By Andrew Kreig
Editor, Justice Integrity Project / Washington, DC
The nation’s media provided remarkably little support to an Alabama journalist jailed for five months while he fought against prior restraint of his investigative reporting.
A part-time state judge freed blogger Roger Shuler March 26 after Shuler spiked columns alleging an affair between potential congressional candidate Robert Riley Jr. and a lobbyist.
With rare exceptions, journalism groups and news outlets failed to protest the flagrantly illegal treatment the hand-picked judge inflicted on Shuler and his readers.
Abuses included the writer’s arrest and beating at his home Oct. 23 after plaintiffs accused him of libel. The mug shot shows the defendant after the beating. Judge Claud Neilson then ordered Shuler held without bail on two contempt of court charges for failure to spike his columns.
The case undermined multiple legal precedents protecting freedom of the press and due process.
For example, the judge ordered that the docket and courtroom sealed. The defendant, who had no lawyer, was kept shackled at wrists and ankles during a secret proceeding in which Shuler had no ability to produce witnesses or legal research.
Shuler’s treatment exemplifies the national media’s increasingly bizarre behavior. News executives often combine self-righteous First Amendment rhetoric and aggressive support for “democracy-building” in foreign lands with craven self-censorship at home in deference to the powerful.
The recent experience of New Yorker columnist Seymour Hersh illustrated the pattern further. On April 4, the much-honored investigator published major national security revelations in an obscure London publication, not a mainstream outlet in the United States.
For a London Review of Books audience, Hersh alleged falsehoods by Western leaders regarding Benghazi and the gas attacks last summer that nearly prompted a massive United States bombing attack on Syria in early September.
Hersh’s “fascinating essay” rewrites the official record of the sarin gas attack on Ghouta, near Damascus last August, according to commentator Jonathan Cook. “As usual,” Cook continued, “Hersh uses his sources in the US security establishment to throw light on what really took place. The bottom line: Turkey was almost certainly the party responsible for the attack, hoping it would force Obama to honor his threatened ‘red line’ if Assad used chemical weapons.”
The public should worry about how timidly our media outlets and professional societies responded for the most part to the gas attack, Shuler’s treatment and many other such issues.
But good news can come from this. Such poor performance by the establishment media can help us spot similar shortfalls on many other important stories.
For example, my initial study of Shuler news coverage occurred at the same time last fall that I was researching an 11-part “Readers Guide” to the books, films, articles, videos and events about the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination. I found that mainstream JFK coverage deferred to a shocking degree to disputed conventional wisdom, including the core findings of the Warren Commission.
Many major questions remain about the commission findings that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing JFK from behind his limo with three shots. With prompt, strong backing from the establishment media that continues to current times, the commission also found that the fatal bullet killing Kennedy also hit Texas Gov. John Connally in two places before being found in near-pristine condition on a hospital gurney.
Taped conversations between President Lyndon Johnson and his mentor, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, a member of the commission, constitute part of the powerful evidence against the so-called “single-bullet” theory.
Russell, who told Johnson in one call that he thought he was the only commission member to read the entire report, later said shortly before the report’s release that he did not believe the staff-devised single-bullet theory. “I don’t either,” Johnson replied.
We now know more from a declassified 1967 CIA memo, Dispatch No. 1035-960. It showed that the agency ordered its assets to use their media clout to smear critics of the commission as “conspiracy theorists” whose motives and judgment cannot not be trusted and who should not be employed by reputable organizations.
To this day, many well-intentioned reporters do know know that the CIA itself popularized the term “conspiracy theorist” to deride critics of government. The term constantly pops up. One example was in an April 5 review sniping at the publisher of a new book, Ruthless Ambition, critical of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
The patterns of self-censorship and pack journalism are readily apparent in other major stories. My recent book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters, documents a large number of unreported or under-reported stories about presidents, presidential candidates and cabinet members, including those guiding the Obama administration’s second term on controversial topics in the spring of 2014.
My essay of 4,800 words here charts a path from the Shuler case study in Alabama to the JFK killing, and then to Hersh’s disclosures.
My conclusion is that journalists who shy away from controversial topics do so because of a survival culture in downsized newsrooms. Job safety is in official sources and pack journalism.
News personnel are adjusting to more government control over content. One aspect of the trend is encompassed by this recent story, Government PR officials increasingly control news,studies find.
As indicated below, situations and trends exist that are even more troubling. But many in the mainstream media dare not explore the issues. Some in the independent web media are more bold, of course, but with a smaller reach and vulnerability to campaigns of unfair disparagement by trolls.
Alabama’s Jailed Journalist
I had a close vantage point for Shuler’s story after covering some of the same Deep South political corruption probes as he has researched since he began blogging in 2007. Then I helped break the story of his arrest last fall in such columns as Fears Mount Over Jailing, Beating and ‘Restraint’ Censorship of Alabama Blogger Accused of Libel, Contempt In Sealed Case.
Project Censored Director Mickey Huff invited me to discuss the case on the “Morning Mix” radio show broadcast over KPFW-FM and the Pacifica Network. Here is an overview:
Roger Shuler, 57, is a University of Missouri School of Journalism grad who worked as a daily newspaper reporter in Birmingham for a decade and as a University of Alabama communications specialist for nearly two more decades until 2007.
That year, he began a blog called Legal Schnauzer in his spare time to comment on Alabama court cases. The cases included his dispute with a suburban neighbor and the controversial federal corruption prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (1999-2003), the state’s leading Democrat.
Federal prosecutors secretly indicted Siegelman and businessman Richard Scrushy in 2005 on wide-ranging corruption charges. After the indictment was unsealed a jury convicted them on a fraction of the original charges. Convictions primarily involved Siegelman’s reappointment of Scrushy in 1999 to a state board. Both men were convicted only after federal authorities failed to convict them in previous, separate trials.
Adverse news coverage for Siegelman over his long-running prosecution helped enable the 2006 re-election of Gov. Bob Riley, Siegelman’s GOP successor in two terms ending in 2011. Siegelman and others have pointed to sworn evidence that the top federal prosecutor and Karl Rove were part of a plot to frame Siegelman even before his indictment.
Shuler, among others, reported sworn testimony in 2007 that Riley’s son, Robert Riley Jr., was so involved that he predicted in early 2005 that Siegelman would be secretly indicted. Riley also said, and the case would be steered to a Republican, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery, who purportedly “hated” the defendant and who would “hang” him. The younger Riley denied the claim but was never cross-examined. Rove denied the claim also. Review of Rove’s congressional cross-examination in 2009 suggests that Democrats undertook a whitewash. Democrats granted a request for special protections for him, and then failed to ask specific, well-researched questions or follow-up.
Shuler reported these matters and also allegations of legal misconduct across the Deep South. His primary outlet has been his five-day-a-week blog, Legal Schnauzer. He placed many of the columns in other nationally known progressive blogs.
The state university fired Shuler in 2007 from its news office after it claimed he used his time and other state resources improperly for research, an allegation he has denied to no avail.
The Obama administration and Supreme Court have upheld Siegelman’s convictions despite a mountain of evidence showing conflict of interest and misconduct by the trial judge, U.S. Attorney Leura Canary of Montgomery, and others. The conflicts included Canary’s marriage to William Canary, a friend of Rove and campaign manager for the elder Riley against Siegelman. Another conflict was $300 million in Bush Air Force contracts awarded to Doss Aviation, Inc., a closely held company the trial judge secretly controlled as by far its largest shareholder, with up to 44% of the shares. I reported that scandal for the Huffington Post in 2009. But court and Justice Department authorities, remarkably enough, have consistently found no potential for judicial conflict of interest.
Moreover, 113 former state attorneys wrote an unprecedented brief arguing that the Siegelman’s conduct in 1999 did not constitute a crime because officials at all levels of government help their supporters, including donors.
My 2012 column, GOP Former Congressman Decries Injustice for Siegelman, documents these points through scores of links to articles and documents.
Last summer, Shuler reported that the younger Riley, known as a family values-style GOP conservative, would run for his party’s 2014 nomination for a congressional vacancy.
Shuler also published columns alleging Riley had had an affair in 2005 with lobbyist Liberty Duke. Shuler claimed the alleged affair resulted in an abortion, dissolution of Duke’s marriage, and payments to her totaling $200,000 in funds raised from political allies of the married Riley and his father.
The younger Riley, a regionally prominent lawyer, and Duke responded with libel suits in July that were filed under seal in Shelby County with affidavits denying Shuler’s claims.
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, nationally famous a decade ago for installing a Ten Commandments monument at his courthouse in defiance of a U.S. Supreme Court in order, took the personal initiative to handle the Riley-Duke lawsuit.
Bypassing elected judges in Shelby County, Moore picked retired judge Claud (sic) Neilson to handle proceedings in a Columbiana courtroom, which is a two-hour car ride from the judge’s home in Demopolis. Neilson is an attorney with an active practice, raising further question about whether he should have been appointed to handle a high-profile political case.
Shuler avoided service of the complaint but was arrested the evening of Oct. 23 after he drove into his garage. He was beaten and held without bond on charges of contempt of court.
Also, Shuler was sentenced to a 90-day term for resisting arrest. At trial without a lawyer, Shuler protested unsuccessfully that he did not resist arrest and that authorities never produced an arrest warrant at the scene or since.
Other Sex Scandal Claims
On the Legal Schnauzer blog, Shuler has alleged other sex scandals linked to political, court and financial misconduct. Shuler’s muckraking doubtless affected his harsh treatment by the judge and by the journalism community locally and nationally.
Some news commentary about Shuler sneered that he is obsessed by sex scandals. But the context below shows that his sex-related muckraking typically relates to claims of hypocrisy, abuse of power and other official misconduct.
Thus, Shuler has alleged:
- Former Siegelman aide Nick Bailey, the chief witness against the defendants Siegelman and Scrushy at trial, was bullied by prosecutors with the threat of a 10-year prison sentence unless he shaped his testimony in nearly 70 pretrial coaching sessions unknown to the defense despite disclosure requirements for prosecutors. Bailey’s interrogations were part of a paramilitary dimension to the Siegelman probe, which was run by a special Justice Department team headquartered at an Air Force base. Bailey, a slightly built man, feared that he would subjected to rape in prison unless he gave authorities the testimony they wanted, according to sworn statements submitted by the defense in 2009 and reported in Did DoJ Blackmail Siegelman Witness With Sex Scandal? The wealthy Republican businessman Luther “Stan” Pate submitted one of the affidavits. Pate said he contributed $300,000 to Bailey’s defense in sympathy. Illustrating his strong opinion, Pate also hired an airplane in 2010 to fly for four hours over the Rose Bowl with a banner denouncing Alabama’s governor while the University of Alabama was playing for that year’s national football championship. With the Riley family in attendance, the seven-foot banner behind the airplane urged, “Impeach Corrupt Alabama Governor Bob Riley.”
- Judge Mark Fuller, whose many pro-prosecution rulings helped convict Siegelman and Scrushy, was involved in a long-term romantic affair at a time he suffered from drug and alcohol abuse, according to divorce papers filed by the judge’s wife. Other evidence indicated the affair was with the judge’s married court clerk during a period of major procedural and substantive irregularities in the Siegelman prosecution. Also, the judge’s secretly controlled company, Dos Aviation, was winning huge awards to train Air Force pilots and refuel Air Force planes worldwide. Fuller has had no comment on the divorce claims, which were documented in court filings put under seal, as I reported in Project Files To Unseal Fuller Records, Describes Importance.
- U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge William Pryor, a married Republican who rose to prominence advocating family values, allegedly had posed nude as a young man in photos that later appeared in 1998 on a gay porn site, BadPuppies.com. In mid-2013, Shuler published a naked full-frontal photo of a young man, alleged to be the future judge, in a state of sexual arousal. Pryor denied that the photo showed him. As Alabama attorney general in 1999, Pryor had initiated the Siegelman investigation. Pryor’s views have been so conservative that judicial confirmation required more than a year of negotiations. But now Pryor’s colleagues (and potentially Pryor himself) preside over Siegelman’s so-far unsuccessful appeals, as reported in Famed Conservative Federal Judge Accused of Posing Nude As A Young Man. The judge’s allies attacked Shuler for what they call a baseless smear by a liberal blogger against a conservative. More privately, some sympathetic to Shuler assert that he exposed part of a control mechanism whereby political insiders maintain dossiers on officials, sometimes in their own party, in order to influence official actions.
- Republican Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and his former campaign manager Jessica Medeiros Garrison allegedly had an affair during a period when she also received $200,000 for her work. Both have denied Shuler’s allegations. She has filed a libel suit against Shuler in state court. Strange, meanwhile, has led the prosecution of former State Senate Democratic leader Lowell Barron on charges that Barron illegally gave more than $50,000 in campaign funds to his former assistant Jill Johnson while they had an affair. The defendants have denied the charges. Also, they have requested, so far unsuccessfully, that Strange be required to testify during the trial this month on whether the prosecutor had had a similar affair with Garrison, who is now executive director of the National Association of Republican State Attorneys General. Details include Johnson’s claim that Strange’s office has “hounded” her with devastating impact that has ruined her life.
Those readers who teach or research journalism are doubtless struck by how many of Shuler’s targets of sex scandal allegations have used their powers against others, allegedly in hypocritical fashion. Here is a pro and con argument regarding such coverage.
Publish allegations? Sex scandal is often intertwined with other issues of character, policy, hypocrisy and corruption. The public is hurt if most such inquiries are off-limits to reporters. Suppression of scandal is especially damaging to the public when (as I have confirmed in at least some situations) well-funded political operatives create dossiers to extract favorable action via blackmail from government leaders.
Suppress scandal? Proving a sexual liaison is inherently difficult, and imposes a heavy emotional toll for targets of such allegations whether true or not. Another factor against such reporting is that when the stakes are sufficiently high evidence can be manipulated, enhanced or suppressed in ways that are difficult even for reporters and editors to understand, much less readers. For example, a crusading reporter might in some cases become an unwitting tool for blackmailers seeking to expose one scapegoat to extract concessions from others in office who are being extorted.
Fortunately, the country has more than two centuries of law to adjudicate such situations. One of the most relevant court holdings was the New York Times versus Sullivan decision in which the Supreme Court established by a 9-0 vote in 1964 a high bar for public officials to prove libel. In a ruling that should have protected Shuler, the court voided a huge defamation award by an Alabama jury against civil rights leaders and the newspaper who made minor errors in an ad criticizing a local public safety commissioner.
The Shuler case has no record of Neilson applying this Sullivan standard, much less holding a fair trial finding Shuler guilty of libel. Instead, the judge held a secret trial during which Shuler was chained and had to respond with no lawyer or witnesses. The judge fined him $34,000 in plaintiffs’ legal costs and ordered him held without bond unless he took down the stories. The judge said his decision was final, with no provision for a jury trial governed by First Amendment and due process precedents.
Shuler and his wife Carol are still without a lawyer and without funds. They face the $34,000 court costs for Riley and Duke plus other bills. They have received notice that their home will be auctioned in foreclosure unless they can forestall a planned sheriff’s sale at the end of April by making $20,000 in back mortgage payments.
Those inclined to help or seek more detail may visit the Legal Schnauzer website. As disclosure, I have contributed $200. Also, I visited Shuler in jail last month to brief him on the lack of support media groups were willing to provide, even for letters of protest to the court. Although writers should not ordinarily get involved in a story this was an exceptional situation. First Amendment precedent, not just Shuler, was being undermined.
Who Helped, Who Did Not
Shuler was not totally alone. Others contributed money and groceries. Shuler’s wife feared leaving their home for five months except for quick trips to a store because Neilson’s order threatened her arrest for contempt of court for failure to remove the stories. The Shulers have maintained that it was unfair to include her in the suit and subject her to arrest under a contempt order because she was not a writer or administrator of the blog. Roger Shuler ultimately instructed her by phone on how to remove the items.
In December, the Committee to Protect Journalists listed Shuler in its annual report of more than 200 jailed journalists throughout the world. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press submitted a letter to Neilson advocating for Shuler’s rights. Several other media organizations briefly noted Shuler’s jailing in their publications, which are viewed primarily by their members.
Also, the Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union submitted a friend of the court brief on Shuler’s behalf. ACLU chapter director Randall Marshall told me he wondered why media organizations did not protest more vigorously on Shuler’s behalf in such a clear-cut violation of rights.
None of the large member-based journalism organizations formally protested to the court to my knowledge. As a member, I unsuccessfully urged responses from the Society of Professional Journalists (in at least 10 emails to various leaders in which I urged a protest letter to the court, a news article or a conference panel discussion).
Also, I unsuccessfully urged action by the National Press Club, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and the Online News Association. Of those who bothered to respond, excuses included: 1) lack of time, staff, volunteers or finances; 2) other priorities; and 3) concern about whether the alleged sexual affair was true.
The details of the groups’ excuses were predictable and pedestrian.
At this point, it is better to use our space to describe how the excuses parallel the ones used to avoid highly controversial but important topics and speakers at conferences, newsletters or other venues. More on that in this column’s conclusion.
Regarding news coverage, investigative reporter Wayne Madsen and California-based broadcaster Peter B. Collins broke the arrest story. Alyona Minkovski of Huff Post Live! broadcast the first video treatment. Other treatments appeared sporadically on news, politics or personal blog sites. Mainstream Alabama newspapers Al.com and broadcaster WIAT-TV, among others, also published stories. After my jailhouse visit I appeared as a guest on the conservative shows of Dale Jackson on WVNN in Huntsville and Matt Murphy on WAPI in Birmingham. Jackson, who hosted me twice, repeatedly called Shuler a “lunatic.” We had a spirited discussion of whether it is more damaging to be called insane or an adulterer.
Alan Colmes of Fox News Talk Radio and his Liberaland blog rendered the most important coverage sympathetic to Shuler. Colmes published early and recently, including a jailhouse phone interview with Shuler that I arranged last month.
Alabama’s court hierarchy started getting especially nervous about ongoing coverage on Fox because of its popularity in Alabama, according to one of my sources. Talkers Magazine ranks Colmes, a rare liberal in the top echelon of radio hosts, as the 15th most popular in the nation.
Campbell Robertson, southern regional correspondent for the New York Times, published a Sunday feature in January that raised the case’s profile via the Times’ unique platform. Robertson’s version also trivialized Shuler and his work in several ways, as I noted in my Alabama Court Again Hammers Blogger As NY Times Flubs Libel Story.
The Robertson portrayed Shuler as, for example, a would-be martyr who wanted to remain in jail. The reporter wrote that Shuler was prone to defamation suits instead of reporting the facts: two in his 35 years of journalism.
The Times piece failed also to include any comments from someone who found value in his reporting. The article did not even name Shuler’s judge, much less probe his highly irregular appointment. The reporter failed to disclose the right-wing activism of Ken White, a former federal prosecutor in California whom the reporter cited as a seemingly neutral expert authority.
In sum, the Times repeatedly deferred to judicial and other authority. This is a typical posture by mainstream reporters in court cases. The practice should be especially worrisome when authorities so recklessly used their power without due process against Shuler, who has repeatedly defended others’ rights across the South from abuse in courts.
As a postscript, Riley decided not to run for office this year after the allegations against him became well-known in large part because of the heavy-handed court action. Even though I have written many investigative stories targeting him, I remain open-minded on whether he had the alleged affair with Duke.
But that is just one question in the case. Under our system, judges are supposed to set the ground rules according to precedent and preside over a trial to determine the facts.
Riley was clearly a “public figure” who can collect damages only by overcoming a particularly high requirement to prove Shuler’s “actual malice.” Duke, the other plaintiff, might also be a public figure for such purposes. But the judge never made that determination.
Other Lessons Learned
Early in this column, I suggested that the most important issue for readers is media self-censorship. The trend goes far beyond the Shuler case.
My longstanding research — including my first book, Spiked: How Chain Management Corrupted America’s Oldest Newspaper in 1987 — shows that news is constantly being suppressed, inflated or unreported by news organizations.
Shuler’s situation as U.S. writer unjustly jailed in a civil case should have been a top priority for news organizations.
The broader implications are illustrated also in coverage of the JFK murder, which remains timely because of its 50th anniversary last fall and the upcoming anniversary of the Warren Commission Report this year. Some of us who have probed deeper believe the assassination remains newsworthy for a host of other reasons, including seldom-spoken fears in both newsrooms and government offices that career reprisals can occur against journalists, academics and other researchers suspected of, in the words of the 1967 CIA memo, “conspiracy” theory.
Here are links to two of the most relevant segments of my “Readers Guide” series, which summarized the evidence of more than 2,000 books plus innumerable articles, events, films and other videos: Self-Censorship In JFK TV Treatments Duplicates Corporate Print Media’s Apathy, Cowardice and Disputes Erupt Over NY Times, New Yorker, WashPo Reviews of JFK Murder.
The gist? Last fall’s JFK coverage, despite its amount, did not sufficiently pursue the evidence.
One such issue was whether Oswald became a secret U.S. government operative after his Marine service and his remarkably easy return from Russia as a supposed defector. Significant evidence exists, but is rarely reported, that Oswald worked undercover with federal authorities on anti-Castro initiatives while pretending to be pro-Castro.
Another big question, of course, was whether Kennedy died from a bullet shot from the front or side, not the rear.
We do not need to read all the evidence to address such questions.
We can see via the Shuler and Siegelman cases and the media’s performance last fall on the JFK shooting anniversary and innumerable other public issues that self-censorship avoided in-depth inquiry.
The JFK assassination, the Siegelman case and other unsolved mysteries in Washington the past two decades prompted me to seek answers. I documented my findings in Presidential Puppetry, the first comprehensive book about the Obama administration’s second term. It’s a true-life mystery story whose solution is not complicated in the abstract: Many of the nation’s national security priorities are regarded by insiders, rightly or wrongly, as too sensitive to report to the public.
The Latest Scandal
For now, suffice to say that new evidence of corporate mainstream cowardice on such issues appears almost every day.
On April 4, as noted above, Seymour Hersh published The Red Line and the Rat Line.
His findings confirmed details of initial reports elsewhere that had been ignored for many months. In my Presidential Puppetry book, for example, I had reported the CIA’s involvement in gun-running from Libya to rebels in Syria via Turkey, citing Wayne Madsen, the former Navy intelligence officer. Madsen had described the gun-running operation his book L’Affaire Petraeus in December 2012.
Hersh confirmed the gun-running as a U.S.-orchestrated CIA operation in a “Rat Line” operation that helped lead to the 2012 deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens and three other Americans.
But few commentators or politicians have wanted to raise such questions. Both Democrats and Republicans have partisan reasons to avoid inquiry on whether the United States and our allies have been breaking official policy by smuggling arms and foreign fighters to overthrow the Assad government. CIA Director David Petraeus was at the heart of it. But the real reasons for his departure from office just after the 2012 election were obscured by a leaked sex scandal with Paula Broadwell, as if a sex scandal alone would force such a public humiliation.
A senior Republican congressman, Frank Wolf, has unsuccessfully tried to draw attention to the gun-running. But Wolf has had minimal success even though he was elected in 1980 and represents a district that encompasses the CIA headquarters at Langley.
The nation’s bipartisan leadership and compliant media have not wanted to explore this Benghazi issue even as they try to score political points with vague claims and denials.
Hersh’s column also described how Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Dempsey had been instrumental late last summer in thwarting White House enthusiasm for a bombing attack on Syria.
Yet Madsen had broken that story Sept. 1 in a column, Obama caved under last-minute pressure from Dempsey, published on the Wayne Madsen Report, a subscription site he edits.
I followed up with two source-based reports of my own on Sept. 3 and 4. The first was Did America’s Top General Save Nation From Open-Ended War in Syria? In the column, I reported:
President Obama was ready to launch the United States into a new Mideast war in Syria over the Labor Day weekend until the nation’s top general persuaded him that he would be blamed for serious unintended consequences that could arise, according to usually well-informed sources speaking in confidence.
The general was Martin E. Dempsey, a career Army officer who became chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2011. He persuaded the president that military implications could escalate beyond the limited boundaries White House civilian advisors had claimed in convincing the president as of late Friday night to move forward with bombing campaign.
My second column was Learn the Truth About Benghazi Before Syria Vote! It raised questions about the quality of evidence against Syria in the chemical gas attack the previous month.
Hersh’s column this weekend and a previous one in December, Whose Sarin?, raised the same questions in more depth and with more sourcing.
Significantly, the New Yorker had refused to carry the story by its longtime star national security correspondent. The Washington Post also rejected Hersh’s column.
The inability of an iconic investigative reporter to obtain a mainstream outlet for his work illustrates the obstacles anyone else would face. The hurdles are especially high for those seeking to report facts and opinions objectionable to the neo-conservative / neo-liberal alliance that dominates mainstream media and government foreign policy.
The Shuler Case Study
All of this is underscores the important work of Project Censored, Director Mickey Huff of Diablo Valley College in California, other leaders – and each of you as patient readers.
Here, I conclude with a few words to bring this column back full circle to the Shuler case, which should be studied widely by professors and students who care about free press issues.
In an era of tight budgets, media organizations may have an excuse for missed foreign affairs or even JFK stories — but surely not for avoiding discussion of U.S. journalist jailed in violation of the major Supreme Court decisions regarding the First Amendment.
Many in the media, as elsewhere, tended to respond to Shuler’s treatment on the basis of gut instincts. Republicans and media traditionalists tended to profess horror that he would write about sex, for example. First Amendment die-hards were appalled for their own reasons, and those who distrust bloggers tended to applaud the hardship he suffered.
But those reactions have little relevance to the facts and underlying law.
It is possible, for example, to imagine that some parts of Shuler’s stories were true, some parts not provable, and some actually false. The same is true for my material, or anyone’s for that matter.
That inherent doubt and a fact-finding process are why trials are required for disputed issues, not kangaroo courts.
The fight for freedom of the press is hard. It’s ongoing. And it occasionally includes mistakes, as the Supreme Court found in absolving the New York Times and Alabama civil rights leaders of their errors in the Sullivan case in 1964.
The nation’s journalism groups should have celebrated that heritage by fighting for freedom, both Shuler’s and their own.
Editor’s note: This column was updated several times after initial publication. A longer version with more background links can be found at the Justice Integrity Project website.