Someone needs to send an emergency medical team to The Birmingham News building, home to one of the most lazy, corrupt, and conservative newspapers in the country. Several members of the editorial team apparently need irony transplants--stat!
First in line should be columnist John Archibald after he wrote a Sunday piece titled "Shelby County Shares in the Shame." Next should be editor Tom Scarritt, who presumably signs off on the pablum that Archibald produces.
With whom should Shelby County share in the shame? That apparently would be Jefferson County, home to Birmingham and the site of numerous financial and legal woes over the past decade. In fact, Archibald has used truckloads of ink to chronicle alleged wrongdoing in Jefferson County, while ignoring rampant corruption that has been plainly visible in its sister county to the south.
In his Sunday column, Archibald dresses down Shelby County officials for failing to notice that they had a serial child molester in their midst. In fact, Archibald is downright apoplectic that no one in authority took action when allegations arose in 1991 against fourth-grade teacher Daniel M. Acker Jr. We recently learned, some 20 years later, that Acker has confessed to molesting at least 21 girls. He has been charged, so far, with four counts of sexual abuse and now resides in the Shelby County Jail.
Where were Acker's confessions in the early 1990s? They were nowhere to be found. He denied the charges then, and after an investigation, a grand jury refused to indict and the Shelby County Board of Education returned him to work.
Norma Rogers, the superintendent at the time, said the board voted over her objections to reinstate Acker. Why did that happen? Rogers says it was largely because "all of these church people" came to Acker's defense. It probably did not hurt that Acker's father, Daniel M. Acker Sr., is a long-time member of the Shelby County Commission.
So a guy with the right connections, in the white hierarchy that governs Alabama's most conservative county, gets off--and then proceeds to go on a molestation spree that lasts roughly two decades. John Archibald can't figure out how this happened?
I know how it happened. John Archibald, and the white conservative hierarchy that runs his newspaper, helped make it happen. I know how that works from first-hand experience, and I will explain in a moment.
But first, let's get a load of Archibald's outrage about the Daniel M. Acker Jr. case:
I mean, if Joe Paterno was guilty of failing to do enough to stop Penn State's style of abuse, throngs of people in Shelby County are every bit as culpable for failing to stop this.
The school board, principals and parents. Churches, pastors and congregations. They are guilty. As are all those people who knew nothing of the facts of Acker's case, but rallied in his name and bought flapjacks to help him pay his lawyers.
They share the shame. They share the blame.
Who else shares the shame and the blame? John Archibald himself--and his editors at Alabama's largest newspaper.
Neither Scarritt nor Archibald was remotely interested in what I had to say. Neither even bothered to look at the documents I offered.
What impression did I leave with? It appeared that Scarritt and Archibald were more than happy to write about alleged wrongdoing involving Democrats, especially those with dark skin in Jefferson County. But allegations against white judges in a suburban, conservative stronghold? Not interested--not a little bit.
Even now, 20 years too late, The Birmingham News is reporting about the Daniel M. Acker Jr. case in a peculiar way. Archibald makes multiple references to a report on Acker from the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) in the early 1990s. Here is one example:
In 1993 the Shelby County School Board had the chance to remove Acker from the classroom. Former Superintendent Norma Rogers knew in her gut the fourth grader who claimed Acker touched her breast was telling the truth. She read a Department of Human Resources report that concluded there was "reason to suspect" Acker touched the girl. Rogers recommended the school board fire him.
My understanding is that DHR reports on child-abuse allegations are confidential and very difficult to obtain--even for victims. But Archibald writes the following:
On a test paper given in his fourth grade class, Acker had asked this question: "What color is (the victim's) underwear?"
And then--this is all in the DHR report--Acker sent home this letter of "explanation" to the mother of the child he molested.
"I thought the last question might need some explanation," he wrote. "(The victim) came to me complaining about some boys trying to look up her dress while we were studying. I kidded her, saying the boys must think I was going to have a question about her underwear since that was the only thing they were studying.
"I promise I'm not a pervert, I just have a strange sense of humor."
The implication is that Archibald has a copy of the DHR report. If so, that might be good reporting on his part. But why doesn't he give readers at least some clue as to how he obtained it? Why doesn't he tell us what else is in the report? Why doesn't he seek comments from officials who apparently ignored the DHR report? Archibald seems more interested in titillating his readers than in educating them.
Here are perhaps the big questions: If the Acker case and the DHR report have been out there for about 20 years, why is The Birmningham News just now latching onto the story? What if a victim and a family member went to the newspaper years ago about Acker's activities? What if they shared their story about wrongdoing in Shelby County and were rebuffed, much as I was?
When I met with Archibald he said he wasn't interested in my story partly because he already was working on a much more serious scandal in Shelby County. I'm not sure what could be more serious than rampant corruption throughout the county courthouse and its law-enforcement mechanism, but Archibald assured me he was onto something that involved "high crimes." Was it something connected to the Acker story. Did he get wind of it and, like those he now trashes, decide to look the other way?
Whatever the big scandal was, John Archibald never wrote about it. He apparently took a look and decided to let it slide--much the way county officials let the Acker situation slide in the early 1990s.
You see what I mean about the need for irony transplants at The Birmingham News.