Justice Integrity Project

New Book Documents Christie's 'Ruthless Ambition'

Written by Andrew Kreig
Published on April 11, 2014

A hard-hitting new book skewers New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a career-long bully, opportunist and phony.

Ruthless Ambition: The Rise and Fall of Chris Christie by former New Jersey State Assemblyman Louis Manzo, left, credibly portrays the onetime early favorite for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination.

Louis Manzo"How could a man like Chris Christie get within shouting distance of a seat in the Oval Office?" Manzo asks. "What does this say about our justice system, and about us? If you think you know the whole story of Christie's rise and later fall from grace, think again."

His book is a template for a new level of scrutiny for Christie -- and for the media megaphone that enabled the New Jersey governor's election to two terms. After winning by a large margin in November Christie also began in January a term as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. Polling and pundits listed him then as a front-runner for his party's nomination for president in 2016.

Ruthless Ambition shows that the recent bridge closing scandal was typical of the Christie’s team’s style of operation.

Manzo’s book thus constitutes a blow to Christie’s political career no matter who takes the blame in the end for the specifics of the September traffic tie-ups on the George Washington Bridge.

To recap, Christie's gubernatorial team intentionally tied up traffic on the world's busiest bridge for three days last September for unknown reasons. The bridge carries commuter and long-distance traffic between New Jersey (via the borough of Fort Lee) and the New York City borough of Manhattan. Christie has denied wrongdoing. His team has suggested that former appointees Bridget Anne Kelly and David Wildstein are primarily responsible.

The two previous books about Christie, 51, both written by New Jersey journalists, flattered his leadership. The slant typified Christie’s extended honeymoon with the media during his career as U.S. attorney and as governor.

Louis Manzo Ruthless Ambition CoverUntil recently, most journalists have portrayed Christie as a centrist who is well-suited to state and national leadership, at least within the GOP, because of his persona as a blunt-speaking fighter for the middle class.

That view is counter to our experience at the Justice Integrity Project. For more than four years, we have reported Christie's abuses of power as the U.S. attorney for New Jersey from January 2002 until the end of the Bush administration nearly seven years later.

Our research drew from the experiences of Manzo and his 44 co-defendants in a major corruption prosecution that Christie initiated. Manzo fought back and won dismissal of all charges from three indictments by both Republican and Democratic prosecutors.

Authorities in both parties showed an unseemly desire to convict Manzo, his co-defendants and thus vindicate Christie and their other brethren in the tight-knit, bipartisan law enforcement community.

Ryan Lizza, a political writer for the New Yorker Magazine, published over the weekend a long profile: Crossing Christie, What the bridge scandal says about the Governor’s political style, and his future.

The article closely tracks the approach in Manzo's book, which had been distributed electronically to selected media such as the New Yorker for two weeks. Ruthless Ambition publication was announced this week, with sales to the public moved up to next week after publication originally scheduled June 1. Amazon.com lists the paperback, 396-page book as a best-seller based on pre-orders.

On a radio interview April 9 on the WNYC, Lizza told host Brian Lehrer and the audience, "If you readers are interested in this subject, Manzo has a sort of a Ph.D. on this at this point and his book is very interesting."

Media Shirked Duties As Alabama Jailed Journalist Fought For First Amendment

Written by Andrew Kreig
Published on April 8, 2014

 

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.

Roger Shuler Home PortraitA part-time state judge freed blogger Roger Shuler March 26 after Shuler spiked columns alleging an affair between a reputed congressional candidate 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 regionally prominent lawyer Robert Riley and a lobbyist Liberty Duke filed civil suits claiming Shuler libeled them when he wrote they had had an affair. Judge Claud Neilson then ordered Shuler held without bail on two contempt of court charges for failure to spike his columns. The defendant is shown below in his mug shot.

The case undermined multiple legal precedents protecting freedom of the press and due process.

For example, the judge ordered the docket and courtroom sealed for the first months of the case, including the major hearing. The defendant, who had no lawyer, was kept shackled at wrists and ankles during a secret proceeding in which he had no ability to produce witnesses or legal research.

Shuler’s treatment exemplifies the national media’s increasingly bizarre behavior. Leading organizations are combine self-righteous First Amendment rhetoric in their public statements with timid reactions to the Shuler jailing.

The recent experience of New Yorker columnist Seymour Hersh illustrated the pattern further. On April 4, Hersh published The Red Line and the Rat Line, which alleged misleading statements by high-level Western leaders regarding civil strife in Syria and Libya. Hersh's column appeared in the London Review of Books, a second time in recent months he has used it instead of mainstream United States publications.

Roger ShulerHersh disputed official chronologies and causes of the Benghazi killing of four Americans in 2012 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 out of 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 overlapped in time last fall my research for 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 with three shots allegedly fired from the Texas Book Depository. 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 the bullet was found in near-pristine condition on a hospital gurney.

Pressure Mounts For Report On Alleged Saudi Role In Supporting 9/11 Hijackers

Written by Andrew Kreig
Published on March 26, 2014

 

Three members of Congress plus a former Senate chairman this month urged President Obama this month to declassify 28 pages of the joint congressional inquiry on foreign involvement in the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

Reps. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, Massachusetts Democrat Stephen Lynch and Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie spoke at a press conference on Capitol Hill March 11 in support of proposed House Resolution 428.

As shown below, three representatives of 9/11 families accompanied them and spoke also in support of making the material public.

 

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Graham, the Florida Democrat who co-chaired the the "Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 2001," provided a video Bob Grahamsupporting release of the information. Graham and the three congressman have read it but are forbidden by government secrecy law to describe it.

The Justice Integrity Project has tracked the issue for years. One focus has been reports that the 28-pages document support in the pre-9/11 period from the Saudi Arabian government and affiliated entities for hijack suspects who were living in the United States.
 
In 2011, Graham told a National Press Club audience that he wrote his spy thriller Keys to the Kingdom in part because he is “angry” that the government keeps so much information secret.
 
Graham, shown in a photo by Noel St. John, has been careful not to identify what he has seen in the report. But his novel is about a senator alarmed at Saudi influence. “Forty percent of the book is fact,” Graham told a Press Club audience. "Forty percent is pure fiction. Twenty percent is a combination.”
 
Yet the Saudi's have many friends in high places in the United States, including the news media. One reporter at the news conference asked whether disclosure might hurt the feelings of Saudi allies.
 

'Moral' Civic Reform Movement Spreads Across Deep South

Written by Andrew Kreig
Published on March 23, 2014

 

One of the nation's most innovative and so-far successful social justice reform movements in recent years is spreading in the Deep South -- including in a major test scheduled for March 25 in Alabama.

A new Alabama "Moral Mondays" group that mixes advocacy and civil disobedience plans its public launch at noon on the state capitol's front steps in Montgomery. Moral Mondays takes its name from weekly demonstrations that have occurred on Mondays during recent legislative sessions in North Carolina.

The movement draws its strength from the pain and anger widespread in the Deep South, including on legal and social justice issues.

It draws heavily from the civil rights movement of the 1960s and also uses "moral" and "constitutional" language similar to that of recent conservative groups. It emphasizes non-partisan "fusion" politics while opposing what its leaders call extremist policies by conservatives.

Mayor Johnny Ford and the Rev. William Barber in Selma, AL March 8, 2014The new movement is characterized by mass arrests during peaceful protests at state legislatures. It expanded last week to Georgia and South Carolina. It moves next to Alabama, one of the reddest of Red states and locale of many of the nation's iconic civil rights struggles from five decades ago.

Today's column is a first-hand report on how Alabama's Saving OurSelves (S.O.S.) coalition affiliated itself March 8 with the Moral Mondays movement. My photo at right shows the organizational meeting in Selma, with the Alabama River and the city's Edmond Pettus Bridge in the background.

The main leader is the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter. In my March 8 photo above showing Alabama planning, Barber was just to the right of Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford, who was dressed in a red Tuskegee University sweatshirt as he spoke in favor of the new coalition. Barber is shown also in a file photo below.

The Moral Mondays message attacks as extremist conservative policies such as opposition to Obamacare extension of Medicaid health insurance to the uninsured -- a decision largely in the hands of states.

Yet the movement's messages go far beyond specific policies and thus are "transformative, not transactional," Barber likes to say.

The Rev. William BarberSuch messages mean, on close examination, that the movement threatens traditional politicians and special interest groups of many kinds, including those on the left that are organized on single-issue rhetoric, party politics, and wheeler-dealing with hidden agendas. Implicit in the Moral Mondays movement is that it opposes those on the left who are accustomed to celebrity-driven, top-down leadership -- and fund-raising that crosses a line in terms of self-dealing or "pay to play" arrangements.

This Moral Mondays movement impresses me as bold, creative and seemingly likely to achieve significant goals. As our work at the Justice Integrity Project has found, many people are hurting, angry -- and looking for new and better ways to achieve dramatic civic reform.

I was one of the few reporters to attend the meeting, which was part of my five days at the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee from March 6 to 10 in Selma commemorating "Bloody Sunday."

That name comes from police brutality on March 7, 1965, when approximately 160 Alabama state and local police viciously beat and gassed 600 peaceful protesters on the Pettus Bridge. The marchers had intended to walk from Selma to Montgomery to protest near-complete lack of voting rights for blacks in majority black Dallas County and the police killing of a local resident, Jimmie Lee Jackson. The overall brutality, including the fatal clubbing of Wyoming-born Rev. James Reeb by racists in Selma, led to the national public outrage, two follow-up marches, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The new Moral Mondays coalition for Alabama was created in Selma during the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee, which retraces the steps of the first marchers. This year, a core group of 50 also traveled in a modern Freedom Ride from Selma through five Southern capitals to Washington, DC for rallies, including protests at the U.S. Supreme Court and Capitol.

The week of protests, church services and educational events I attended were powerful. There were many eloquent speeches, historical recreations and special events (including a mock trial and a play) repeatedly framed by prayer and music. Yet such scenes are best appreciated in person or by video. Therefore, my goal below is to focus in words on a summary of the movement, its allies, challenges and prospects.

Government PR Officials Increasingly Control News, Studies Find

Written by Andrew Kreig
Published on March 20, 2014

Carolyn Carlson

Local, state and federal governments increasingly rely on a new breed of public relations officials to control news coverage, according to two major studies announced March 19 in Washington, DC.

“It’s no wonder the United States has dropped 13 spots this year in a ranking of countries in press freedom – down to 46th – behind Uganda, El Salvador and Botswana,” said Society of Professional Journalists President David Cuillier. His group co-sponsored the surveys of local and education reporters in cooperation with the Education Writers Association.

“It’s shameful what is happening in this country," he said. "It’s a war over information and we must take up arms.”

Panelists worried that a younger generation reporters has accepted as a new normal government control of information through public information officers (PIOs). [Update: A DC web publication underscored the point by announcing that a former Fox News broadcaster had take a public relations post for a local government, WTTG Reporter Audrey Barnes Named Laurel PIO.]

David Cuillier and Emily RichmondThe two studies measured the reactions of experienced local and education reporters, respectively, to the increasingly common practice whereby governments forbid their employees to discuss news with reporters without approval of PIOs, who often guide reporters to the right employee and sit in on major interviews.

“More than three‐fourths of the local reporters and 76 percent of the education writers agreed with the statement that they believed the public was not getting the public it needs” because of controls by public information officers (PIOs) said Kennesaw State University professor Carolyn Carlson, shown at right and lead researcher for the studies announced at the National Press Club as part of Sunshine Week events. “Eighty three percent said they predict conditions would get worse over the next five years.”

Landmarks in top-down control over education coverage included the 1999 Columbine school shootings in Colorado and “No Child Left Behind” coverage during the Bush Administration, said Emily Richmond, public editor of the education writers association. She is shown in the photo with Cuillier.

Jailed Journalist Released After He Spikes Columns

Written by Andrew Kreig
Published on March 14, 2014

Roger Shuler

Alabama commentator Roger Shuler was released from five months in jail March 26 after removing from his website allegations that a prominent Alabama attorney had had an affair with a lobbyist.

Shuler had been held since Oct. 23 on a contempt of court charge stemming from libel actions brought under seal last summer by Birmingham attorney Robert Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke, who denied an affair.

Shuler's condition had sharply worsened during his nearly five months of jailing, as I learned by visiting him in Birmingham March 10.

"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 from a visitor's cell.

Shuler, 57, nearly choked up at the end of our interview when he said that he feared jail violence, and did not want to die from it. He is shown in his most recent photo, his mug shot the night of his beating by a Shelby County deputy last October. Since then, I have ramped up writing and speaking about the case, most recently on two Alabama radio interviews, with WAPI host Matt Murphy of Birmingham March 27 and with WVNN AM/FM host Dale Jackson the previous day onThe Attack Machine on the Athens-based station in northern Alabama.

The corruption-fighting reporter Shuler said he had 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.

In a secret lawsuit last summer, Riley and Duke denied Shuler’s reports, which were published on the Legal Schnauzer site Shuler founded in 2007 to expose corrupt practices in 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, New York Times versus 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 suit.  

Today's column -- originally entitled "Jailed Journalist's Sends Shocking 'Letter from Birmingham Jail' -- 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.

Carol ShulerShuler'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:

Stat trackers

"); jQuery("#stickyreplace").height(navHeight); } if (jQuery(this).scrollTop()