Monday, April 28, 2008

Brett Blackledge and a Strange New Form of Journalism

Let's return to the subject of WHNT reporter Greg Privett and his Sunday night report on coverage of the Don Siegelman case.

Privett produced three solid, balanced pieces last week, all generated from a lecture by Harper's Scott Horton at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). Privett's Sunday night piece can be viewed here, by scrolling down to "NewsChannel 19 Special Report: Don Siegelman and the News Media."

It's refreshing to see an Alabama journalist taking a serious look at issues connected to the Siegelman case. As Horton correctly points out, the story has been driven so far by national journalists. But with Privett's help, perhaps that is about to change.

Privett's first two pieces centered on Horton's criticisms of the Alabama press, particularly the ink-stained wretches at The Birmingham News and the Mobile Press-Register. In his Sunday piece, Privett gave the News' Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Brett Blackledge a chance to fire back at Horton.

I was expecting Blackledge to come out with both barrels blazing. Instead, he's like one of those cartoon characters who fires a gun only to have a little flag pop out, with the word "bang" on it.

Privett reports that Blackledge contacted NewsChannel 19 and asked for a chance to respond to Horton's criticisms. That's an act from the Eddie Curran School of Journalism, so I was expecting Blackledge to be all slobber and spit and foam.

Instead, Blackledge is strangely subdued. In fact, he evidently would not submit to an on-camera interview; WHNT didn't use one anyway. What the viewer gets is a written statement from Blackledge, focusing mainly on the Jill Simpson component of the Siegelman story:

"The Alabama media and many other national media approached by Simpson, Siegelman, and others are challenging the more fantastic, and as yet unproven, claims of White House interference in Siegelman's case and asking for proof to substantiate such claims. It may exist, and if it does, it should be offered to help everyone understand the issue."

Regular readers know that I enjoy playing dime-store psychology from time to time (OK, almost every day), so allow me to engage in a little analysis of our guy Brett. I propose that Blackledge is engaged in some serious passive-aggressive behavior. Or in his case, maybe it would more accurately be called aggressive-passive. He aggressively seeks an opportunity to respond to Horton's critiques. But then he goes all soft and passive, delivering up a prepared statement that has all the consistency of mush.

What message is Blackledge sending? I can think of a few:

* He says Simpson, Siegelman, and "others" have approached the Alabama and national press, apparently in an effort to "sell" their stories. How does Blackledge know this? Given that 60 Minutes, The New York Times, Time magazine, and others have covered the story, Simpson and company must have done quite a selling job. But how does Blackledge know that these news outlets did not approach Simpson & Co.? That's the way it usually works--reporters go after news, not the other way around. By the way, how would Siegelman approach anybody about the story? He just spent most of the past 10 months in federal prison?

* Blackledge says the press is challenging the more "fantastic" claims made by Simpson/Siegelman? Don't know what "press" Blackledge is talking about, but consider 60 Minutes. That august news outfit evidently "challenged" the claims by doing something called "reporting"--conducting research, interviewing subjects, checking facts, etc. The folks at 60 Minutes, who have participated in a few big stories in their day, found the claims compelling enough to devote one long piece and one shorter piece to the subject. How is Blackledge challenging the Simpson/Siegelman claims? How does he know the claims are "fantastic?" Has he done any reporting? Has he done anything, other than call Karl Rove on speed dial?

* I thought newspaper reporters, especially those who win Pulitzer Prizes, were supposed to be aggressive cusses. Blackledge seems to want stories dumped at his feet. Is that the way he approaches all stories? Or just the ones that don't fit his desired ideological profile?

* Isn't it interesting that Blackledge never actually addresses Horton's criticism at all? Instead, his entire statement revolves around Jill Simpson. From Karl Rove's recent interview with GQ, we know the former White House adviser is borderline obsessed with Simpson. Isn't it interesting that Blackledge is obsessed with Simpson, as well?

* And isn't it interesting that Blackledge seems blissfully unaware that there is a Don Siegelman story out there, beyond anything involving Jill Simpson and Karl Rove? A little legwork regarding the backgrounds and actions of the prosecutors and the judge in the case would reveal volumes of information that point to political and unlawful prosecution. Heck, just checking the jury instructions alone, along with Judge Mark Fuller's pathetic memorandum opinion regarding Siegelman's imprisonment pending appeal, would clearly show the political machinations going on in the case. While Simpson certainly is a key player, her story goes way beyond Karl Rove. In fact, her story would be important, and compelling, even if she had never mentioned "Karl." The crux of her story is this: That Alabama Republican operative Bill Canary said he was working with two U.S. attorneys, his "girls" Leura Canary and Alice Martin, to ensure that Don Siegelman would be taken care of. If Blackledge can't see a story in that, one worth digging for, he needs to turn in his press badge and start selling insurance.


Anonymous said...

Greg Privett was an intern in the Clinton White House. I don't think it matters, but you pro-Siegelman bloggers would have a field day if he was an intern in the Bush White House and then produced 3 news pieces that attacked Siegelman.

Anonymous said...

Brett Blackledge is a hack journalist at best. Back in the early 1990s, he worked for the Fairfax County (Virginia) Journal and at the instigation of a politically-partisan editor and the erratic wife of a prominent national news media executive, attempted to destroy an honest legislator's reputation with a five part series alleging corruption: no evidence just preposterous allegations. The legislator's complete files were made available to Blackledge files. but he could find nothing, except the libelous allegations of some environmental gadflies.

The story got some local attention but no follow-up by the major media sources in the Washington DC area for obvious reasons.
Blackledge did not get the job he expected from the national media organization and he soon left for parts unknown (apparently Birmingham, Alabama).

James Greek said...

You know hnt is owned by a pro-bush organization right?