Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Teflon Bob and the Incurious Press

A reader poses the following question: Is it possible someone in the Alabama press has investigated the Riley biotech deal in Huntsville, found there was nothing improper about it, and let it go without reporting anything?

A reasonable question. Here is my reasonable answer:

Most anything is possible in the world of journalism, but the scenario noted above is unlikely. I have almost 30 years of experience in journalism, so I have some knowledge of how news outfits work. Most reporters I'm aware of are not in the business of conducting serious investigations and then writing nothing about them, particularly on a story of this nature.

Remember, two political opponents--Roy Moore and Lucy Baxley--made public charges that Bob Riley's Huntsville deal was improper. Moore, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, used legal terminology--quid pro quo--to describe it.

If a reporter investigated the biotech deal and found nothing wrong, that in itself is a significant story. It would say that Roy Moore and Lucy Baxley were making unfounded charges against Bob Riley. At the height of an election season, I can't imagine any news organization not running that story.

One other thing to keep in mind: On a story of this nature, which involves fairly complex and somewhat vague areas of law, a reporter's opinion should not be the final word on whether a transaction was lawful. Even the best of investigative reporters might not be experts on federal bribery law. To fully understand that area of law would require not only studying the statute, but also delving into voluminous case law and law-review articles.

Reporters, by their nature, usually are folks who make "history in a hurry." They work on tight deadlines and often find it difficult to do the kind of background work that probably would be necessary to fully understand federal bribery law. And besides, it's not a reporter's job to determine whether a transaction is lawful or not. That's up to law enforcement professionals.

(Note: I think the apparent "mystery" of the law is one reason the mainstream press has shown little or no interest in my case. Trying to understand the law surrounding certain events can seem a daunting task, one many reporters and editors would just as soon avoid. And when it involves judicial corruption, as it does in my case, the reporters/editors definitely would rather avoid that. After all, judges have the power to ruin people and organizations. Actually, a lot of law--such as that in my case--is not nearly as mysterious as it may seem. But reporters, and the public, still find the law in general to be an intimidating realm, and that's just the way judges and lawyers like it, especially the corrupt ones. They are like cockroaches; they enjoy the dark and shun the light.)

As for law enforcement, that brings us right back to the issue of selective prosecution. Historically, Americans (rightly or wrongly) have had the notion that the U.S. Justice Department makes an honest effort to prosecute the law in an impartial manner. We now have a growing body of evidence that indicates the Bush administration has violated this public trust--prosecuting cases, or not prosecuting cases, based on politics.

If I seem to take this subject personally, that's because it is personal for me. I've seen Republican state judges, and at least one lawyer, repeatedly commit federal crimes (mail fraud). I've reported it to the Bush justice department, and nothing has been done. Even worse, Alice Martin, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, has taken affirmative steps to sweep the matter under the rug.

I will be writing about all of this in detail over the next month or so. My blog might seem like a partisan endeavor, but that's only because my particular case involves wrongdoing by Republican judges. I have little doubt that judicial corruption is a bipartisan problem. Anyone who cares about matters of right and wrong, should be outraged by judges who betray their oath to uphold the law. And they also should be outraged by prosecutors who picked and choose cases based on political factors.

Finally, it's impossible to overstate the importance of this general issue. As the French novelist Honore de Balzac said, "To distrust the judiciary marks the beginning of the end of society."

1 comment:

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

Found this from a banner ad at Talking Points Memo:


Now, who do you suppose is behind all this...? 'Chamber of Commerce'; 'Institute for Legal Reform'... logos at the bottom?

And what's with the pink -- why not just come out and call 'em all gay?

Bob Riley's got things to answer for, no doubt; I doubt the political climate here will ever let those things see the light of day, barring sudden unforeseen revelations from insiders (maybe a staffer with an axe to grind).