Why is Alabama's largest newspaper hemorrhaging readers so badly that it is about to start printing just three days a week? A couple of hints can be found in Section B (Local News) of the July 9, 2012, edition.
Two articles provide powerful evidence that The Birmingham News is a biased, lazy, right-wing rag that appeals to white elites and ignores huge segments of its potential audience.
In other words, the paper gives the impression that the family of former GOP Governor Bob Riley more or less serves as its editorial board. No wonder the state's supposedly premier news-gathering operation seems to be in a death spiral.
The first evidence comes on page B2 of yesterday's print edition--and by the way, you had better read it now because the paper soon will not be publishing on Mondays. The article is titled "Bradley Arant Honored for Death Row Service" and takes up roughly 20 column inches.
That kind of space usually is devoted to important subjects. But this story, by reporter Eric Velasco, reads like a press release directly from Bradley Arant's public-relations firm. We learn all we need to know in the first couple of paragraphs:
Lawyers with the Birmingham firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings will be honored at next month's American Bar Association meeting for the firm's volunteer work representing Death Row inmates in Alabama and other states.
The firm will receive the Exceptional Service Award from the ABA's Death Penalty Representation Project on Aug. 3, during the bar association's annual meeting in Chicago.
My guess is that 99 percent of readers have learned all they care to know at that point. This is the kind of item that would be a business brief in most reputable newspapers. But this is The Birmingham News, the paper that served as official cheerleader for eight long years of the Riley administration. And Bradley Arant is the firm that employs Rob Campbell, Bob Riley's son-in-law, and sucked up more than $10 million of state funds in just the last two years of the Riley gravy train.
That helps explain why Velasco goes on for about 19 more column inches, regaling us with stories about how much Bradley Arant lawyers help Death Row prisoners. Never mind that the firm shows signs of having connections to organized crime.
We have written numerous critical articles about Bradley Arant, especially on its ties to corrupt Campus Crest Communities CEO Ted Rollins and the monstrous cheat job of a divorce case that left his ex wife and two daughters on food stamps in Birmingham. At the risk of giving myself more power than I actually have, the Velasco article reads like a piece that was planted, and given prominent treatment, to help counteract reporting here at Legal Schnauzer.
Our second piece of evidence can be found on page B3 of yesterday's print edition. It carries the headline, "Senior Riley to Head Key Club." Here is all you really need to know:
Rebecca Riley, a senior at Homewood High School, has been elected president of Key Club International.
Riley, 17, was elected president of the group for 2012-13 on Saturday during the Key Club International convention in Orlando, Fla., club officials announced.
Again, this is the kind of item that might be a news brief in a normal newspaper. But The Birmingham News devotes roughly 16 column inches to it. I'm guessing that hundreds of Alabama youngsters have seen significant achievements ignored in the mainstream press. But Rebecca Riley is not just any old teen-ager. In the last two paragraphs, we learn about her background:
Riley is the daughter of Robert and Leslie Riley. She has three siblings--Elizabeth 14, Ren, 11, and Wilson, 6. She also is the granddaughter of former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and his wife Patsy Riley and Fred and Jimmie McLeod, of Lineville.
"Leslie and I are so proud of Rebecca for what she has accomplished," said her father Robert Riley. "She is passionate about key club and she has worked long hard hours traveling around the country working on key club projects the past year."
Gee, I wonder if it helped Rebecca Riley's cause that her grandpappy is Bob Riley, and as governor, he shipped about $1 million in state funds to her daddy's law practice. How did Rob Riley benefit from sucking at the public teat? An article by Rebecca Abrahams, of Huffington Post, explains:
The January 14, 2010 document states while Riley was the lead negotiator for Jefferson County sewer debts, the County Commission approved a $725,000 and $150,000 contract for his son, attorney Rob Riley to represent Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale. The funds for Rob Riley's services would have come from a .05% occupation tax collected by non-licensed wage earners. In 2009 a judge repealed the tax, ruling it ruled was unconstitutional. But the ruling impacted the sheriff's budget, including funding for Rob Riley's contracts.
Hale, represented by Rob Riley, then sued the Jefferson County Commission to block its attempt to cut the budget by $5.1 million. A local judge ruled in favor of the cuts to the sheriff's budget. Hale then appealed to Governor Bob Riley for state financial assistance, making sure to provide a letter penned by Rob Riley outlining cuts faced by the sheriff's office which included Rob Riley's contract. Governor Riley then lobbied for support to reinstate the Jefferson County Occupational Tax, calling a special session of the Legislature. State lawmakers passed the new occupational tax legislation, which Riley signed into law in August 2009.
That sounds sweet, doesn't it? And it doesn't even go into a federal whistleblower complaint, alleging that Rob Riley and his physical-therapy company (Performance Group LLC) conspired with personnel at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) to commit Medicare fraud.
It appears Rob Riley has his own legal bodyguard at the Hugo Black Courthouse in downtown Birmingham. And curiously, that's where G. Doug Jones once resided as U.S. attorney during the Clinton years--getting all cozy with the judges and other personnel there. Sources tell me that Jones has been particularly cozy with Judge Acker and some of his clerks. Hmmm.
Jones touts himself as a Democrat and civil-rights hero, but in fact, he is a Riley loyalist. He and Rob Riley made millions in legal fees from a federal lawsuit against individuals and entities connected to HealthSouth. In fact, I was fired at UAB not long after writing about Rob Riley's possible conflicts in the HealthSouth lawsuit.
The post was titled "Did Rob Riley Cash In On Siegelman Prosecution?" and it ran on March 13, 2008. The harassment from my UAB supervisor, Pam Powell, kicked into high gear at about that time--and I was fired roughly two months later. Isn't that curious, especially when you consider that a UAB human-resources official admitted in a tape-recorded conversation that I was targeted because of the Siegelman content on this blog? (A video featuring that conversation can be viewed below.)
Isn't it curious that my reporting on the HealthSouth case would wind up striking a serious nerve with Doug Jones? Isn't it also curious that my reporting on that case would strike a nerve with C. Redding Pitt, one of Jones' compadres in Alabama Democratic circles and another former U.S. attorney.
Did Doug Jones, now an attorney at the Birmingham firm of Haskell Slaughter, work with the Rileys to ensure that I got canned at UAB? Is Jones now running interference for the Rileys on my employment case against UAB? Did he serve the same role in making sure that Rob Riley would not be exposed as a Medicare fraudster in Ingrid Awtrey Law's whistleblower complaint?
We will continue to look into those questions. And we have much more coming soon on Ingrid Awtrey Law's complaint--plus other imbroglios involving Rob Riley.
But for now, let's ponder these questions: Isn't it interesting that the Rileys and their elitist friends think they can interfere with the lives of regular folks--with their jobs, their livelihoods, their families--and yet the lives of elites are to remain gloriously untouched? Isn't it interesting that certain elites seem to think they are above it all, out of reach, protected by a bubble of corrupt lawyers, politicians, bankers, newspapermen, and such?
Perhaps these elites will learn someday that they and their families aren't untouchable. Perhaps they will learn that their bubble is not impenetrable.