Scott Horton, of Harper's, has described the Alabama press as "incurious" when it comes to matters regarding the issue of selective prosecution and the Bush Department of Justice (DOJ). After all, the issue has focused largely on Alabama in recent months, thanks to the sentencing of former Governor Don Siegelman on corruption charges. But Alabama newspapers don't seem particularly interested in the subject.
Incurious would be a good term to describe coverage of Bob Riley, Siegelman's Republican successor, from the outset.
Let's consider some quesitons that could be asked about the Huntsville biotech deal that Riley engineered. Riley announced a state incentive package of $50 million (twice the state support UAB received for its Shelby Biomedical Research Building) and later received a generous campaign contribution from backers of the Huntsville project.
We must keep in mind 18 U.S. Code 666, which holds that bribery occurs when an agent of a State "corruptly solicits or demands for the benefit of any person, or accepts or agrees to accept, anything of value from any person, intending to be influenced or rewarded in connection with any business, transaction, or series of transactions of such organization, government, or agency involving any thing of value of $5,000 or more."
So let's ponder some questions that could be asked about the Riley deal:
* When did Riley and the Huntsville people first meet?
* Are there visitor logs to Riley's office, or offices of the Huntsville people, that would show when meetings took place and who was present?
* Were there letters between the parties regarding the deal?
* Were there telephone calls between the parties regarding the deal?
* Were there e-mails between the parties regarding the deal?
* What was the substance of any and all communications between the parties regarding the deal?
Has anyone in the press, or law enforcement, asked these kinds of questions? Eddie Curran, of the Mobile Press-Register, evidently went through volumes of documents while investigating Siegelman. (And that's fine, that's what reporters are supposed to do.) But has any reporter asked to look at any documents related to Riley's deal in Huntsville?
I'm raising issues related to bribery here because that's really what the Siegelman trial came down to. The government threw 33 counts at Siegelman, involving a number of transactions, but the jury convicted him on only seven counts. And six of those seven were connected to the $500,000 contribution from Richard Scrushy to Siegelman's lottery campaign. Twenty of the counts against Siegelman were for honest services mail fraud, and the jury rejected all but one of those charges. Siegelman was convicted on one count related to Lanny Young, the only one that did not involve the Scrushy contribution.
As for the Alabama press, consider the type of reporting it can do when it sets its mind to it. A good example came in Sunday's Birmingham News in the latest piece by Pulitzer-Prize winning report Brett Blackledge on the two-year colleges scandal in Alabama. The story clearly shows that Blackledge dug into records and asked hard questions.
So why has neither Blackledge, nor any other reporter in Alabama that we are aware of, done this kind of reporting on the Riley biotech deal in Huntsville?
Very incurious indeed