When we last addressed the subject of Holbert, he was criticizing my reports about Governor Robert Bentley's affair with aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason, plus my outing of al.com journalist Charles J. Dean as a customer of the Ashley Madison extramarital-affair Web site. We showed that Holbert's commentary included so many errors that we didn't have enough fingers to count them all.
Part of me wanted to write off the Holbert piece as the case of a publisher/writer having a bad day. But given Holbert's right-wing bona fides--he once served as deputy press secretary for former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS)--I thought it possible that Holbert was afflicted with the sort of deep-seated dishonesty that seems to have gripped so many postmodern Republicans. (See last Thursday's U.S. House of Representatives grilling of Hillary Clinton on the issue of Benghazi for a classic example.)
In an October 21 piece titled "Schnauzer target tells magazine his posts changed her life," Holbert takes on the Jessica Medeiros Garrison story, which grew from her as-told-to article at marieclaire.com, attacking my reporting on her extramarital affair with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.
The headline of Holbert's piece has all sorts of grammatical problems, and the story itself reveals that the writer still struggles with accuracy and a tendency to make bizarre statements that seem to come from . . . well, right field, I guess. But for now, we will focus on his dishonesty.
Let's start by examining the third and fourth paragraphs from Holbert's article, where he addresses (sort of) my response to Garrison's piece:
Garrison’s article appeared on marieclaire.com last week. At first, she writes, she just tried to laugh off Shuler’s accusations that she had been involved in a lengthy affair with Strange. Shuler also wrote numerous unflattering stories about Garrison’s ex-husband, Lee Garrison, as he ran for the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education. Shuler also published stories on his blog alleging Jessica Garrison received a sweetheart deal on the purchase of her home and questioning the sources of her pay. Garrison said Shuler even questioned the paternity of her son in print, an allegation he denies, although he has written about discussing the matter with Lee Garrison
“Never have I reported that Luther Strange is the father of her child. In fact, I contacted Lee Garrison and interviewed him on the subject. He said he was convinced the child was his, and I never reported otherwise,” Shuler wrote last Friday in a scathing rebuke of the Marie Claire article. He didn’t explain why he would call the child’s father to discuss paternity if it wasn’t something he questioned.
So, we can give Holbert a gold star for finding my blog and the response I had written to Garrison's PR-attack piece. (Why do we call the marieclaire.com article a "PR-attack piece?" Given the glaring number of errors in the article--and the fact writer Liz Welch never contacted me for comment and clearly never checked the public court record--I don't know what else to call it. The piece certainly cannot rest on its "journalistic merit" because it doesn't have any. Marie Claire is, after all, a women's fashion magazine.)
How did Holbert know I had addressed the Garrison article on Legal Schnauzer? I told him I had when he contacted me via e-mail and asked if I had any comment about the Garrison story. (Please keep those two highlighted sections above in mind; we will return to them in a moment.)
Then, we have this in the fifth and sixth paragraphs of Holbert's story:
Shuler claimed Garrison’s article is full of inaccuracies and falsehoods, and reiterated claims her legal win against him came only “because I was not able to defend myself against her lawsuit, or bring a valid counterclaim” due to having been thrown in jail for five months for contempt in another defamation case, then finding his house in foreclosure due to other legal problems.
When I emailed Shuler asking for comments on Garrison’s article, he referred me back to his website.
Again, we see that Holbert actually has checked my blog post regarding Garrison, although he fails to mention specifics that I had laid out about the inaccuracies in the Garrison story. Still, we will give Holbert credit for doing at least a little homework. But then, note the highlighted section; he hints that I was dodging him, refusing to take questions, that I would let my blog post speak for itself and say nothing more.
Is that true? Well, let's take a look at the full e-mail communication Rob Holbert and I had on the subject:
Oct 16 (7 days ago)
Jessica Garrison published this piece yesterday in Marie Claire. http://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a16418/jessica-garrison-blogger/
I was curious if you have any comments about the story?
Oct 17 (6 days ago)
I've written one response to it and probably will have more:
If you have specific questions, I would be glad to answer them. Probably would need to do that via phone.
Oct 17 (6 days ago)
OK. I read your response. It answers any questions I currently have, but if I have more I'll let you know.
As you can see, I did not simply refer Holbert to my blog. I specifically offered to answer any questions that he had and suggested we do that via phone. He told me my blog post answered all of his questions at the moment, and I never heard back from him.
So why did he suggest that I was dodging him, that I was reluctant to talk about Garrison? I have no idea, but it suggests Holbert started his article with an agenda in mind--and the fact I was willing to take on questions about the Jessica Garrison case apparently did not fit that agenda.
As for the first two highlighted sections near the beginning of this post, they are two of the strangest sentences I've ever seen a purported journalist write. As a reminder, here they are again:
Garrison said Shuler even questioned the paternity of her son in print, an allegation he denies, although he has written about discussing the matter with Lee Garrison.and
He didn’t explain why he would call the child’s father to discuss paternity if it wasn’t something he questioned.
A few points:
* I didn't just deny questioning the paternity of her son in print; I invited anyone to conduct a search on my blog, and it will show that I've never reported that Attorney General Luther Strange is the father of Garrison's son. That is a verifiable fact, but Holbert apparently can't be bothered to verify it.
* Holbert seems surprised that I would write about discussing the matter with Lee Garrison. That's what journalists do, they ask questions. Jessica Garrison told marieclaire.com that, at the time of my reporting, rumors were flying about her relationship with Luther Strange, and its possible fallout. To my knowledge, I'm the only journalist to have contacted Lee Garrison--a key source on the subject--and asked him about it directly. Why Holbert seems to find that odd is beyond me.
|Jessica Medeiros Garrison|
As for accuracy, Holbert continues to struggle with it. For example, he writes, "[Shuler] claimed he was never legally served notice of the trial." Let me make this as clear as I can make it: There was no trial in the Garrison case, there was no pre-trial discovery, and there was no finding in an adversarial proceeding that my reporting was false or defamatory. In other words, neither Garrison nor Strange faced cross-examination about anything, they never sat for depositions, they never answered written interrogatories, they never turned over any pertinent documents (e-mails, texts, etc.). Jessica Garrison has proclaimed that she "won" her lawsuit, but that contention is based on . . . well, absolutely nothing, no contested record of any kind.
Holbert doesn't even try to hide his bias on the matter. A reasonably objective journalist might refer to Garrison as the "subject" of my "reporting." Holbert and his Lagniappe crew refer to Garrison as a "target" of "online attacks." Garrison could not hire a PR firm--and she seems to have quite a nice expense account--to take a more one-sided approach than that.
Our guy Holbert seems to have almost zero understanding of journalism, even though he holds the title of publisher at a weekly newspaper. He can't seem to grasp that my work never has been found false or defamatory in any trial or adversarial proceeding--and the public record at alacourt.com makes that clear. And yet, he portrays my posts as "online attacks."
Here's one thing interesting about Holbert's piece: He manages to interview Garrison and lobs a few questions at her that would have to improve to reach the level of "softball." Meanwhile, I made it clear that I was happy to be interviewed, but he didn't bother with that.
Holbert did manage to elicit a response or two from Garrison that contain a few kernels of truth, and we will address those in an upcoming post.
Some folks probably think Lagniappe Mobile turns out journalism--and perhaps there are times when the weekly actually does that. But it's hard to expect much from an outfit led by a publisher who reveals himself as a partisan hack, one who is too lazy or incompetent to check the public record or interview a party who might actually bring Jessica Garrison's credibility into question.