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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Birmingham News: Stupid, Lazy, or Both

The Birmingham News is coming off one of the worst weeks in the history of American journalism. And that's saying something because the News has had a lot of bad weeks since connections started to form about a year ago between the Don Siegelman prosecution and the firings of U.S. attorneys by the Bush Justice Department.

I didn't think the News could sink any lower after Brett Blackledge's reporting on a motion to dismiss in the Sue Schmitz case. Blackledge was in such a rush to cover Karl Rove's back side, and to trash Jill Simpson, that he completely ignored the main point in Schmitz motion that federal charges against her should be dropped. Blackledge also screwed up several clear facts, which the News had to address with corrections.

In Sunday's paper, editorial writer Robin DeMonia follows up the Blackledge debacle with an editorial that . . . says . . . absolutely nothing.

Actually, DeMonia's column says something, just nothing of any substance. Her main point seems to be: "We don't want prosecutors to go after public officials for political reasons, but we also don't want public officials to cheat us."

Gee, that's profound.

DeMonia also seems to be saying that Alabamians targeted in the two-year colleges scandal are following Siegelman's lead by claiming they are the victims of political prosecutions.

But she gives the impression that Siegelman, and the two-year colleges targets, are merely engaged in public-relations efforts to safe face after cheating the people who elected them.

If DeMonia had bothered to do a little legwork, she would have found that Siegelman's claims of political prosecution are supported by substantial issues of fact and law. Simply reading U.S. Judge Mark Fuller's memorandum opinion of a few months back would have shown her that the jury instructions in the Siegelman case almost certainly were unlawful.

And had DeMonia bothered to read the Huntsville Times and Associated Press accounts of the Schmitz motion, she would have learned that federal prosecutors are being accused of bullying and harassing grand-jury witnesses. And these allegations are supported with examples from transcripts. And all of this lends support to the idea that the federal investigation of Alabama's two-year colleges has not been handled properly.

So we are left to ask this question about both Blackledge and DeMonia: Are they stupid, lazy, or both? Either way, it doesn't paint a pretty picture for Alabama's largest newspaper.

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