The Birmingham News, the official mouthpiece of the Republican Party in Alabama, seems to be practicing a lot of "trust me" journalism these days. That makes us wonder if something smelly is going on in local GOP circles.
Of course, something smelly almost always is going on with the GOP in Alabama. But we are getting whiffs of a particularly strong stench lately. And we wonder if, as usual, The Birmingham News is a source of both foul air and Republican propaganda.
We recently noted the News' shaky reporting on the death of prominent attorney Major Bashinsky, which was ruled a suicide even though law-enforcement officials presented almost zero evidence to support that conclusion. The News' reporting gets even shakier with a story in yesterday's paper about the federal investigation over an electronic-bingo bill in the Alabama Legislature.
We learn that two state lawmakers agreed to wear listening devices, commonly called wires, after they became concerned that pro-bingo forces were trying to buy votes.
The story, however, leaves us with more questions than answers:
* Where did reporters Charles J. Dean and Kim Chandler get their information? We don't know. They say it came from "sources familiar with the investigation."
* Who are the two lawmakers in question? We don't know. Dean and Chandler don't tell us.
* Was any significant information gleaned from use of the wires? Again, we don't know. Dean and Chandler don't tell us.
This is classic "trust me" journalism. And history has taught us that The Birmingham News is not to be trusted when it comes to matters of possible GOP skulduggery. The newspaper long has been a cheerleader for Republican Governor Bob Riley, who is leading the crusade against electronic bingo, and Bush-appointed federal prosecutor Leura Canary, who is involved in the current investigation.
Plenty of huge stories have been broken in journalism using information from confidential sources. But given the News' recent history of playing the patsy for Riley and Canary, we find many reasons to doubt this story about the listening devices.
The bingo bill reportedly might be taken up by the Alabama House of Representatives this week. Could the "wire story" simply be one more well-timed threat for those who might consider voting yes?
Sadly, the state of journalism is so poor in Alabama that we can't discount that possibility. We think one of four scenarios is playing out:
(1) Wires were used on Alabama legislators, and they produced strong evidence of criminal activity;
(2) Wires were used on Alabama legislators, and they produced no substantive evidence of crimes;
(3) A source close to either Riley or Canary fed the information to the News, and the paper didn't bother to check whether it was true or not.
(4) A source close to either Riley or Canary fed information that the News knew was bogus, but ran with it anyway--in a brazen effort to affect the outcome of a vote in the legislature.
Call me a cynic, but I have little trouble believing that scenario No. 4 could be going on.