Two cable news stars broadcast a repulsive but revealing display of self-promotion Aug. 10 when MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell credited fellow anchor Rachel Maddow for coverage prompting the resignation of Alabama's scandal-ridden governor earlier in the day. "You alone," he told her, covered the scandal.
But credit belongs not to the heavily promoted Maddow (shown in a file photo) but to the courageous Alabama blogger Roger Shuler. He has been financially ruined, beaten and jailed for his relentless investigations of top state officials, including the just-departed GOP Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.
Shuler broke the story of the scandals arising from Bentley's affair with a highly paid state aide, Rebekah Caldwell Masonl (shown with Bentley below). Shuler began with a column Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley engaged in extramarital affair that prompted First Lady's divorce complaint on Aug. 31, 2015. He followed with two more such columns over the next two days. The updates keep coming, as in his report that Mason apparently faces no sanction: Finding of "no probable cause" against Rebekah Mason suggests ethics commission is part of scheme to oust Bentley but keep greater wrongdoing under cover.
The story of his scoop is particularly apt now because of the awful price that Shuler and his wife Carol have paid for such work. Also, the mainstream media are waging a heavy-handed public relations campaign against bloggers, alternative media and those falling under the smear of "fake news" and "conspiracy theory."
This is the first of several columns we plan about those developments, which are prominent this week in part because of the annual announcement of Pulitzer Prizes. The Pulitzers were dominated as usual by winners from the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal in major categories. It's fine that they were able to achieve recognition, and in that spirit we cite winners here and below.
But there's much more to journalism than the big outlets. Grassroots practitioners like Shuler across the country do not and cannot spend their scarce income much on application fees to compete in such contests, even in the unlikely event their work would receive serious consideration from the corporate-controlled media that control such recognition.
So, we focus for now on the brave and largely unreported tale of how Shuler, an impoverished blogger in flight with his wife from autocratic Alabama judges managed to bring down his state's governor in the kind of mind-boggling sex, legal and financial scandal whose revelation has become commonplace recently in that state.
The Tips and Tape That Torpedoed a Governor
Bentley's resignation means the leadership of all three branches of Alabama's state government has been ousted in less than a year because of scandal, including Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (permanently suspended for refusing to follow U.S. Supreme Court precedent on gay rights that conflict with his understanding of The Bible) and House Speaker Mike Hubbard, arguably the most powerful state official and convicted last June of 12 felonies involving massive graft.
Shuler is shown puffy-faced in a county jail mug shot taken after he was arrested at his home, beaten, and jailed for six months on a contempt of court charge in October 2014 arising from his coverage of what he regarded as other sex scandals involving prominent Alabama lawyers.
The irony is that Shuler gets virtually nothing for it — hardly any money and very little recognition, and probably many more legal hassles to come — whereas the MSNBC anchors are reported to receive multi-million-dollar annual salaries.
Neither Maddow nor O'Donnell (shown in screenshots) did original reporting that broke this case as Shuler did. Nor do they risk anything by their commentary to a largely liberal audience, except the possibility of one day being phased out for new faces. The Shulers, by contrast, have long lived in Red State country, where threats of violence against liberals are a frequent occurrence, especially for them.
What's most important about this, however, is not who gets the credit for this particular story. The vital point instead should be greater public awareness that a healthy society depends on the different strengths that independent blogging and mainstream news bring to civic awareness.
Here's the inside story of the Alabama scandals that we developed from Justice Integrity Project sources in Alabama fostered in part over many years of following that state's courageous bloggers like Shuler and their dwindling core whistleblower sources who dare fight entrenched corruption in a state where drastic reprisals against dissidents are not uncommon.