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.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2016

The Trouble with Iowa

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Queen and I

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Disunified Front

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

We Don’t Have Rights, But We Are Alive

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Isn’t It Romantic?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trusted Traveler

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
New Movies·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Force Awakens criticizes American imperialism while also celebrating the revolutionary spirit that founded this country. When the movie needs to bridge the two points of view, it shifts to aerial combat, a default setting that mirrors the war on terror all too well.”
Still © Lucasfilm
Article
Isn’t It Romantic?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“He had paid for much of her schooling, something he cannot help but mention, since the aftermath of any failed relationship brings an ungenerous and impossible impulse to claw back one’s misspent resources.”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
The Trouble with Iowa·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It seems to defy reason that this anachronistic farm state — a demographic outlier, with no major cities and just 3 million people, nine out of ten of them white — should play such an outsized role in American politics.”
Photograph (detail) © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Article
Rule, Britannica·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“This is the strange magic of an arrangement of all the world’s knowledge in alphabetical order: any search for anything passes through things that have nothing in common with it but an initial letter.”
Artwork by Brian Dettmer. Courtesy the artist and P.P.O.W., New York City.
Article
The Queen and I·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Buckingham Palace is a theater in need of renovation. There is something pathetic about a fiercely vacuumed throne room. The plants are tired. Plastic is nailed to walls and mirrors. The ballroom is set for a ghostly banquet. Everyone is whispering, for we are in a mad kind of church. A child weeps.”
Photograph (detail) © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Estimated percentage of New Hampshire’s bat population that died in 2010:

65

A horticulturalist in Florida announced a new low-carb potato.

In Peru, a 51-year-old activist became the first former sex worker to run for the national legislature. “I’m going to put order,” she said, “in that big brothel which is Congress.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Two Christmas Mornings of the Great War

By

Civilization masks us with a screen, from ourselves and from one another, with thin depth of unreality. We habitually live — do we not? — in a world self-created, half established, of false values arbitrarily upheld, largely inspired by misconception, misapprehension, wrong perspective, and defective proportion, misapplication.

Subscribe Today