|Bill Pryor, from badpuppy.com|
Snopes.com reportedly attracted 7 to 8 million unique visits in one month during 2010, making it almost certainly the most widely read fact-checking site on the Web. With a recent post titled "Derobed: A photograph of a nude young man has been claimed to picture Judge William Pryor, a potential Supreme Court nominee," Snopes has applied its research capabilities to a story that has been big in Alabama and the Southeast for some time -- and might soon become a story of national importance.
What is Snopes conclusion about the Pryor story? It labels the story as "unproven." Does that bother me? Absolutely not. For one, I welcome the analysis of a widely read, and generally respected, site such as Snopes. Two, despite its solid reputation, Snopes' analysis of this story has problems; the site gets key facts wrong, and it's analysis is flawed. I, however, am happy to have the attention for a story that could soon be vitally important to America's future.
From the Snopes article, by Dan Evon:
CLAIM: A photograph of a nude young man pictures Judge William Pryor, a potential Supreme Court nominee.
ORIGIN:Judge William H. Pryor of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has been in the news lately, both because his name reportedly appeared on President-Elect Donald Trump's definitive list of potential Supreme Court nominees, and because while serving as Alabama's attorney general Pryor filed an amicus brief in support of a Texas anti-sodomy law.
It was with some sense of irony, then, that in November 2016, an old image purportedly showing William Pryor posing nude for a gay porn magazine as a young man was recirculated online in November 2016:
Snopes gave us credit for breaking the story, and we appreciate that, although we object to the characterization that the "rumor" originated with our Web site. We didn't engage in rumor dissemination; we engaged in journalism:
The rumor that Pryor once posed nude for a gay porn magazine originated with a web site called "Legal Schnauzer" back in 2013. That web site claimed that the photograph "likely appeared in at least one print publication in the 1980s" and was later published by the web site Badpuppy.com in 1997. However, the former reference is too vague to verify, and we were unable to find the image on Badpuppy. (Legal Schnauzer claims the image was removed from Badpuppy, but not before the Alabama Bureau of Investigations managed to capture a screenshot of it.)
Where does Snopes go off the tracks? It starts here, with a paragraph that is below a redacted version of the nude Pryor photo we first published:
The assertion that the above-displayed photograph is a picture of Judge William Pryor is based on three factors: a supposed headshot of the model appears next to the name "Bill Pryor," colleagues of the judge reportedly saw the photograph and exclaimed that it looked like him, and that the model and Pryor both allegedly have "strabismus" (i.e., crossed-eyes).
Whatever the evidence provided by Legal Schnauzer, the alleged opinion of two unidentified officials isn't proof of anything. Furthermore, while whoever posed for the photograph may resemble Pryor at first glance, a side-by-side comparison shows that certain features (such as the nose) seemingly don't match.
What problems are present here?
(1) Snopes ignores the fact that we interviewed two former state law-enforcement officials who were directly involving in investigating the photos out of concern that Pryor, then Alabama's freshly named attorney general, might be vulnerable to blackmail. Snopes apparently glossed over this paragraph from our original report on the Pryor photos:
Alabama law-enforcement officials became aware of the photos at badpuppy.com in 1997, not long before Governor Fob James appointed Pryor attorney general. An investigation ensued, and multiple officials familiar with that process have told Legal Schnauzer that the photos are, in fact, of the Bill Pryor who now sits on the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Sources say the photos were taken while Pryor was a student at Northeast Louisiana University (now University of Louisiana Monroe) from 1980 to 1984.
Bottom line? Our reporting was not based on just the three factors Snopes lists above. It also was based on interviews with multiple law-enforcement officials who were directly involved in the matter and said their investigation showed the nude individual was "the" Bill Pryor.
(2) Snopes claims the noses in the two photos do not match, but it does not say how. The older Pryor weighs more than the younger Pryor, and his face is more full, but I see no other difference in the noses. Snopes fails to mention that both images clearly do involve strabismus and attached earlobes.
Finally, we have this from Snopes:
But perhaps the most unbelievable aspect of this claim is simply that this photograph, which the Alabama Bureau of Investigations (ABI) and public officials have allegedly known about since the 1990s, has never been directly linked to Pryor. The judge, who was nominated to the Eleventh Circuit by President George W. Bush in 2003, told the Justice Integrity Project in 2013 that:
"I have been smeared by a widely discredited blogger with a political agenda. His allegations have now been picked up by other bloggers. The person in the unsourced, undated photographs is not me, and I deny these allegations. I have been twice vetted by the FBI, including as recently as this past year; I have won two contested statewide elections; and I have been in the public eye for almost twenty years. I will not dignify these disgraceful accusations with any further comment."
The first highlighted section simply is not true. Multiple law-enforcement officials have directly linked the photo to Pryor, based on their investigation, which took them to Monroe, Louisiana, where Pryor went to college.
a former law clerk named Jennifer Bandy issue the "official statement" Snopes cites above.
Does Snopes reveal Andrew Kreig's assessment, based on research that included an attempt to interview Pryor, which Snopes apparently made no effort to do? No, it doesn't, but here is the conclusion that Kreig reached:
My opinion is that the photo is Pryor more likely than not, despite his denial.
Perhaps Snopes and Dan Evon would be wise to provide their audience with more context to this story. They could inform their readers that I broke the Pryor story on September 17, 2013, and one week later, Alabama deputies (in groups of two and three, always with multiple vehicles) started regularly appearing at our house, with no lawful grounds for trampling all over our property. Less than one month after the show of law-enforcement thuggery began, a deputy walked into our garage (without showing a warrant, stating he had a warrant, or stating his reasons for being present), beat me up, doused me with pepper spray and hauled me to the Shelby County Jail for a five-month stay -- all with no legal grounds for doing so.
I became the only American journalist since 2006 to be incarcerated -- and apparently the only one in American history to be arrested over a preliminary injunction that is unlawful in a defamation case under 230 years of First Amendment law. Is it a coincidence that this happened just weeks after I broke the story of Bill Pryor's youthful foray into gay porn?
I don't think so, and I would invite an inquiry from Snopes into the really important, and disturbing, aspects of this story. Dan Evon likely has no idea how deep the ugliness goes -- and it even includes an effort to have a bogus "content warning" placed on my blog.
An in-depth inquiry would show that the individual in the nude photo is, in fact, "the" Bill Pryor -- and the judge and his allies, in a show of Stalinesque force, had a journalist kidnapped and thrown in jail for reporting accurately on the story.
Life in America likely will get ugly under Donald Trump, and the Pryor story provides a glimpse of how far entitled, white right-wingers will go when they feel threatened by the truth.