Sunday, August 5, 2007

Alabama's dysfunctional press

In order to play its critical role in a democracy, the press needs at least two qualities--a healthy skepticism toward the actions of those in power and sufficient ideological diversity to ensure that wrongdoers of all stripes will be held accountable.

Scott Horton, of Harper's, points out in today's Anniston Star that Alabama's press is sorely lacking on both counts.

Horton notes the strong evidence that prosecutors were improperly feeding material to reporters from certain press organizations during the investigation of former Governor Don Siegelman. And with the Newhouse newspaper chain dominating three key markets in Alabama, no independent voices stepped up to ask critical questions about the prosecutions evidence--and its activities.

In essence, Alabama's press is a lot like its state judicial system. It's a club made up largely of people who are white and male and of a certain ideological bent. And Alabama's citizens, overall, are not well served by either their press or their judiciary.


Anonymous said...

I noticed this piece too. But it left me wondering, where is the evidence of this? I mean, it's one thing to assume these conspiracies in order to plead DS's case, but I didn't find evidence offered to support it. It's frustrating, really, because Horton and others seem to be taking aim at newspapers that investigate allegations of wrongdoing, attempting to discourage this work because it included politicians they support. Who is best served, then, if the media is attacked for investigating these issues and the partisans are able to attack them? I've never read where anyone discredited the reporting, or for that matter, where anyone could offer proof of this media conspiracy.

I've read Horton's material faithfully, and have never discovered evidence offered to prove his opinions. And I wondered why the Anniston paper didn't do its own investigation into this issue if indeed that paper suspected wrongdoing or some sinister conspiracy.

Anonymous said...

Horton's article disproves itself, as the previous author alludes. If the press in Alabama were ruled by a cabal beholden to conservative interests, how did Horton get his piece published in the Anniston Star?

This whole fuss proves farce more and more every day. Those defending Siegelman never attack the charges filed against him, only those involved in his prosecution. Never do they explain why three men pled guilty to crimes that sent them to jail that, for Siegelman to be innocent, never could have occurred. Never do they explain how there is no free press in Alabama, yet they are reporting their partisan theories to the public at large.

Anonymous said...

Horton, as usual, offered not a single bit of evidence to back up his hysterical rantings. Unlike the reporters for the Birmingham and Mobile papers, he has not cited a single primary document and his timeline is all wrong (e.g. the stories began appearing in the paper before a grand jury was ever convened).

The Anniston Star, by printing this piece, demonstrated that it is consumed by petty jealousy because it is the other newspapers in the state doing the investigative reporting and breaking the big stories. If H. Brandt Ayers had any credibility, it is gone now.

legalschnauzer said...

A few thoughts:

* I don't think Horton is trying to discourage investigative reporting. He is pointing out that evidence strongly suggests the prosecution improperly shared its information with certain reporters.

* Horton has not focused on the Siegelman defense, whether Siegelman did or not do this or that. Rather he has focused on the motivations and improper actions of the prosecution.

* Horton and I have pointed out the double standard that seems to exist among the major papers in Birmingham, Mobile, and Huntsville (all part of the same newspaper chain)when it comes to covering alleged wrongdoing by Democrats as opposed to alleged wrongdoing by Republicans.

* I would encourage you to try this test. Write a letter to the editor to any (or all) of these three papers and tell them you read this blog, which is about wrongdoing of a statewide nature by Republican judges. Give them the URL of this blog and state that, as a citizen, you are concerned about wrongdoing by public officials of either party. Encourage them to investigate the Legal Schnauzer case. See if they run your letter. See if they report on this case. Don't hold your breath waiting for either to happen.

Anonymous said...

Well, first let me disagree with your first note. Horton offers no evidence to support his opinion that prosecutors acted improperly or "shared its information" with reporters. That was the point of my earlier note, that Horton has many grand theories and no evidence. For example, name one point of evidence he offers that prosecutors "shared information" with reporters.

Second, I find it fascinating that you are satisfied that Siegelman could be guilty, yet you or Horton attempt to attack the prosecution. That's something like if you don't have the law on your side, argue the facts; if you don't have the facts, argue the law; if you don't have either, attack the prosecution.

Third, also interesting that you claim, as I believe Horton does, that the newspapers have an agenda against Democrats. I seem to recall Mobile writing about a corrupt Republican sheriff there; Birmingham pointing out Riley's connections to Abramoff and others; and many other articles that hurt your theory. Again, cite the facts and I believe you may find they don't support the notion that "the media did it."

Finally, I wouldn't want to dismiss your personal difficulties with the court system. But I hardly think they prove the rule regarding the entire system. In Horton's case, I suspect he's just continuing to push a partisan agenda, as most bloggers do. Nothing wrong with that, but it certainly doesn't rise to the level of "evidence" of anything. Read his material more carefully, and I believe you will see what I mean.

legalschnauzer said...

I think Horton presents quite a bit of evidence, noting that stories regularly showed up in newspapers that would have required almost Holmesian skills to unearth without prosecutorial help. Eddie Curran seems to be a capable reporter, but not sure he could have uncovered all of those stories without inside assistance. Nothing wrong with that from a Curran perspective. But as Horton points out, that crosses the ethical boundaries for prosecutors.

As far as other evidence, keep in mind that the Alabama stage of the DOJ scandal is only two months old. These things often play out over many months or years. Ominous that Rove, Miers and company seem to have no interest in testifying before Congress.

You are correct that there has been some reporting on Republican wrongdoing. But Curran (Siegelman case) and Brett Blackledge (two-year colleges scandal) were given free rein for many months to follow those stories. Haven't seen that kind of commitment to following the Riley/Abramoff story, the Riley/Huntsville biotech center story, or the overall DOJ/Alabama story. And there has been zero interest in following my story of wrongdoing by multiple Republican judges.

Don't know that you and I will agree on too much, but your comments are well stated and obviously thought out. Thanks for sharing.

By the way, stick around for future posts on the issue of honest services mail fraud, which made up 20 of the 30-odd counts against Siegelman. Those of us who were not at the trial and on the inside can only develop general opinions as to Siegelman's guilt. But it might help to understand the law regarding 18 U.S. Code 1346, upon which the government built most of its case.

I'm not a lawyer, but as a victim of 1346 violations, I'm very interested in the subject of honest services mail fraud. Will try to shine some light on a somewhat murky, and controversial, area of law.

Anonymous said...

I'll keep this response limited to your first point about what you appear to claim is "evidence" offered by Horton that the reporter received inappropriate information from prosecutors. Again, I ask for one piece of evidence, nothing more, to prove this. What you offered me was the assumption that the Mobile reporter isn't possibly competent enough to develop stories on his own, therefore he must have received it from prosecutors. This is not evidence, but it is indeed exactly the sort of thing Horton asserts as his evidence. So in that sense, I don't blame you for repeating it. But I do hold you accountable for it.

If true, your point would also prove that if I go outside and dance around in a circle calling for rain to fall and then it rains, then I'm a rainmaker. Obviously, that would be absurd, and just as absurd as the notion that you and Horton have offered as evidence.

Can you do better? And again, I'm not asking you to find it yourself. Show me one instance of proof Horton offers to support his claim that prosecutors gave that reporter information. I'll wait patiently.

legalschnauzer said...

We seem to be focusing on Horton's op-ed piece in the Anniston Star, which by definition is a mix of opinion and insight. That's probably not a good example of his reporting. Much of his true reporting, so far, has focused on Judge Mark Fuller.

Also, I think we're talking about two different kinds of evidence. You seem to be referring to the court-of-law kind of evidence. Evidence that comes from a reporter often comes drip by drip, over a period of months or years. In court, you probably would call much of it circumstantial. Added up, it can make a compelling case, at least journalistically.

Whether something comes of itin a court-type setting--such as Congress--remains to be seen.

Horton impresses me as a very smart guy. But most big scandals break over a long period of time, with many reporters contributing to it. I don't think he can truly "break" the Alabama story on his own. And I doubt that any Alabama reporter is going to step up and look into the DOJ scandal from an Alabama perspective.

Anonymous said...

Again, I don't want to be pushy here, but my sense is you haven't answered my question. I don't see any evidence you offered about the claim Horton and others make that the Alabama media received information from prosecutors. I'm assuming you agree with me that no such evidence has been offered, either direct or circumstantial, as you say, on this point. The Anniston newspaper's column from Horton is not the only place he has suggested this without evidence, so don't feel like you can't cite his other similiarly unsubstantiated statements he has made elsewhere.

Take your time, if you need to, to find it. I'll keep waiting.