Professors Blogg welcomes the return of Washington-based attorney, author and historian Andrew Kreig, who offers a timely report on an American journalist still being jailed after nearly five months for his investigative reporting.
Longtime Professors Blogg readers may recall both Andrew and the jailed reporter Roger Shuler as breaking important stories in late 2010 that revealed how U.S. political strategist Karl Rove was advising Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. Andrew’s multiple columns for us complemented our probes into the hidden agendas behind Sweden’s vast litigation to question Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
Meanwhile, Andrew pursued similar research that found secret intelligence factors behind several major U.S.-based prosecutions and political developments. That research resulted in his book, Presidential Puppetry (www.presidentialpuppetry.com), the first book-length study of the Obama second term and its roots in hidden history.
Andrew’s report on Roger Shuler’s jailing is a dramatic part of that story. Most obviously, the tale reflects Shuler’s courageous commitment to his calling. Andrew’s report shows also how America’s 1960s civil rights struggles produced press freedom laws that are being violated with little protest by the establishment media. This complacent process is much like the “duck pond” that we have often described regarding misplaced confidence by Sweden’s legal and media communities.
Given the Ukraine situation, the jailed journalist story also helps us appreciate how concepts like “press freedom” – much like “rule of law,” or “elected government” or even “democracy” – may be far more fluid in practice than we might like to think. As indicated by this tale, a judge can readily find an excuse to jail. As a result, each of us in the reading public must be the court of last resort.
Andrew Kreig is the author of PRESIDENTIAL PUPPETRY. Click on image below
Journalist Roger Shuler still jailed after five months
By Andrew Kreig
“It’s a horrible trauma to be away from your wife, your home — and have no idea when you can get out or how,” Shuler told me in a rare interview regarding his case. He is being held without bond and without a lawyer in a civil case with no freedom possible unless he spikes his stories, an action at this stage of proceedings counter to longstanding Supreme Court protections for the public and the press.
It was Shuler’s second jailhouse interview overall and his only one this year. Compare that attention to the vast treatment the media provides dissidents in other nations, such as the Pussy Riot performance artists whose vulgar conduct in Russian public places would prompt arrest in almost any United States locality.
Shuler, 57, nearly choked up at the end when he said that he missed his wife — who is afraid to leave their home (except on secret, emergency food runs) because of the threat she will be arrested for her husband’s reporting.
Also, he said that he fears jail violence, and did not want to die from it. He is shown in his mug shot the night of his beating by a Shelby County deputy last October.
The corruption-fighting reporter said he has lost 16 pounds during his jailing without bond since Oct. 23 on two contempt of court charges. The charges stemmed from his investigative reports alleging a sex scandal involving the prominent Alabama lawyer Robert Riley Jr. and lobbyist Liberty Duke.
In the lawsuit filed last summer under seal against the Shulers, Riley and Duke denied Shuler’s reports, which were published on the Legal Schnauzer site Shuler founded in 2007 to reveal suppressed and other under-reported stories involving Deep South courts and politics. Riley, Duke and their attorneys have not responded to my requests for further comment.
My visit occurred the day after the 50th anniversary of the nation’s most famous free press case in history, New York Times v. Sullivan, which Shuler’s judge appears to be violating by holding the reporter indefinitely for failing to spike his stories before trial of the Riley and Duke suits.
My column today shows how Shuler’s treatment violates fundamental press freedom and due process law arising in significant part from the 1960s civil rights struggle in Alabama and across the Deep South.
Yet the nation’s journalism leaders — especially those leading media organizations and teaching at universities — have done virtually nothing to help Shuler either to win freedom or otherwise to preserve the national civil rights precedents being violated in his case.
With a few exceptions, most of these leaders and their entities ignore the dark scandals arising across the nation and focus their energies on First Amendment rhetoric, kow-towing to celebrities in government and the media, and promoting scholarships and other efforts to encourage young people to join an oft-glamorized profession.
As a longtime dues-paying member of several of the nation’s leading journalism societies and clubs, I have repeatedly written their leaders without success since October to encourage news articles, panel discussions — or at least letters of protest regarding the Shuler case and those like it.
For the most part, leaders ignore my letters. A few email back to plead lack of sufficient interest by their membership in such matters, or else too little funding or time to add their name to a letter of protest to an Alabama court.
To break the cycle of indifference, I traveled last week from my office in the nation’s capital to visit Shuler in jail.
Shuler’s wife, Carol (shown at right), could only guess at his location. So, I went March 6 to the Jefferson County jail serving Birmingham. The front desk officer erroneously told me Shuler was not there.
The officer’s lack of knowledge illustrated a common problem involving the nation’s two million prisoners and their visitors. The visitor and prisoner-locator situation seems to be especially bad in political cases in Alabama, where authorities have a track record of intentionally keeping prisoners away from family, friends and the media in order to inflict extra punishment on their political targets. In this instance, the information officer appeared affable, and so my lack of access seemed simply to be an error.
On March 10, five days after my first visit, I was able to visit Shuler by confirming independently that he had been, in fact, at the Jefferson County jailhouse on March 6.
Authorities admitted me. But I gained entrance only because I am an attorney and Shuler lacks counsel. Other visitors can enter only one day per week on the jail’s pre-planned schedule based on the alphabet, not a visitor’s schedule.
This column is entitled “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” to recall the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s eloquent 1963 letter while jailed. He called on everyone to take a responsibility to fight injustice. Authorities denied King writing materials in Birmingham’s jail. So, he wrote much of his “letter” on the margins of a newspaper and other paper scraps smuggled out.
In somewhat similar fashion, I am a messenger delivering Shuler’s words to you now via rough notes from the jailhouse, where Shuler is being held and silenced.
These notes portray a shocking picture, including a massive failure by the nation’s news media.
“I was surprised,” as Alabama’s ACLU Director Randall Marshall told me two weeks ago, “that there wasn’t more of an outcry from the media world when this first happened.” The ACLU filed a friend of the court brief, but is not representing Shuler.
What’s At Stake
“I see this more as a kidnapping than a defamation case,” Shuler told me from a visiting room in the jail. Let’s examine why:
Shuler said the younger Riley, co-plaintiff with Duke against Shuler in the libel suits, also represents as counsel the county’s jail system. Such a tight relationship between a favored litigant and law enforcement helps illustrate the concentration of political, financial and legal power that the well-connected Riley family has wielded in Alabama along with their allies, such as longtime Bush family advisor Karl Rove.
Their track record includes the notorious prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (1999-2003).
Siegelman, imprisoned in Louisiana and shown at right in a file photo from better days, is scheduled to serve more than four years remaining from his trumped-up federal prosecution on corruption charges stemming from 1999 conduct. His crime? The gist is that the governor asked one of the richest men in the state, businessman Richard Scrushy, to donate to the non-profit Alabama Education Foundation, and then re-appointed Scrushy to an unpaid state hospital board upon which Scrushy had served under three Republican governors previously.
Shuler has written hundreds of Legal Schnauzer columns documenting myriad legal misconduct in Siegelman’s state and federal prosecutions, which enabled the Riley family to win and retain power without competition from Siegelman, the state’s leading Democrat.
Regarding Shuler’s own case, he cited to me this week major violations of precedent and procedure, such as prior restraint, secret courts, jailing without bond, and lack of an arrest warrant.
He said he did not even know why he was being held in the Jefferson County facility after being jailed in nearby Shelby County nearly all of the four previous months. He was able to inform his wife of his locale only because a fellow prisoner released last weekend kindly contacted her. (As of March 12, he was back at Shelby County’s jail following phone inquiries by his wife.)
“I’ve been treated fairly well by fellow prisoners,” Shuler told me. “But some of them come in hyped up on drugs, and I’ve barely escaped some vicious fights, typically over some little thing like who gets to use a phone for a 15-minute call. Anybody can get killed, and I saw it happen.”
I have previously written about Shuler’s arrest in a half dozen columns, such as Alabama Court Again Hammers Blogger As NY Times Flubs Libel Story.
Most in the national media have abandoned Shuler and implicitly such First Amendment precedents as Sullivan that should have protected him along with the rest of the public.
From my experience reading Shuler’s blogs regularly since 2009, he is a courageous, corruption-fighting writer who has gained a national audience with a number of important scoops and some questionable stories that are impossible for a reader to assess fully.
He writes about sex scandals, for example, far more than I would. Few of us are in the hotel rooms when politicians travel with their aides. So, we have little means to judge whether his claims are true. That is true also for one-sided statements about these tales arising in court cases. Commentary on court filings is legally protected but is not necessarily true.
That said, political insiders in Alabama and nationally find such tales of great interest in their private conversations. Mainstream journalism organizations ignore it except when an “accidental” scandal erupts, especially against a disfavored target. Then the safety of pack journalism can justify reporting to the public about the scapegoat of the moment.
Even then, the public is rarely informed that some such sex scandals arise as deliberate hit jobs by political opposition researchers who store up dossiers for use when helpful in a political blackmail process. That part of the massive dark world of politics tends to remain off limits for the media, especially since at least a few journalists are complicit.
Instead, reporters pursue more routine fare from staged events whereby reporters function more as stenographers than independent, pro-consumer watchdogs. Industry events seek to retain some vestige of glamor by self-congratulatory awards ceremonies, participation by government, entertainment and media celebrities (especially in Washington) — and, of course, high-minded rhetoric about the nation’s free press and First Amendment freedoms.
The National Press Club, for example, has scheduled in cooperation with government officials a number of Sunshine Week and Freedom of Information events over the next month. But the club has not bestirred itself to write even a simple letter protesting Shuler’s treatment despite many requests by me.
Similarly, the Society of Professional Journalists has done nothing in its array of venues despite at least ten requests by me to various officials nationally, in Alabama, or in my Washington, DC region. The Online News Association, founded to advance blogging and other online news, pleads poverty and other priorities when I have asked them to do something about Shuler’s plight.
Worst of all has been Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. I have yet to receive a single response as a member to my emails directed to several IRE executives on behalf of Shuler, an alumnus of the school.
IRE was founded in the late 1970s by journalism giants, including Bob Greene and Tom Renner of Newsday, and my Courant colleague Ted Driscoll, shown at left.
I saw first-hand that each of those named were beginning to see by the late 1980s that our news organizations were making behind-the-scenes decisions to undercut aggressive reporting on certain sensitive stories in a process camouflaged by national journalism groups like IRE that are heavily focused on awarding prizes and convening conferences that necessarily rely on corporate sponsorships.
Driscoll, in his mid-40s, had a lot to lose by speaking to me on the record about his own employer for my 1987 book Spiked: How Chain Management Corrupted America’s Oldest Newspaper. That case study documented suppressed or inflated news stories. These including highly deceptive prize applications, including for Pulitzers. This prize process implicated complacent if not unethical journalists, especially at the editor and publisher levels. Motivated by ambition, they sought career-enhancing but unmerited honors instead of honest reporting within their communities.
Driscoll, a passionate old-school investigator much like Shuler, described the problem in words below. He cited two of the Courant’s major but deeply flawed public service investigations of that era.
One series falsely scapegoated a prominent attorney, Joseph Fazzano, in a fatal, drunk-driving car accident. The other series involved state bridge inspectors whom the newspaper wanted indicted for fraud for collecting overtime while failing to identify structural problems at bridges. Indictments tend to enhance the chances for a journalism prize. My investigation showed that indictments were unjustified. Among other findings, I learned that state’s top prosecutor fund evidence that the newspaper erred. He told me that he as a law enforcer, could not in good conscience prosecute innocent men because of pressure from the newspaper to help achieve its goals. But the series on bridge inspections became a major prize winner at IRE and at other journalism organizations, thereby advancing the Courant management’s goals that I summarized in Spiked as “profits, prizes and [community] pacification.”
Driscoll, now deceased and a member of Connecticut’s Society of Professional Journalists “Hall of Fame,” told me for publication:
The bottom line of it is they have turned this into a dishonest newspaper. It’s run by opportunists, career-minded people. They couldn’t care less what the actual facts were with the Fazzano case or with the Bridge inspectors, or anything else. They don’t care. Their minds are elsewhere. That is “the story.” And that’s what people have to be concerned about.
As a result of my research, past applications for Pulitzer Prizes were removed from public view to restrict independent research on the accuracy of promotional claims in applications.
Recapping Shuler Case Background
Shuler and his wife, Carol, have virtually no funds. Roger Shuler said his wife has lost 30 pounds from stress as she hides in their home in fear of being arrested on a pending contempt order, which Roger Shuler says is unjustified because she had nothing to do with his reporting before his arrest.
Riley, a wealthy wheeler-dealer who recently shared in the legal fees from helping lead a $500 million settlement of a fraud case against businessman Richard Scrushy. Riley is the son of two-term GOP governor Bob Riley (2003-2011), who is shown at right.
Last year, the younger Riley was reputed to be a likely candidate for the Birmingham region’s congressional seat. Then came Shuler’s columns claiming the married Riley had had an affair with Duke resulting in an abortion and dissolution of her marriage. Shuler alleged that an affair occurred between 2005 and 2007, and that Republicans contributed between $250,000 and $300,000 in secret payments benefiting Duke.
As further background, Dana Jill Simpson, a former Republican lawyer and political opposition researcher, gave sworn testimony in 2007 to Congressional staff that the younger Riley was involved in a plot with Karl Rove and other Republicans to remove Siegelman from politics by framing him on criminal charges.
My five years of investigative reports have confirmed her analysis despite the denials of Riley, Rove and other players. Among many similar findings of a frame-up have been a CBS 60 Minutes report in 2008 that featured Simpson and others describing specifics. Conservatives George Will, Paul Craig Roberts and Neal Cavuto are among many who have wondered how Siegelman and Scrushy could have been convicted. That position was affirmed in a more scholarly manner by 113 former state attorneys general in an unprecedented petition to the U.S. Supreme Court unsuccessfully arguing that Siegelman’s conduct was routine for elected officials throughout the nation, and does not constitute a crime.
But courts have rejected in-depth scrutiny, and there is no record of an aggressive investigation by either the Bush or Obama Justice Department, only whitewashes. Well-connected Democrats cooperated with Republicans in avoiding investigation and court review. Among them have been Obama Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, Solicitor Gen. Elena Kagan and Alabama Congressman Artur Davis, who quit the House Judiciary Committee in late 2007 before his run for his state’s governorship and his switch to the Republican Party.
Further details are available by searches on this site, which contain links to dozens of other news reports and court filings. The overall portrait of corruption — and my answers to the mysteries — are provided in my recent book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters. The gist is available also on this website in its many columns on political prosecution as a tool beneficial to Republicans and Democrats alike in certain circumstances.
The goal? Career opportunities, including riches beyond measure for insiders involved in government jobs, contracts, court decisions and regulations benefiting cronies.
A Strange Development
In the Birmingham jail, I met Shuler for the first time after reading his blogs almost daily for news of the courts in the Deep South.
Also, he declined my offer to leave him several pieces of paper and pen so that he could try write legal papers seeking his release or appeal major procedural decisions that are clearly in violation of settled law.
“I know the guards would take the paper and pen as soon as you left,” he told me. “I would love to have paper and pen, and be able to make filings to get out of here. But it’s no use. You have to get materials like that from the jail commissary.”
He has several judges arrayed against him.
But his chief tormenter, Claud (sic) Neilson is not even a real judge elected to serve in the jurisdiction by standard procedures.
Neilson, shown in a file photo, is an attorney who represents plaintiffs against the state’s leading civil rights law firm, Sanders and Sanders, in a politically charged multimillion-dollar suit. Details are here: Selma’s once thriving Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders law firm much smaller and splintered.
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who notoriously ignored the U.S. Supreme Court’s establishment of religion holdings in the so-called “Ten Commandments Case” a decade ago, brought Neilson out of retirement in mysterious circumstances last summer. Moore named Neilson to serve as a part-time state judge to handle the Shuler case, whose docket and courtroom were kept secret during its main procedures.
The beating and jailing of Shuler last October had the effect of silencing a major regional pro-consumer voice in Alabama and the Deep South, especially after financially strapped mainstream news organizations cut back on their coverage of such government functions as courts, law and police. Birmingham’s daily newspaper (one of whose predecessors employed Shuler as a reporter for nine years) is published in print just three days per week to save money, for example.
Even those who do not care about Shuler, his reporting, and the subjects of his commentaries might care about the national civil rights precedents being undermined with scant protest by his treatment. Those Constitutional protections were created by the founders and solidified by the courts to protect the public, not just reporters.
In 1813, for example, the Supreme Court voided by a 5-4 vote in U.S. v. Hudson and Goodwin the criminal convictions for seditious libel against the publishers of the Hartford Courant for their 1806 criticism of then-President Thomas Jefferson. In arguably the first free press case before the high court, the justices ruled that criminal convictions in the new nation must be on the basis of written law, not simply “common law” or other such informal legal tests.
The Courant was my first employer when I began my journalism career in 1970. I worked there as a reporter for 14 years, with an interlude as interim Sunday magazine editor. Later, my study of the Hudson and Goodwin libel prosecution provided a historical backdrop for my first book, Spiked.
In 1931, the U.S. Supreme Court took another major step on behalf of vigorous reporting in its Near v. Minnesota ruling, which forbade courts from ordering “prior restraint” of news articles and speeches of all kinds before a finding of liability even if the publisher and the allegation each might offend local sensibilities.
Perhaps most importantly of all these cases, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964 overturned by a 9-0 vote a $500,000 libel judgment Alabama authorities had won against civil rights leaders and the New York Times.
The Sullivan verdict against Montgomery Public Safety Commissioner L. B. Sullivan also overturned nearly $300 million in similar libel verdicts in the Deep South against the media. The ruling created a special “absolute malice” standard for reporting about obvious public figures such as Sullivan, Robert Riley and Luther Strange (and arguably the female plaintiffs as well).
This safe harbor for reporters — and indeed all citizens — to discuss public affairs whether in print or in speech thereby enabled vigorous national news coverage of the civil rights movement and all other public figures and issues since then. As a reminder, defendants in that case were not simply the New York Times, as anyone in journalism knows, but also citizens who had used the Times to portray the pro-segregation track record of Sullivan and other local officials.
Theoretically, that Supreme Court holding protects everyone — except Shuler, apparently.
His judges have never applied the Sullivan standard to my knowledge, although it is impossible for outside observers to tell since the most relevant parts of his ordeal occurred in a sealed courtroom with a sealed docket. Court deputies barred from attending his key November hearing before Neilson any observers, except the judge’s brother, who wanted to meet the wealthy wheeler-dealer plaintiff Riley, as I reported previously.
There are other legal principles besides Sullivan and Near being violated in the Shuler case. Among them is due process, which that includes open dockets and open courtrooms.
At the root is basic fairness: the opportunity to be heard, including the opportunity to have a lawyer, or at least paper and pencil and a way to communicate with the courts while not being held in chains and berated by the judge whose appointment is of mysterious origin. I have reported previously on these irregularities, which are too numerous to summarize here again.
In closing, I return to the Sullivan case.
It is the most relevant precedent being ignored. Also, this is the anniversary year of that famous press freedom case. It arose from the darkest days of the civil rights struggle in Alabama, and is now being ignored by a new generation of law enforcement oppressors in Alabama and also nationwide by relatively comfortable professors and other professionals within the journalistic establishment who find every excuse, it seems, to avoid to taking a stand.
There is snobbery at work here. Many will rally to the defense of an elite reporter at a major news organization that creates a free press campaign.
Shuler, on the other hand, is one a-person operation. His site was the only one in a ranking of the top 50 legal blogs in the country that was not run with organizational funding. So, he has little if anything to offer his supporters but his writing.
But that is part of a larger tradition. Tom Paine was a mere one-man “blogger” by today’s standards, even when his pamphlet Common Sense sold two million copies in the American colonies.
Even Barzillai Hudson and George Goodwin, publishers of America’s largest newspaper during the Revolutionary War, were sentenced to prison for having the temerity to criticize President Jefferson, otherwise famous as an advocate of the free press.
Not everyone can have the eloquence or important issues of Martin Luther King (shown at right), Tom Paine, or even Hudson and Goodwin — who also helped create a uniquely American language by publishing former Courant reporter Noah Webster’s dictionary and speller.
Last week, however, I gained a first-hand sense of passion of the ongoing civil rights struggle from the ministers and other civil rights advocates I met during five days in Selma on my Alabama trip commemorating the Bloody Sunday march of 1965.
Much on the minds of protesters was the Supreme Court’s 5-4 cutback last June on Deep South voting rights in Shelby County v. U.S. and the continued imprisonment of Siegelman.
Yet every injustice worth fighting does not need to be of historic scale. We can do something about everyday issues within our control.
In that spirit, I am asking every reader who made it this far into this column and who is also a member of journalism organization to ask that organization for its stance on the Shuler case.
This is not to say Shuler is correct in his findings or that he should not be punished if proven wrong. That’s in the future after due process.
For now, his rights have been stolen. So have ours. Once upon a time, people fought for those rights. Let’s do so again today.
Contact the author Andrew Kreig