Monday, July 23, 2007

An Indictment of The Birmingham News

While we are on the subject of The Birmingham News, let's recap recent examples we have cited of the paper's shoddy and biased reporting. We owe many thanks to Scott Horton of Harper's for uncovering and analyzing much of this. And we like to think the Legal Schnauzer has contributed some insight, too.

Why is this important? Several reasons.

For one, the major domestic story in the country at the moment is the U.S. Attorneys/Department of Justice scandal. For weeks now, Alabama has been at the center of the scandal, thanks to the prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman and Dana Jill Simpson's affidavit indicating the prosecution was politically motivated. For another, The Birmingham News is not just another newspaper. It recently received the Pulitzer Prize, the highest award in journalism, for its reporting on the two-year-colleges scandal in Alabama (which involves mostly Democrats). A paper of the News' stature should cover wrongdoing aggressively, whether it involves Democrats for Republicans. But recent evidence strongly suggests that is not the case with the News.

Let's review:

* Horton points out the misleading nature of a News article about the Simpson affidavit.

* Horton labels the News the official apologists for the conservative slant on the Siegelman story. And he presents evidence that shows why the paper deserves that title.

* Horton shows how the News and other Alabama newspapers seem to want the Simpson affidavit story to just go away.

* Horton points out errors in a column by Robin DeMonia, criticizing U.S. Rep. Artur Davis for seeking a Congressional inquiry into the Siegelman prosecution.

* Finally, Horton compares the Alabama press, led by the News, to the press in Albania and Zimbabwe.

Your humble Legal Schnauzer has added to the equation by offering evidence of the double standard The News' holds in its coverage of local issues:

* We note the paper's bizarre story, by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Brett Blackledge, purporting to show that the Simpson affidavit might or might not show White House involvement in the Siegelman prosecution.

* We provide an insider's view of the News' response to tips about wrongdoing by Republican judges in Alabama, citing a half dozen reporters and editors who never bothered to even look into the matter.

* We present a copy of a letter to the editor that the News refused to print on the subject of judicial wrongdoing.

* We compare the News' response to tips about wrongdoing in Alabama's two-year-colleges system (involving mostly Democrats in the state legislature) to its response to our tips about wrongdoing by state judges (all Republicans).

* We show the News' hypocrisy when it comes to Alabama's judicial system. On the one hand, the paper editorializes about the perception that the state's courts are corrupt. It even admits that such a perception equals reality in some cases. But in its news coverage, the paper ignores the subject, even when an insider offers clear-cut proof of wrongdoing.

* Finally, Horton and the Schnauzer combine to show that The Birmingham News is not alone in its two-faced reporting. The Huntsville Times and Mobile Press-Register (both Newhouse papers, like The News) and the Montgomery Advertiser also have shown double standards when it comes to reporting wrongdoing by Democrats as opposed to wrongdoing by Republicans.
So what's our final word on this indictment of The Birmingham News?

Pontificating about the obvious corruption in Alabama's courts? Easy.

Actually doing a little digging to report on the corruption? Hard.

Sticking head in sand to protect right-wing constituents? Priceless.


Jeff (no, the other one) said...

Okay. As an employee of the 2-year college system -- no, really! -- Mr. Blackledge just took our story as he found it. We made ourselves easy marks. Any decent reporter who can dig through documents could've done it. He did his job.

Believe it or not, Ms. Simpson and I go way back to Tuscaloosa, college days '83-'88. I haven't spoken to her in 6 years or so, but I guarantee she wouldn't risk her career over nothing.

Faulty memory? Ask her if she still remembers learning the (I think it was) Canterbury Tales in Old English when she was something like 5.

legalschnauzer said...

Interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

Like you, I'm an easy mark. I've got boxes of documents at home I could show Mr. Blackledge, or any other competent reporter, and they would prove the wrongdoing I'm talking about. Actually would be no need to look through the boxes. I would only need a few documents to prove it, and I could hand them to him. In fact, I took them with me to visit Tom Scarritt, editor of the News, and he wouldn't even look at them.

From where I sit, the difference seems to be that the two-year-college wrongdoing involved mostly Democrats, and my case involves judges who are all Republicans.

Makes me yearn for the Post-Herald. They used to have a crusty editor named Angus McEachran, and I think he would have been all over this story.

Neat to hear from someone who knows Ms. Simpson. Sounds like her memory of things usually is on target.