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Monday, April 28, 2008

Horton and Blackledge Tussle

Your humble blogger jumped the gun a bit when I posted this item on Saturday. Scott Horton had not intended for his comments to be published until after WHNT had been able to run its report on Sunday night. WHNT has run its report--and it was interesting, by the way--so let's put this baby back up. More coming on WHNT's Sunday evening piece from reporter Greg Privett.

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I miss the heck out of Scott Horton's No Comment blog at Harper's. The blogosphere without Horton is kind of like the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger. (Don't know that Horton has ever been compared to Mick Jagger before; I wanted to be the first to do it.)

Actually, Horton still does an occasional post at No Comment. But he is spending most of his time on longer form magazine pieces and, I hope, a book or two that will educate the American public about the Bush Department of Justice--at least those Americans who are willing to be educated.

Fortunately, thanks to Pam Miles' e-mail list, we still have access to Horton's thoughts from time to time. And today, we get his thoughts about efforts by Birmingham News hack Brett Blackledge to call Horton's professionalism into question.

This all comes because a member of the Alabama press apparently has awakened and decided its time to start covering justice-related issues in our fair state. We are talking about Greg Privett, an investigative reporter at television station WHNT in Huntsville. Privett provided excellent coverage of Horton's lecture last week at UAH--plus issues surrounding that lecture--and apparently plans an interview with Blackledge that I believe will air on Sunday evening.

Privett sought comment from Horton about Blackledge's statements, and Horton provides an update for readers of Miles' e-mail list. Here is what Horton wrote:

Interesting discussion with Greg Privett of WHNT. He asked me for a reaction to Brett Blackledge's comment on my "lack of professionalism." Brett's devastating criticism is--get this--that I write about him and never call for his reaction!

I explained to Greg that there is a difference between a news story and a media critique. I criticize Brett's reporting of a news story. This is not a news story; it's my opinion about what's wrong with his reporting. There is no rule of journalistic ethics I know of that requires a critic to call the person criticized and publish his reaction to the criticism--check Howard Kurtz, or any other media critic for that matter. (This exact point is in the news today, in fact, as Keith Olbermann complains about Rachel Sklar's coverage of a recent segment that he did with Howard Fineman and says she didn't call him for comment--as other media critics quickly pointed out, that's not the way the game is played). Moreover, this is done in blog format, and one of the distinctions between this and print format is that blog postings are done in real time, and people with comments or criticisms are welcome to put them in and have them printed (which we do, with regularity), so the opportunity for comment takes a different form. But aside from this, Brett doesn't call me for comment when he criticizes me either (as in his last piece, in which I am a "partisan blogger" that the Judiciary Committee foolishly relies on in its latest report). I'm fine with that. Nothing the matter with it, in fact.

The problem with Brett's last piece is that it's riddled with factual mistakes--in fact the News had to run a retraction on it this morning (below). But their retraction only begins to hit the mistakes in the article. Here are some others:

The whole theme of the article is that the Judiciary Committee's Majority Report on Political Prosecutions was "proof of politics in the two-year college affair." But that's like a gnat on the back of a dog imagining it's the center of the known universe. Ridiculous. Only in the mind of Brett Blackledge, for whom the two-year college probe is the universe.

He then discusses the Sue Schmitz defense motion arguing a case for political prosecution, and he grossly distorts and miscites the motion. Go look at the Legal Schnauzer on this--Roger has done a side-by-side comparison of the way the Huntsville Times and AP reported the same story. You'll see the difference between professional, responsible journalism, and crude political hackery.

And we find this gem: The House Judiciary Majority Report

"frequently cites Internet postings by partisan bloggers working with Siegelman and his allies as evidence of growing public outrage, noting one blogger's concerns about the "aggressive and ongoing prosecution effort" in the two-year college investigation."

Note: I am a "partisan blogger working with Siegelman and his allies. . ." That's interesting. Exactly what party do I work with? Can't recall having been involved with a political campaign at any point in my life. And the first time I met Don Siegelman was Tuesday night at the function in Huntsville. This is BB engaging in unfounded character assassination. Oh, and by the way, he never called me for a comment! I forgot, for BB this rule applies only when *he* is the subject of criticism.

He states:

"Former White House adviser Karl Rove's connection to the case, for example, relies on Rainsville lawyer Jill Simpson's statements, which have changed at least twice."

This statement is false. It rests on a complete fraud: BB's claim to have comprehensively interviewed Simpson. He did not. He called her, spoke for 105 minutes, asking only for one thing: her comments on a particular group of lines from an affidavit. He never asked her about any of the underlying facts and he never asked her the perfectly obvious question: did she understand "Karl" as a reference to "Karl Rove." His questions were all explicitly within the confines of the affidavit and were answered on that extremely limiting premise. Of course, I, Scott Pelley of CBS, Adam Zagorin of TIME, Glynn Wilson, Larisa Alexandrovna and the House Judiciary investigator--unlike BB--had interviewed her thoroughly, which is why we know his editorial comment is a pile of crap.

He states:

"And months later, Simpson went even further in a television interview, saying Rove hired her to follow Siegelman in 2001 to find dirt on the Democrat. Simpson did not make such claims in her sworn statement or congressional testimony."

This is a false statement in multiple respects. The interview was broadcast months later; it was conducted very early in the process, so BB's chronology is twisted, as usual. And Simpson never made a statement to the effect that Rove "hired her" to do anything. Here BB is quoting that wonderful source that he seems to follow closely, the blog Powerline. (Karl Rove's blog of choice.)

He states:

"Rove again denied involvement in the Siegelman prosecution, which Simpson and bloggers argue occurred in 2001 and 2002, after Rove started work as a top adviser to President Bush. To make their point, Simpson and others have said Rove secretly worked behind the scenes to help Gov. Riley's 2002 gubernatorial campaign."

Really? As I told Dan Abrams in the broadcast that seems to have given Rove (and his favorite 'Bama scribbler, BB) a fit, Rove was involved in financing and strategizing for the financing of the Riley campaign in 2002. Was this "secretly" and "behind the scenes"? Only in the mind of BB. Just go look at the White House website. You'll find that the key event in the course of campaign fundraising for the Riley 2002 effort was a fundraiser conducted on July 15, 2002 in Birmingham. The organizers were Karl Rove and Bill Canary. The featured speaker was George Bush. There was nothing remotely "secret" about it. It netted $4 million for the Riley campaign. And what, I ask, does BB think that Karl Rove did as political director at the White House? Networking with local Republicans and using the clout of the White House to bolster the position of the president's party is an essential piece of the job description. But we forget, BB lives in an alternate universe, in which anyone who thinks Karl Rove is involved in local politics also believes in "black helicopters."

And note throughout: BB mangles, misstates and distorts the charges contained in the House report, and then presents rebuttal from prosecutors who curiously won't speak on camera to the national media, or appear and testify in Congress, but love to speak with BB. And that's the most revealing fact of all.

Corrections and Clarifications
Birmingham News, Saturday, April 26, 2008
A Page One story Tuesday stated Rainsville lawyer Jill Simpson said former White House counselor Karl Rove hired her to find dirt on Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman in 2001. Simpson said she was asked by Rove to follow Siegelman, but did not use the word "hired." Rove has denied meeting or working with Simpson. The News article also stated Gov. Bob Riley's former chief of staff, Toby Roth, has said Simpson lashed out at him and other Republicans with her Rove allegations after she failed to win a state contract. Simpson was representing a client who sought a state contract.


Unlike his compadre Eddie Curran, Blackledge has been smart enough (until now) to not engage in public debate with Horton. Even Blackledge, I suspect, knows that's an intellectual mismatch.

But it looks like our guy Brett is stepping into the deep end of the pool without his flotation device. Hope the lifeguard is paying attention, because Brett is likely to be flailing about and calling for help soon enough.

Here's another thought about Curran and Blackledge: Numerous e-mailers have noted that they called the Mobile Press-Register to complain about Curran's behavior at the UAH event on Tuesday night. It seems almost all of those callers were told they were the only person who had called to complain. Hmmm.

It seems as if there is nothing Curran could do that would be so heinous as to get him fired at the Press-Register. And the same seems to hold true for Blackledge. I've known a few newspaper editors in my day, and I know more than one that would have given Blackledge his walking papers--Pulitzer Prize or not--for an article as biased, sloppy, inaccurate, and poorly reported as the one he did on the Schmitz case.

Do the Press-Register and News just have brain-dead managers who don't discipline wayward staffers and don't care about the images their reporters present to the community? Certainly possible. Or are Curran and Blackledge safe because they have well-heeled supporters who are external to the newspaper and make sure these reporters are free and safe to pursue politically slanted coverage?

It almost seems to me that Curran and Blackledge have what you might call "sugar daddies," people who provide them cover and support (financial or otherwise) to "report" in a partisan manner.

That's the only explanation I can think of for the Mobile paper to consistently turn a blind eye to Curran's bizarre and unprofessional behavior. (On most newspapers I'm familiar with, he would have been fired a long time ago.) If that's not the case, then the Mobile Press-Register has the most inept managers in the history of the newspaper industry. And the Birmingham News' managers are not far behind.

1 comment:

James Greek said...

The investigative reporter for Huntsville station WHNT? Remember, that station is owned by a group og bushes and they decided to preempt the 60 minutes piece on siegelman.