The answer to our title question apparently is yes. But maybe there is hope for Alabama's largest newspaper.
The News opines today about the Justice Department report issued this week showing political considerations played a role in the firings of nine U.S. attorneys. The firings were "weird," the News determines. No, it seems clear, the firings were corrupt. But our local metro daily doesn't want to go there.
Where else does The News not want to go? To "Don Siegelman Has Been Right All Along Land."
The News acknowledges--and it appears to pain them--that the report raises questions not only about the unlawful treatment of some prosecutors but also about the treatment of those who were prosecuted. That would include Siegelman, Alabama's former Democratic governor who was prosecuted and convicted in a case that was dripping with conflicts of interest and political motivations from those in the Bush Justice Department:
Consider: If some U.S. attorneys were fired for not prosecuting people that suited Republican interests, were other U.S. attorneys able to keep their jobs by prosecuting the "right people"?
There were U.S. attorneys who were considered "mediocre" who didn't end up on the firing list, apparently because they had political favor. That begs the question: What kind of cases did they bring that kept them in good standing with the party? Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman would certainly love to argue that U.S. Attorney Leura Canary kept her job in Montgomery by prosecuting him.
Were some U.S. attorneys able to keep their jobs by prosecuting the "right people?" The News, laughably, seems to be pondering this question for the first time today. Where have you been folks?
And the paper doesn't want to mention that the entire Justice Department scandal, to a great extent, has its roots in Alabama, not only because of biased and unqualified U.S. attorneys Leura Canary in Montgomery and Alice Martin in Birmingham but because of Karl Rove's deep connections to Alabama, which started with his campaign efforts in state-court races in the 1990s.
Finally, the News would have us believe that Siegelman is fighting a lonely battle to show that Canary kept her job in Montgomery because of her willingness to bring a bogus case against him. In fact, Siegelman hasn't been lonely at all. Harper's magazine, The New York Times, 60 Minutes, and Time magazine are just a few of the media outlets that have reported extensively on the issue. And the U.S. House Judiciary Committee has spent considerable effort investigating the case, issuing a subpoena for Rove to testify about his possible role in the Siegelman prosecution--a subpoena with which Rove steadily has refused to comply.
Will the News get off its collective duff and start investigating a story that is right under its nose? We won't hold our breath. But today's editorial indicates the blinders might be loosening just a little:
It's true, U.S. attorneys are political appointees and can be fired at will. But their job is to serve the public's interest, not a political party's interest. If they can be fired because they don't prosecute people of the opposite party, or because they prosecute people of their own party, how can the public really trust that cases are being brought or are being dropped for the right reasons?
"For department officials to recommend the removal of U.S. attorneys even in part because they do or do not have political support undermines the public's confidence that Department of Justice prosecutive decisions are based on the facts and the law and not on political considerations," the report said.
Simply put, U.S. attorneys can't play favorites with the cases that come into their offices and expect to have any credibility with the public. The same rule applies to the Justice Department.
Are scales beginning to fall from a few eyes down on Fourth Avenue North in Birmingham?