Monday, July 9, 2007

Inside The Birmingham News

The strange story in yesterday's Birmingham News about the Siegelman/Simpson affidavit case raises some questions about Alabama's largest newspaper.

The News' story, written by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Brett Blackledge, seems to be a thinly veiled attempt to cover some Republican fanny--namely the fannies of Bill Canary and Karl Rove.

It's no secret that the News is a conservative newspaper. But just how conservative is the News? And how does that particular brand of conservativism affect the readers and community the paper serves?

My experience with corrupt Republican judges in Alabama has given me some insight into the News' operations. Here is some of what I've learned.

To understand the News' take on anything involving politics, you need to understand the politics--and the religion--of the Hanson family. Victor Hanson II, the paper's former publisher, is a member of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, one of the largest, wealthiest, most conservative, and most politically active congregations in Alabama. (Victor Hanson III, son of Victor II, is the current publisher. Not sure if he is a member of Briarwood.) Dan Quayle, and other conservative luminaries, have spoken at Briarwood.

Briarwood is the founding church of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), which is not to be confused with the mainline Presbyterian Church USA. The PCA is a much more evangelical, conservative outfit than the USA church, and PCA was founded right here in Birmingham by former Briarwood pastor Frank Barker.

All of this is of great interest to me because evidence strongly suggests that Briarwood Christian School, a ministry of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, is somehow connected to the judicial wrongdoing that I've experienced. I will be spelling all of this out in future posts. But for now let's consider my case and how the News' reacts to a story idea that would cast Republicans (particularly those who might be associated with Briarwood Church) in an unfavorable light.

When I realized that Judge J. Michael Joiner in Shelby County was repeatedly making unlawful rulings in the lawsuit filed against me, I contacted Tom Scarritt, editor of The Birmingham News. Scarritt agreed to meet me at his office. I know newspaper editors are busy people who like it when folks cut to the chase, so I gave him an 8- to 10-minute overview of my experience. (The ordeal had been going on about three years at that point, so that's a very condensed version.)

I had legal documents, statutory law, and case law that clearly showed the pattern of wrongdoing by Judge Joiner. I also mentioned the unsavory background of opposing attorney Bill Swatek, and connections I had discovered between Swatek and Joiner that should have disqualified Joiner from ever taking the case. I did not mention that my research had indicated that both Judge Joiner and Bill Swatek had connections to Briarwood School.

What was Scarritt's response? "Well, sounds to me like you need a lawyer who's as good as Mr. Swatek?" That might be the single dumbest statement I've ever heard a human being utter. ("So this is what the 'watchdog press' has come to," I thought to myself.) Did Scarritt ask me any questions about my experiences or ask to see the documents I had on hand? Nope.

I already knew about the paper's Briarwood connections, and as the Briarwood name began to surface in my case, I was convinced I would never get anywhere with the News.

But I decided to try a few other folks at the paper, just out of curiosity I guess, and told them about my experience via e-mail. Editorial page editor Bob Blalock and reporter Eric Velasco never responded. Neither did Blackledge, the future Pulitzer Prize winner. Montgomery reporter David White did respond, but quickly begged off on doing anything. The only person who genuinely seemed interested in learning more was columnist John Archibald, who had written about the Alabama Supreme Court's lawful, but absurd ruling in the Jack Cline case. Archibald indicated a time or two that he was interested in learning more about my experience. But he eventually quit responding to my e-mails. My impression? That someone at the paper got to him and indicated that he was not to look into my story.

After repeatedly reading editorials in the News that tsked-tsked public corruption, I decided to write a letter to the editor about the judicial corruption I had witnessed up close and personal. Did the News run the letter or contact me about it in any way? The answer, and the letter, coming up next.

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