Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bob Riley, Don Siegelman, and a Case of Funny Numbers

How bad is journalism in Alabama? So bad that bad journalists around the globe must turn toward Birmingham several times a day to pray.

Consider a stunning editorial from The Birmingham News about the need for transparency in campaign funding. The staunchly conservative newspaper actually acknowledges (sort of) that Republican Governor Bob Riley received Indian gaming money for his 2002 campaign, as laundered through disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff (although Abramoff's name isn't mentioned.)

But the News decides it must pull off some creative math to cushion the blow for its conservative readers, lest they get a case of the vapors upon learning that Riley is somewhat less than pure. Behold this paragraph:

Riley got at least a half million dollars during his 2002 gubernatorial race that surely looks like it came from a lobbyist for Indian casinos. But it went through such a wash-and-rinse cycle, nobody can say for sure. The lobbyist (who later pleaded guilty to swindling his Indian clients) gave money to one group, which gave money to another group, which gave money to Riley.

Notice how the News concocts some funny numbers. The Associated Press, quoting a U.S. Senate report directed by John McCain, reports that Mississippi Choctaws spent $13 million to help get Riley elected.

Notice how the newspaper focuses on the "at least $500,000" figure while leaving out the $13 million figure. "At least," indeed.

Why the funny numbers? And where does the $500,000 figure come from? Perhaps it comes from the paper's recent article about Riley's opposition to a bingo bill currently before the Alabama Legislature. That article notes the financial help Riley received from Abramoff sidekick Michael Scanlon:

Mississippi Choctaw lobby­ist Michael Scanlon, who briefly worked for Riley as a congressional aide in 1997, gave money to four groups that in turn gave to Riley's 2002 campaign for governor.

Scanlon's lobbying firm gave $500,000 in October 2002 to the Republican Governors' Association, which soon after transferred the money to a re­lated Republican committee. The committee donated $650,000 to Riley and $150,000 to the Alabama Republican Party the same month. But RGA officials said the Scanlon money did not go to Riley.

By focusing on the $500,000 figure for Riley, the News came up with the exact amount that former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman received from former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy for an education-lottery campaign.

That transaction, even though it clearly was within the law, led to Siegelman and Scrushy's prosecution and conviction on corruption charges. The News repeatedly has stated that the prosecution appears to be just and not driven by political motivations.

On the other hand, the newspaper admits (sort of) that Riley received at least $500,000 that was laundered through a couple of confessed felons. I don't claim to be an expert on the U.S. Code, but that surely would involve federal crimes, would it not? Election fraud, honest-services mail/wire fraud, conspiracy, something? And if Riley agreed to protect Mississippi gaming interests in exchange for the money--which he appears to be doing by opposing gambling in Alabama--that would smell an awful lot like bribery.

Is Alabama's largest newspaper calling for an investigation? Nope.

Is this a matter of funny math, funny journalism, or both?

And newspapers wonder why their business is crumbling.

1 comment:

Robby Scott Hill said...

Speaking of numbers, is it any accident that Judge Fuller's seven year sentence of Don Siegelman back in 2007 was just enough to keep him in prison through the 2010 and 2014 races for Governor? I smell a rat!