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Monday, August 24, 2015

Does U of Alabama trustee have connections that explain strange NY Times story on my incarceration?

Warren St. John and
Campbell Robertson
Does at least one member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees have connections to The New York Times that might explain the newspaper's bizarre article from January 2014 about my five-month incarceration?

If the answer is yes, what was the purpose of the article, given that it had almost zero journalistic merit--as shown by Andrew Kreig, director of the D.C.-based Justice-Integrity Project?

Let's look at the evidence, focusing on Finis St. John IV, a lawyer from Cullman, Alabama, and a high-profile member of his alma mater's board.

St. John is perhaps best known recent months as one of two trustees--along with Paul Bryant Jr.--most likely behind the decision to kill football at UAB, the UA System's campus in Birmingham. UAB President Ray Watts has said he will reinstate football, but his public statements include enough "ifs, ands, and buts" to suggest the once-promising program will remain on shaky ground for years to come.

UAB fans tend to see St. John and Bryant Jr. as demonic allies who are hell-bent on undercutting programs at the Birmingham campus. Blazer fans seem to have a blinding hatred for both St. John and Bryant--and my guess is that those feelings are justified.

As a one-time 20-year employee of UAB, and a long-time follower of Blazer athletics, I'm not too keen on St. John and Bryant myself--especially when you consider my long-held suspicions that one or both of them played a role in my unlawful termination from the university, for reporting accurately on this blog about the actions of wife-beating federal judge Mark Fuller in the prosecution of former governor Don Siegelman.

For now, though, let's focus on Finis St. John IV and The New York Times. You might not expect a lawyer from Cullman, Alabama, to have ties to one of the world's most famous newspapers, but you would be wrong.

Finis St. John's cousin is Birmingham native Warren St. John, a former reporter in the Times' Style section. One of Warren St. John's former colleagues in the Style section is Campbell Robertson, a Montevallo, Alabama, native who now primarily covers the South and wrote the article about my incarceration.

Warren St. John has left the newspaper to focus on his career as an author. He has written two well-received books--Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip Into the Heart of Fan Mania (2004) and Outcasts United: An American Town, A Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference (2009).

Are Warren St. John and Campbell Robertson close? It seems likely, considering their shared Alabama roots, their stints in the same department at The New York Times, and the photo of the two of them we found at a 2005 book party for one of our favorite comedians and commentators--Bill Maher, of HBO.

Finis St. John IV
Does it stand to reason that Finis St. John, via his cousin and his own position of power at UA, might have some pull with Campbell Robertson? Could that pull be even stronger when it comes at the behest of St. John's trustee colleague, Paul Bryant Jr.

We've already shown that Bryant had reason to be uncomfortable about my reporting, perhaps enough to have me thrown in jail in an effort to shut down Legal Schnauzer. Did Campbell Robertson's sloppy, shallow, error-filled story in The New York Times play some role in furthering the Finis St. John/Paul Bryant Jr. agenda?

Let's consider a few takeaways from Robertson's article:

* He states that I had refused to hire a lawyer, even though his own words to Andrew Kreig prove that is not true;

* He claims my blog and I have been the targets of "many defamation lawsuits," while a simple check of public records shows that is not true;

* He seeks out Los Angeles First Amendment lawyer Ken White, author of the Popehat blog, as an expert about my case. White makes several accurate legal points, but Robertson allows him to take a number of personal digs at me--even though White does not know me, has never spoken to me or attempted to interview me, and clearly knows very little about my treacherous journey through Alabama courts;

* Robertson quotes multiple experts saying that the judge in my case acted contrary to law. But Robertson never bothers to name the judge (Claud Dent Neilson). and no editor at the prestigious newspaper managed to catch such a flagrant omission.

If Finis St. John pushed for the Times article, what might have been his motivations? If Paul Bryant Jr. played a role in my incarceration, and I think that is highly likely, I can think of several:

(1) The two trustees were concerned that my incarceration had drawn national and international attention in the press;

(2) They were concerned that an enterprising reporter might finally look in their direction for explanations;

(3) They wanted to portray me as a loon who hates all lawyers and regularly gets sued for defamation, thus making it harder to obtain legal counsel;

(4) They wanted to protect Claud Neilson for his unlawful (and probably criminal) actions;

(5) If I had retained a lawyer, or was about to retain one, they wanted to know who it was so they could attempt to "manage" my lawyer and turn him or her against me--thus, limiting their own exposure;

(6) They wanted to hurt my credibility as a journalist by getting a prominent newspaper to write a story about me that is filled with falsehoods.

Many questions remain unanswered on this subject, but this much is clear: Campbell Robertson had a chance to write a profoundly important article about an attack on constitutional freedoms in the Deep South, but he wound up producing a piece that would have gotten a first-year journalism student kicked out of school.

Why is that? I think Campbell Robertson probably is a capable reporter on most occasions, so why did he flop so badly on this one? A reasonable person might conclude it's because powerful forces in Alabama did not want him to produce a real piece of journalism in the first place--and a once-proud newspaper has slipped so badly that a substandard article actually found its way into print.


Sid said...

I'm no expert on journalism, but I can unequivocally state that New York Times story sucked.

Trish the Dish said...

Campbell Robertson and Warren St. John would make a darling gay couple.

Anonymous said...

They didn't name the judge in the story? There's got to be a reason for that.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Carlos Slim, the Mexican gazillionaire, more or less bail out The New York Times a few years back. Does he have enough clout to influence the newspaper's coverage?

legalschnauzer said...

You are correct about Carlos Slim, @9:44. Not sure of the amount of money he pumped into the NYT, but it was substantial. I need to research that a little more, but I feel certain he indeed has major influence with the newspaper.

Blazer Bob said...

UAB needs its own board--right now--and Ray Watts needs to be fired--right now. Go Blazers!

R Hammond said...

Thirty years ago, the New York Times might have been a legit newspaper and doing real investigative journalism. For the past decade....it's a two-star operation and far from it's glory. In this case....they either intentionally went astray or they had a unqualified reporter working the episode. Just another indicator of why news groups are declining and bloggers are on the move up.