Thursday, October 26, 2017

Coverage of Charles Todd Henderson case shows Alabama's somnolent press provides cover for white elites who tear at the fabric of public institutions

Charles Todd Henderson and Yareima Akl
One reason Alabama has such a toxic political/legal environment is that its mainstream media (MSM) tends to provide cover for white conservative elites who cheat citizens and sully public institutions. A classic example is coverage of last week's Charles Todd Henderson trial, which ended with Jefferson County's elected Democratic district attorney being convicted of perjury and blocked from taking office.

That means Gov. Kay Ivey will appoint Henderson's replacement, who surely will be someone more palatable to former Gov. Bob Riley and members of his political machine. Don't be surprised if Brandon Falls -- a Riley favorite who lost to Henderson in last November's election -- gets the nod. That would effectively overturn the will of Jefferson County voters -- many of them black Democrats -- who clearly favored the relatively unknown Henderson. But those voters did not count on this: The Rileys and their allies are terrified of a real prosecutor, one who might scrutinize financial shenanigans from their home base in Jefferson County.

The whole point of the Henderson prosecution, which was brought just days before he was to take office after beating Brandon Falls, was to ensure the Rileys stood protected. But you would never know that from reading coverage at the state's primary MSM news site,

How corrupt are the Riley's actions? Imagine if last Saturday the Alabama Crimson Tide laid a beating on the Tennessee Vols, only to discover that the scoreboard operator was a UT grad who reversed the score as time wound down, giving Tennessee the victory. Can you imagine the howls of outrage?

That's essentially what happened to Henderson, but you hardly hear a peep about it. And that is largely thanks to Both their reporter who provided daily coverage (Ivana Hrynkiw) and their columnist who provided "analysis" (John Archibald) were utterly lacking in accuracy, inquisitiveness, and critical thinking. In other words, they were in the hip pockets of the conservative elites who lord over their "news organization."

Let's consider a few pearls from Hrynkiw:

(1) In an Oct. 20 article about Henderson's conviction, Hrynkiw wrote:

Transcripts show Henderson twice denied staying with Mrs. Akl at her apartment, but surveillance evidence showed Henderson had stayed at the apartment on several occasions.

Hrynkiw apparently is referring to a private investigator's report from the divorce case involving Henderson campaign aide Yareima Akl. Prosecutors alleged that Henderson lied under oath when asked at a divorce-case hearing if he ever had spent the night at Akl's residence -- and he answered no. But a simple reading of the PI report shows the surveillance report is filled with huge time gaps, and it does not prove Henderson ever spent a night at Akl's home.

(2) In an Oct. 17 article as testimony began, Hrynkiw wrote:

In September 2016 at the Akls' trial, Henderson testified and told Mr. Akl's attorney he had not spent the night at Mrs. Akl's home. Evidence had surfaced that he and Mrs. Akl were in a romantic relationship, according to court records, and photographs had been taken by a private investigator of the two outside Mrs. Akl's apartment.

First, the Sept. 26 proceeding has been described in the press as a hearing. A transcript of the proceeding describes it as a deposition. I've seen nothing to suggest it was a trial. More importantly, Hrynkiw writes that evidence had surfaced of a romantic relationship, but Henderson was not even asked about such a relationship at the hearing. He was asked if he had ever spent the night at Ms. Akl's home, nothing more.

John Archibald
As for evidence, Hrynkiw apparently is referring to the PI report, which provided no proof that Henderson had spent the night or that he had a romantic relationship with Ms. Akl. The report describes Ms. Akl carrying campaign signs (surprise, she worked on his campaign!), watering plants, taking out trash. Does it describe Henderson and Akl holding hands, hugging, kissing, whispering sweet nothings in each other's ears. No, no, no, and no. It all sounds about as romantic as a trip to the proctologist.

Finally, Hrynkiw hints that a photo of the two outside Ms. Akl's apartment proves something. What, pray tell does it prove -- that they can stand upright?

Now, let's turn to Archibald, who always can be counted on to pick up his pom-poms and don a cheerleader's skirt whenever right-wing prosecutors are chasing individuals who are white, black, or Democrats -- or some combination of the above.

(1) In an Oct. 20 column, Archibald does his best cheerleading routine under the title "Jeffco DA guilty of perjury, but that's just the tip of the slimeberg." Under that subtle headline, we find the following:

Henderson began a relationship with Akl while the woman was embroiled in a heated divorce. She worked on his campaign and they became close. They began to date and spend the night together and call each other girlfriend and boyfriend.

They began to spend the night together? Where does Archibald get this? A PI report certainly does not prove it.

(2) In the same column, Archibald writes as follows:

And in the midst of it, acting as if he did not know Akl or her 10-year-old child, Henderson asked a judge to appoint him as the child's guardian ad litem in the divorce. He was supposed to look out for the child's interests as the parents fought it out. It's a position that must be unbiased, that cannot be tied to a parent.

Uhhhh . . . it's been reported in multiple places -- and a transcript clearly shows -- that Ms. Akl's attorney (Daniel Chambers), not Henderson, asked Judge Patricia Stephens to appoint Henderson as guardian ad litem.

(3) Still in the same column, Archibald writes:

Stephens was a devastating witness. She cried as she recounted a closed-door meeting with lawyers after Henderson testified that he and Akl never spent the night together. She was shown evidence then that it was a lie.

What evidence was she shown that it was a lie? Archibald doesn't say. But it couldn't have been the PI report because it doesn't come close to proving a lie. Maybe Archibald, and others, were "assuming facts not in evidence." That's not how a criminal trial is supposed to work, and Archibald should know that.

Meanwhile, Archibald hints that a witness crying on the stand was the deciding factor in a criminal prosecution? Really, that's how court cases are decided now?

(4) Finally, Archibald cackles at the notion Henderson was the victim of a political prosecution:

So forgive me if I give short shrift to the chorus of Democrats who swore in the last few weeks that Henderson, himself a Democrat, was a victim of some kind of political prosecution.

Here are questions a commenter raised at this blog the other day, and perhaps Archibald should ponder them: Would Charles Todd Henderson have been prosecuted for perjury if he had not run for DA as a Democrat in Jefferson County? Would Henderson have been prosecuted if he had not beaten Bob Riley-favorite Brandon Falls in last November's election?

Readers of "The Great Archie" should pose those questions to him. Does he have the integrity to answer honestly? I doubt it. But anyone with the slightest integrity and knowledge of Alabama's toxic political scene knows the answers. They are "no" and "no."

And that means Henderson was, in fact, the victim of a political prosecution -- even if John Archibald has his pigtails in a knot and his mind set in concrete.

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