Just when you think The Birmingham News can get no more slanted in its coverage of the Don Siegelman/U.S. attorneys story, the paper comes along and tops itself.
The News today produces two stories, which together must total around 60 column inches, about Jill Simpson's testimony before Congressional lawyers investigating selective prosecution in the Bush Justice Department.
The goal of the two stories seems abundantly clear: Attack Simpson's credibility in any way possible. Does it work? Not to this reader's eyes. It just makes the News, and its GOP puppeteers, look increasingly desperate.
Scott Horton, of Harper's, has been calling the News "Pravda of the South" for some time now. Today's coverage adds to the evidence that the paper wholeheartedly deserves that title.
The first story, written by reporters Mary Orndorff and Brett Blackledge, starts on the front page and goes to a mammoth jump on page 7A. In the second story, a solo effort by Blackledge, the News' Pulitizer-Prize winning reporter seems dumbfounded by the notion that Simpson's Congressional testimony might contain information that was not present in her affidavit.
Let's examine the front-page story first. The News' headline breathlessly tells us "Simpson says she got help drafting affidavit." And lead paragraph reads:
"A Republican lawyer who earlier said she wrote her own sworn statement suggesting White House influence in former Gov. Don Siegelman's prosecution testified last month that she received help from Siegelman supporters, and helped provide research for defense lawyers."
The reporters note that in her Congressional testimony, Simpson says Alabaster, AL, attorney John Aaron drafted the first version of her affidavit. They then pull this quote from a July 6 interview with Simpson: "And mind you, I did not sit down with anyone and prepare this. I prepared this myself."
Gotcha! the News seems to be saying. But wait. Several paragraphs later we learn this:
"Simpson testified that she asked Aaron to help her write her affidavit. He gave her a draft that she didn't like, she said, so she sat down with her secretary to write her own."
Let's repeat, according to the News itself, "she sat down . . . to write her own." In other words, she did it herself, just like she said all along.
And the News' is apoplectic about the notion that Simpson communicated at various times with Siegelman supporters and critics of current Alabama Governor Bob Riley.
Is that news? I thought it was pretty well understood, and well reported, that she had talked with members of the Siegelman/Scrushy defense team. And is it surprising that Riley critics, such as Tuscaloosa businessman Stan Pate, might contact Simpson after hearing about her affidavit? Not surprising to me.
Since I started this blog a little over four months ago, I've heard from numerous people, both in and outside Alabama, who have stories about being cheated in courts. What's the old saying: The enemy of my enemy is my friend? Kindred spirits tend to connect, and said connection does nothing to cast doubt on Jill Simpson's credibility.
The second story is almost comical. Blackledge is spasmodic at the notion that Simpson's testimony included information not in her affidavit.
Let's see, the affidavit, as I recall, was three or four pages long. The transcript of her Congressional testimony is 140-something pages long. The affidavit, like most affidavits I'm aware of, was narrowly tailored to a specific event. In the testimony, she was responding to questions about a wide range of events. Are we really surprised that one might contain information that the other didn't.
I have a little personal knowledge in this area. I signed two or three affidavits in my own court case. I don't remember all of the details about how it worked, but I seem to recall writing a detailed e-mail to my attorney who put it into the form of a legal document. I went to his office, reviewed it, and when I was satisfied with its accuracy, signed it before a notary. It was my statement, but you could say I had "help" with it.
The opposing party in my case filed an affidavit, and I'll run naked down Highway 280 at rush hour if he wrote a single word of it. But he signed it, attesting to its accuracy, so I guess that's OK, whether he wrote it or not.
One final thought: The News spends 50-60 column inches questioning Jill Simpson's credibility, but what about some other hard questions they could be asking? Why has Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, not responded to Congressional requests for documents related to the Siegelman prosecution? What about the circumstances behind the fire at Ms. Simpson's home and the totaling of her vehicle? Has the News looked into that? What about Republican operative Dan Gans who, according to published reports, is suspected of electronically tampering with election results in the 2o02 governor's race? And has the News ever interviewed Auburn University professor James Gundlach about his paper that strongly suggests the results of the 2002 race were tainted? If they have, it escapes my memory. And given the recent attention Gundlach's work has received in national publications, you would think his home-state newspaper might see fit to interview him now.
Pravda of the South? If the shoe fits . . .