No Comment — July 25, 2007, 7:46 am

There’s No News in the B’ham News

Two reporters worked from opposite ends of Alabama to whip up stories in a successful effort to take down former Governor Siegelman and to legitimize a highly political prosecution. In fact, they’re good friends and former colleagues, and their strategy was apparently that the same story line emanating from two different papers makes for a convincing truth. I believe their work will one day provide a journalism school case study in journalistic hit jobs. Ultimate responsibility for this tragedy must, however, rest with the editors who approved and funded this exercise in journalistic terrorism. It’s on the whole a good thing to have zealous reporters eager to pursue a story. Editors are supposed to pull them in and force balance and perspective.

And today, with the House Judiciary Committee closing in on evidence of abusive prosecution and political manipulation, the Birmingham News continues its overdrive effort in damage control mixed with slash and burn journalism. As we will be showing in detail soon–based on accounts furnished by former Justice Department attorneys–the case against Governor Siegelman was launched by Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor in connivance with political swashbucklers at the Department of Justice and the president’s political brain trust in the White House. When the first effort, launched in the Northern District, wound up in the hands of Judge U.W. Clemon, and he started asking penetrating questions that ultimately exposed the absence of a prima facie case, the connivers quickly launched a back-up in the Middle District of Alabama.

It was understood from the outset that the entire enterprise was designed to take out Siegelman, using whatever tactics and tools that could be assembled, and that the steering wheel was going to he held by politicos in Washington. Bringing the second case in the Middle District as a back-up is known as judicial forum shopping, and it’s a very serious form of prosecutorial misconduct. The prosecutors felt comfortable that they’d get the judge they wanted. Strangely, they even seemed to know exactly who it would be. That Clemon fellow asked unnerving questions and was very close to exposing what was actually up. Can’t have that.

But of course, the Birmingham News accounts are almost entirely derivative of the prosecutors. The similarity between the articles published and the work product of the prosecutors would count as very strong evidence of yet another badge of prosecutorial misconduct, potentially even more serious than forum shopping, namely waging prosecution through friendly newspapers. Rules of prosecutorial ethics absolutely forbid this for obvious reasons. They also require that grand jury materials be kept secret. In this case, however, they found a curious way of being published over and again in two newspapers, which never had a critical word to utter about the prosecution. In other courts around the country, this would trigger an judicial inquiry into the conduct of prosecutors. In Alabama, however, federal judges who ask too many questions of prosecutors get rebuked and put back in their place. They’ve apparently forgotten their role in the dispensing of the king’s justice.

But the role of the newspapers in this travesty is very important. It created a public atmosphere in which people (and particularly potential jurors) would readily accept that the political targets were “corrupt.” These days people are ready to believe that about any political figure, especially if he is faced by a fire-breathing prosecutor who has the local press disseminating his propaganda under their own banner headlines.

Clemon’s suspicions are and were right on target, and the evidence for them is now mounting dramatically. Of course, don’t expect to read a single word of that in the Birmingham News, because it is committed to publishing no news except the GOP machine’s news.

So what do we see in the News today? Attacks on Judge Clemon, who is accused of being partisan. (See, if you object to the politicization of the prosecution process, there is only one possible explanation–you are a partisan person who does not appreciate the perfect justice dispensed by Alabama’s GOP machine. It’s absolute and inescapable logic. Why, it’s even news).

Which brings us to the slogan I am proposing for this beacon of partisan truth: “There’s no news in the B’ham News.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

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In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

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