Justice Integrity Project
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.
The 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.
Such 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.
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.]
The 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.
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.
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:
Four major national security scandals were revealed this week after being ignored for many months by corporate-controlled mainstream outlets.
My new book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters, treated all four scandals by connecting previous findings that have been ignored or suppressed for the most part.
Most visibly, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein created headlines on March 11 by denouncing CIA spying on the Senate. Allegations of such spying have long been apparent to those monitoring such claims. Last summer, for example, former NSA analyst Russell Tice said he knew first-hand from his work that the NSA had been monitoring then-Sen. Barack Obama, among others, to obtain leverage.
As for Feinstein, the California Democrat's track record so far has been to protect the intelligence agencies from scrutiny or accountability for their budgets and operations. Therefore, her attack this week on CIA spying was remarkable.
The CIA is headed by John Brennan, shown at left, a former chief of the CIA's Saudi Arabian station with a 25-year CIA career. He rose to high posts in the Bush administration before he served in the Obama White House during the first term as a national security aide.
In Presidential Puppetry, I describe Brennan as one of the "puppet strings" who help instruct other government officials at the behest of more secret and powerful "puppet masters" in the private sector secret government. The private sector oligarchs have various nicknames such as "Wall Street," the "Deep State", the "Military Industrial Complex," or in the words of former CIA-Pentagon Liaison Fletcher Prouty, "The Secret Team."
By whatever name, this hidden government is primarily comprised of the U.S. financial, munitions, mining, media, and manufacturing leaders, along with their longstanding financial allies from such other nations as the United Kingdom and, more recently, Saudi Arabia.
Separately, Republican Congressmen Walter Jones of North Carolina, freshman Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Democrat Steve Lynch of Massachusetts led a press conference March 12 on Capitol Hill with 9/11 family members of victims. They seek release of the secret 28 pages of the Senate-House joint investigative report on alleged Saudi Arabian government support for 9/11 hijackers before the attack.
The three Congressmen have courageously led an effort at the risk of antagonizing those in Congress worried about irritating wealthy and powerful Saudis who help fund the United States war and related high-tech industries.
Also, former Florida Sen. Bob Graham -- Feinstein's predecessor as Intelligence Committee chairman -- delivered a video to back the demand by the congressmen. For years, the former three-term Democratic senator and governor has sought release of the report after he headed the Senate-House Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry (JICI) investigation of the attack. Members of Congress who have seen the report are forbidden to discuss it under the national security rules imposed on them.
The CIA spying and the continued secrecy of the Saudi section of the 9/11 investigation dramatically underscore how U.S. intelligence agencies (and the entities they represent) are controlling elected politicians for the most part, not vice versa.
Two other scandals involving the Ukraine and Boston Marathon bombing are at a lower profile in the news right now -- but have the potential to create disturbing issues about national security initiatives and media complicity in suppressing legitimate public debate.
Ukrainian Rock Star Gets U.S. Award, Calls for Putin's Overthrow; Leaked Tape Claims West-Backed Leaders Killed Demonstrators
White House, other Western and Russian leaders restrained their rhetoric regarding the Ukrainian crisis even as other players on all sides ramped up claims of murder, conspiracy, torture and other unethical conduct rarely leveled so bluntly regarding large governments.
To be sure, the official rhetoric was tough -- but not in comparison with the claims by non-government players alleging state-sponsored, murderous, false flag operations -- or else schemes to falsify such evidence.
Ukrainian rock star Ruslana Lyzhychko, for example, told a National Press Club audience March 5 that Russians and their leader are undertaking vast propaganda efforts, torture and killing to maintain influence in the Ukraine following street protests that toppled a pro-Russian leader late last month.
But Ruslana -- known by her first name, shown in my photo and fresh from receiving White House honors this week for years of advocacy against Russia -- did not directly answer my question about whether she thought controversial leaked tapes were genuine in their implications. (The question is at the 30-minute mark of the 70-minute video below.)
One implication was that the Western-backed snipers intentionally killed fellow protesters, and another was that Western leaders were involved in the selection of the Ukraine's new leaders. The phone call the first week of February is now being virtually ignored, U.S. diplomat apologizes for profane remarks on E.U. in leaked phone call.
In a response of at least eight minutes, Ruslana instead argued that Russian President Vladimir Putin is capable of boundless evil and should be thwarted in the Ukraine -- and overthrown in Russia by its people.
Meanwhile, Putin, President Obama (shown calling Putin), Ukranian, NATO, United Nations and other leaders exchanged threats to opponents and promises of massive aid to allies.
But no major new violence or troop movements were reported. The leading players, including Russian and the Ukraine, have many inter-dependent ties, and thus risk hurting themselves if actions are not sufficiently planned or explained to various national and global constituencies.
Among major developments, Russia tightened its hold on the Crimean Peninsula, and European nations promised $15 billion in aid to the Ukraine.
Additionally, Republican former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Democratic former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote op-eds in the Washington Post providing their views, excepted below.
The columns, How the Ukraine crisis ends and What is to be done? Putin’s aggression in Ukraine needs a response are by two of the longest-term foreign policy advisors of the powerful. My new book, Presidential Puppetry, points to the important role of these two foreign policy gurus in particular.
Also, two United States-reared anchors on the Russian-government funded television station RT made news by on-air criticism of the Russian government and RT.
March 9 marks the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s historic New York Times v. Sullivan ruling that protected journalists and Alabama civil rights protesters. One of the nation’s most important libel rulings created a tough requirement for public figures to prove liability.
But that precedent has not protected jailed Alabama journalist Roger Shuler during his five months behind bars in Shelby County.
After Shuler alleged an affair last year between the regionally prominent lawyer Robert Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke they filed a libel suit kept under seal.
County deputies tried with disputed success to serve him with papers. Shuler was then arrested and beaten at his garage Oct. 23. He has been held since then without bond for failure to follow a secret pretrial order from a judge to spike his columns alleging the affair. Shelby County is shown in red on a map.
Its courthouse looks pleasant enough in a file photo. Inside can be another story.
During a hastily convened trial of the libel issues in November, authorities brought Shuler from jail to defend his reporting. Shackled in chains from waist to ankles throughout the proceeding, Shuler had no defense lawyer, jury, witnesses or time to prepare his case.
Court security barred all observers except for one friend Shuler's permitted entrance because guards mistakenly assumed him to be the judge’s brother. The judge’s brother came in through a private rear door, according to Shuler, to chat before the proceeding with Riley, the wheeler-dealer son of a two-term GOP former governor Bob Riley (2003-2011). At the time, the younger Riley was reputedly candidate for a congressional seat in 2014 but he failed to file last month for the GOP primary.
Separately, Shuler was convicted of resisting arrest in a bench trial without a lawyer. Shuler protested without success that his arrest had been illegal because authorities have never shown him a warrant despite repeated requests, including in court.
With scattered exceptions, the nation’s major news outlets, associations and journalism professors have responded with near-silence even as additional problems pile up for the jailed Shuler.
Shuler faces a hearing March 5 in a libel suit brought by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (shown in his official photo) and his former campaign manager, Republican Attorneys General Association Director Jessica Medeiros Garrison. Shuler has alleged they had an affair. They have denied the claim.
So, the facts are disputed regarding Shuler’s claims of affairs by the four married plaintiffs.
But the Sullivan precedent sets a high bar for public figures in libel cases. Plaintiffs must prove that a reporter knew the facts were false or distributed them with “reckless disregard” of the truth. Such "reckless disregard" proof normally requires a full trial, especially if a reporter has sought comment pre-publication from the news subjects.
Among other long-established precedents seemingly being flouted the first case, at least, involve the court-ordered “prior restraint” before trial. Questions arise also regarding the sealed docket and courtroom, the absence of a full trial, and the suspect's violent arrest and jailing for an unlimited period on a contempt charge.
"I was surprised,” Alabama’s ACLU Director Randall Marshall told me, “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.