SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
The Pravda of the South Speaks Again
Early yesterday, a contact on the G.O.P. staff of the House Judiciary Committee told me that her colleagues had taken a step to attempt to pre-empt the hearings that the Committee had originally scheduled for Thursday (now postponed), at which the Siegelman prosecution will appear center stage. They were, she told me, going to use a time-honored technique: the interview transcripts would be leaked to a reporter “who can be trusted to get our message across.” That is, not a real reporter, but a partisan attack animal. I wondered for a second just who the G.O.P.’s attack dog would be. But in fact, it didn’t take much effort, since it’s been clear for many months exactly who in the press could be counted upon to present Republican Party propaganda in the guise of a news story. And then, in a matter of only a few hours, the story appeared, just where I knew it would, in the pages of the Birmingham News.
In the guise of reporting on the Simpson interview with the House Judiciary Committee, the B’ham News reporters in fact launch a major sustained assault on the credibility of Jill Simpson. Nothing new here either. Their reporting has from the beginning consisted almost exclusively of processing G.O.P. attacks on Simpson’s credibility and spinning their own distortions and lies. But the News’s phony reporting has gotten so over-the-top that it has been required to print corrections in the past. And this piece is another prime example:
Simpson also told lawyers with the U.S. House Judiciary Committee that the reason she offered the sworn statement earlier this year was because she was concerned that Chief U.S. District Court Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery had a conflict in Siegelman’s case and should have recused himself. That statement differs from her earlier public comments and her sworn statement that she wrote the affidavit because of concerns that a lawyer working for Gov. Bob Riley had a conflict representing former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy.
The News’s statement is either dishonest or stupid (not to imply that it might not be both). The attorneys for Siegelman and Scrushy were engaged in an effort both to get Judge Mark Fuller, a former member of the G.O.P. Executive Committee and a man who previously stated that criticisms brought against his management of the accounts as a district attorney by the Siegelman Administration had been “politically motivated” (both facts never reported by the News), to recuse himself and to get a new trial. These efforts are tied together, because a party seeking a judge’s recusal at the end of a trial faces a very heavy burden, which is essentially the need to justify a new trial. So what the News would portray as two different things is in fact one and the same. The fact that an ethically conflicted attorney had played a key role in the defense would open the door for a new trial. And it would put the motion for the recusal of Judge Fuller, which was as presented limited only to his extensive business dealings with a party (the Department of Justice), on a much stronger track as well.
And having interviewed Simpson back in the beginning of the summer, I can attest that her account has never waivered on these points. In fact, I was in the midst of an interview with Simpson one day when the News’s ace reporter called and conducted an interview of his own. It was a strange experience, and the reporter in question kept hitting the same questions over and over again, about a couple of specific lines from the Simpson affidavit. He could be exploring the entire story, I thought, pushing it forward. But all he wanted to do was attempt to trip Simpson up in some inconsistency. It was bizarre. But it told me everything I needed to know about his mindset. Simpson was the enemy. And he was on a mission to take her down. His quest hasn’t stopped.
Indeed, there is quite a bit more that still has not been developed or explored in the House Judiciary transcript. And there is very substantial corroboration of each point in her testimony. But it’s typical of the News and its pseudo-journalistic style, that it undertakes a relentless attack, and makes no effort to actually investigate.
Just as it made no effort to explore or look into the Lanny Young allegations concerning Senator Sessions and Judge Pryor, or the FBI probe into Senator Shelby. Its editorial policy shapes its news reporting, and that policy involves upholding the Alabama G.O.P. at all costs, and attacking the Democrats.
The spirit of the News shines through in a cartoon which appeared in its web pages first and then was replaced with an edited version. Here’s the final, approved version of the cartoon.
The original was like this, except the label on the back of the character was originally “honky.” The point that the cartoonist wants to make is not entirely clear. Perhaps that the Black community are the real racists? In any event, it automatically identifies whites with the Republican Party, a perspective transmitted in the pages of the News every day. An editor of the News was quick to offer apologies, but in fact humor is often very revealing–and this cartoon tells us all we need to know about the mindset of the News and its masters over the mountain.
It’s a simple fact that the News has published often bizarre front-page assaults on every major Black political leader in the community. And this hasn’t been lost on the Birmingham community, since it triggered protests that week.
The News’s publisher, Victor Hanson (I am not going to use distinguishing toothpicks after the name, since for these purposes it doesn’t matter which generation we’re talking about), has a long track record of associating with and funding G.O.P. causes and candidates, with a focus on the Religious Right side of the party. There’s no mistaking this attitude in both the editorial line and reporting of the paper. And today’s smear piece relating to the Siegelman case is a typical example.
Tuscaloosa News: Stench Getting Stronger
Now when federal prosecutors start spinning technical criminal defenses to try to defend themselves from charges of political manipulations, you know something is foul. The Tuscaloosa News finds a series of very strange comments by the prosecutors who handled the Siegelman case to be worth a pause and consideration. In fact, they are not only senseless, they point to something worse. But then the paper is particularly focused on the increasing signs that link the trial judge, Mark Fuller, to misconduct in connection with the case. Fuller, who owes his appointment to Senator Jeff Sessions, and who is close to William Pryor, used his authority as judge to block introduction of material concerning the double standards used for these two politicians during the Siegelman case. And this evidence would have been vital to establishing the political motivation behind the prosecutions, just as it is now.
Siegelman’s lawyer said defense attorneys tried to introduce evidence during the former governor’s trial that Young also contributed to Pryor and Sessions but after a hearing in private, U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller refused to allow it. Late last week, Fuller also refused to release Siegelman on bond, pending his appeal.
The irregularities in the Siegelman case will get a public airing when the House Judiciary Committee holds a hearing Thursday. The stench of the case, already strong, is likely to get much worse as more details come to light.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm
Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Estimated number of people who watched a live Webcast of a hair transplant last fall:
A rancher in Texas was developing a system that will permit hunters to kill animals by remote control via a website.
A man in Japan was arrested for stealing a prospective employer’s wallet during a job interview, and a court in Germany ruled that it is safe for a woman with breast implants to be a police officer.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."