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.”