We've noted the tendency of Riley spokespeople to brush off questions about uncomfortable charges with words like "ridiculous," "ludicrous," and "absurd." Big Bob does the same thing in today's article, repeatedly using such language. Why? I suspect it's because those are what I call "show stopper" words. They are big, harsh, dismissive words that tend to cut off dialogue. And the last thing the Riley camp wants is dialogue on this issue. I kept wondering if News reporter Brett Blackledge was ever going to ask, "Governor, what is ridiculous or absurd about the information presented at Tuesday's hearing? What specifically do you find ridiculous and why?" Of course, that question never came from the paper's "Attack Chihuahua."
* The disturbing part comes when Riley seems to cast a thinly veiled threat Davis' way and uses the race card to do it. And in the process, Riley clearly insults the integrity of Alabama voters. "Riley said Davis risks damaging himself in the eyes of Alabama voters," Blackledge writes. Hmmm, so Bob Riley is concerned about Artur Davis' political future? And Alabama voters won't like it if a politician actually asks serious questions about the conduct of the Bush Justice Department? And Alabama voters are too stupid to notice that Justice Department officials are not turning over requested documents and Bush Administration officials are refusing to testify on the DOJ scandal? And what voters would Davis be losing credibility with? The reference clearly seems to be to white voters. Big Bob's message to Davis: "If you want to be Alabama governor someday, you'll shut up and be quiet. White Alabamians can't handle it if you unmask conservatives and show them who we really are. And if you upset white Alabamians, they will make a young black fellow like yourself pay."
* We can't finish our commentary without noting this amazing line from Blackledge. He writes: "The affidavits disputing Simpson's description of the phone call don't say the call didn't take place, only that Rob Riley and others don't remember talking to Simpson that day and that a conversation about Rove, Siegelman's prosecution and his concession never took place." AC (Attack Chihuahua) evidently thinks Alabamians are stupid, too. Rob Riley's affidavit clearly says: " . . . I do not believe a phone call occurred that involved Ms. Simpson . . . " In lawyerly, hedged language, that says a phone call didn't take place. Butts' affidavit says, " . . . nor do I believe any such call/conversation as alleged ever took place." And Matthew Lembke's affidavit says, "I do not recall the phone call that Ms. Simpson claims took place . . . "All three of them said the phone call didn't take place. What's so hard to understand?