Justice Integrity Project
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.
The Ukraine's new deputy national security director has urged that Russia's most feared terrorist take action against Russia.
In a shocking statement largely ignored by the Western media, Dmitry Yarosh asked the fugitive Doku Umarov March 1 to take advantage of the "unique chance to win" arising from disturbances in the Ukraine.
Yarosh was appointed to the Ukraine's new government after leading the Right Sector group of ultra-rightists. The Right Sector was the best organized and otherwise most effective of the Western-backed street fighters who toppled the Ukraine's government last week.
Umarow, a native of Chechnia described as Russia's equivalent to Osama bin Laden, has not been reported seen since last summer, when he urged terror attacks to prevent the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. He is shown in a file photo courtesy of Creative Commons and Wikipedia.
In an interview on RT March 1, I described Yarosh's request to the terrorist as dangerous because it is so inflammatory and comes from an official of the new government.
But the Yarosh statement serves also as a valuable illustration to Western audiences of the violent tendencies of the street demonstrators who took power after they were encouraged by the West.
Meanwhile, Russian troops deployed through pro-Russian Crimean Peninsula of the Ukraine, which is the locale for a vital warm-water naval base of the Russians.
Russian troops also massed near the Ukraine border at a reported strength of 150,000. The Crimea is colored tan on the adjoining map, which is courtesy of Wikimedia.
United States and allied Western officials threatened reprisals against Russia but appeared to have few military or other meaningful options without risking world war.
Despite the bluster of U.S. politicians, a war-weary American public is hardly likely to support a new one that could escalate to a tragedy beyond anyone's understanding or control. Also, any action by the United Nations Security council would be subject to a Russian veto, and "a coalition of the willing" is unlikely for similar reasons.
President Obama and allied powers denounced the Russians following a mid-day meeting Saturday at the White House of such top administration officials as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, CIA Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
However, the actions so far of the Obama team show them as seeming unprepared for what appears to have been the most logical outcome of the West-orchestrated overthrow of the Ukraine's elected government. Republican leaders had little more to add aside from recriminations against Democrats for not acting more aggressively and spending more money on war-preparations and offers of aid.
More generally, the vast suffering created in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria all began with optimistic rhetoric from Western leaders about the benefits of collective action to support such attractive-sounding goals as national security, peace, democracy, and human rights.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power was among those who followed that pattern March 1 as she warned Russia against interference in the Ukraine.
Curiously lost in most U.S. coverage, however, has been the clear trail of United States and other Western interference in the Ukraine leading to coup last week overthrowing elected President .
Western intelligence agencies secretly use social media to inflict dirty tricks on enemies and to manipulate the public's political perceptions, according to a major investigative report last week by Glenn Greenwald.
Based on documents provided last year by former NSA and CIA employee Edward Snowden, Greenwald published How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations in cooperation with NBC and via the First Look Intercept site.
"I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents," Greenwald wrote Feb. 24. "Namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself."
Greenwald is shown in a file photo describing the implications of secret western national security documents that Snowden took when he worked as an NSA contractor.
The revelations extend via new documentary evidence in a more visible way similar dirty tricks previously reported. In 2011, for example, the hacktivist group Anonymous released hacked documents from a federal contractor showing elaborate plots to smear Greenwald and other journalists -- and also to create phony sock puppets to gather information via social media.
Lee Fang of Think Progress first reported, for example, that "Holly Weber" was an avatar created for Facebook by contractors, and not a real person. I reported the implications of that story in Feeling Friendly This Week? Beware, and also in my recent book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama Romney and Their Masters.
This week's revelations have sparked a wider ranging debate on the extent of Western intelligence to use social media -- which includes such platforms as Facebook and Wikipedia -- to distort the operations of users, and undertake propaganda and other political operations.
We have been writing separately about potential intelligence uses to use Wikipedia through its network of anonymous editors to shape public perceptions. Aside from the intelligence agencies, the Naval War College in Rhode Island is a major center for such operations with the traditional and social media in the United States.
Related issues arising last week included how much prominence social and traditional media would grant such revelations. Reddit, for example, banned links to the Greenwald story form one of its major distribution platforms.
Greenwald said the report was based on four classified GCHQ documents presented to the NSA and the other three partners in the English-speaking “Five Eyes” alliance that includes the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The GCHQ is the UK's equivalent to the NSA. The document below is from a stash of secrets within the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group, JTRIG, a previously secret unit with the GCHQ.
Greenwald described the importance as follows:
"By publishing these stories one by one," he wrote, "our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse 'hacktivists' of using, the use of 'honey traps' (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses."
Investigative reporter, author and former Navy intelligence officer Wayne Madsen has reported a major new development in the long-running smear campaign that Wikipedia has undertaken against him.
Wikipedia this week rejected a corrected biographical entry for Madsen submitted by a longtime Wikipedia volunteer editor and professional journalist.
Instead, Wikipedia reinstalled the smear-biography designed primarily by anonymous editors using a false birthday and, more important, designed to portray Madsen falsely as exceptionally untrustworthy and unworthy of consideration.
The new biography that was rejected accurately reports that Madsen has recently published op-ed essays in scores of traditional, print newspapers around the United States. Also, he has been an invited national security and political expert on almost all major United States network and cable news channels, including ABC, CBS, Fox News, and NBC.
Wikipedia this week refused to include that kind of career data in Madsen's bio even though the information, routinely included in bios of other journalists, was documented in the standard Wikipedia submission format. This includes hot links to the specific network programs, newspaper columns, and other sources.
Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner passed the request for comment to a communications aide, Jay Walsh. Gardner has previously said that Wikipedia opposes deceptive entries by opinion advocates and paid "sockpuppets." Walsh defended all of Wikipedia's actions, including its practice of relying on volunteer editors who are under voluntary requests to disclose any conflicts of interest.
That answer (amplified below) begs the question of what happens if several editors have a financial or fanatical antipathy to a fairly obscure biography subject, and are able to work with like-minded bloggers and other journalists to create a propaganda-like biography. Anyone involved in such a plan would have no incentive to step forward with a confession. The CIA and other intelligence agencies, for example, forbid their covert assets by the terms of their non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) from revealing their work to the public.
For nearly a decade, Wikipedia's vulnerability if not complicity to such tactics has been well-documented. One such article was in Wired in 2007 by John Borland, See Who's Editing Wikipedia -- Diebold, the CIA, a Campaign,. Another was Censorship at Wikipedia by Peter Meyer in 2006 at Serendipity.com.
In the recent case of the ongoing smear on Madsen, Wikipedia relies heavily on an anonymous editor, “Capitalismojo,” who launched Madsen's bio in 2009. The editor has tweaked the bio with hundreds of disparaging edits so far in tandem with another anonymous smear-artist, who is identified only as "brewcrewer (yada, yada)." The latter name that underscores the cocky, sophomoric attitude of the editors who wield their poison pens with the protection of anonymity.
Capitalismojo has even published a comment questioning whether Madsen ever served in the U.S. Navy.
By contrast, a Navy colleague who served with Madsen and later became a Navy captain has told me that Madsen was an outstanding Navy officer, patriot, and investigative reporter.
More generally, the Wikipedia defamation campaign against Madsen shows a fundamental weakness in Wikipedia's operations that has victimized many other news subjects and readers. A class on Wikipedia at the National Press Club last summer described major problems especially in bios and political items with the Wikipedia system of relying on anonymous volunteer editors for most content.
I use Wikipedia almost every day because of its useful features. But I published also a three-part series last summer on the problem excerpted below. The most relevant segment was For Trustworthy Commentary, Beware of Wikipedia, Daily Beast, CNN, Poynter -- and Many More.
Wikipedia's treatment of Madsen, a former NSA analyst, parallels its cavalier treatment nine years ago of First Amendment advocate and USA Today editorial page editor John Seigenthaler, shown giving a speech in a file photo.
Wikipedia falsely described Seigenthaler in 2005 as a onetime suspect in the 1960s assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. Seigenthaler responded by writing an eloquent op-ed in USA Today explaining why Wikipedia does not stop character assassins from posting false information.
Jailed Journalist Update: Media Respond Timidly; Judge Fights Civil Rights Firm; Rights Anniversaries Loom
The nation's journalists have compiled an erratic and ineffective record of supporting jailed journalist Roger Shuler, an Alabama blogger who has spent more than five months behind bars. His crime? Failing to spike his stories before a libel trial in a case largely determined via secret court proceedings.
Meanwhile, the presiding judge Claud [sic] Neilson, shown in a file photo, is also a private attorney fighting one of the Deep South's best-known civil rights firms. According to an Associated Press story, the firm Sanders and Sanders has been devastated by the costs of a major civil rights litigation victory on behalf of black farmers hurt by many years of discrimination in federal funding programs.
Separately, a founding partner of the firm is assembling with her team next month an impressive edition of the annual civil rights reform effort in spirit of the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" march in Selma for voting rights. In the name of law and order during the segregationist era, 150 police officers used clubs, bullwhips, tear gas and horses in a surprise attack against peaceful marchers in Selma. The police brutality captured on video excerpts below shocked the nation. President Johnson and Congress approved the historic Voting Rights Act that summer.
The U.S. Supreme Court last summer voided key provisions of that law at the request of Shelby County, the same conservative jurisdiction that is jailing the progressive blogger Shuler. His jailing by a judge defying national precedents on First Amendment and open courts law has attracted national attention.
To redress such rights deprivations of recent years, Sanders and Sanders co-founder Fara Rose Touré this year is leading a team that has expanded the Bridge Crossing Jubilee that they have organized since the late 1960s. I'll preview their civil rights campaign on these pages in coming days, and cover it on the scene beginning next week.
Another notable anniversary in the region is the 50th anniversary March 10 of the New York Times v. Sullivan U.S. Supreme Court ruling that dismissed a trumped-up libel judgment in Alabama. The ruling enabled national news coverage of the 1960s civil rights struggle and has been regarded otherwise until recently in Alabama as a bulwark for the nation's free press.
Today's column addresses these inter-related developments, most of them located in a triangular region encompassing Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham. Shelby County, just south of the Birmingham, is the jailer of Shuler. The county also was the plaintiff in a civil rights victory to void key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
I am traveling to Selma for the march next month and giving speeches at nearby venues to raise awareness of widespread rights violations that turn back the clock. I hope you'll read further, and join me in Selma or nearby.
The clip above is from a National Archives video, Confrontations for Justice, about the 1965 Selma march.
Regarding the media, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) included Shuler as the only jailed journalist within the Western Hemisphere in its annual list of more than 200 incarcerated unfairly around the world. Inclusion has been a bright spot for the Birmingham-based writer in his fight to regain his freedom and resume writing about others victimized by the legal system. Shuler, shown in his mug shot after his beating by deputies during his arrest in his garage, would be far less visible without CPJ's recognition of his ordeal.
Several other news organizations or outlets cited the CPJ's mention in news treatments about his situation. Most mentions were brief news items in web reports primarily read by members. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press also submitted a legal brief as a friend of the court, but does not serve as his lawyer.
In January, the New York Times ran a full-length Sunday feature story on Shuler's plight: pre-trial jailing in apparent violation of legal precedents.
But the Times timid approach glossed over the appalling circumstances, among other dubious reporting decisions, as we described here Jan. 17 in Alabama Court Again Hammers Blogger As NY Times Flubs Libel Story.
The March 10 anniversary for the landmark New York Times v. Sullivan provides an occasion to reflect on what has been widely regarded until now as a precedent that has enabled robust media coverage of public figures. By a 9-0 vote, the court rejected libel damages of $500,000 in a case that an Alabama police commissioner had brought against civil rights workers and the Times because of minor errors in a Times ad purchased by segregation opponents.
The ruling also voided nearly $300 million in other libel judgments across the Deep South brought by segregationists against news organizations. The "absolute malice" standard the court cited in the ruling requires public figures alleging libel to prove at trial that a communicator knew a claim was false, or else proceeded recklessly without making an attempt to check the facts.
Neilson has defied those settled holdings in the Sullivan decision by his pro-plaintiff and ex parte decision-making even before a trial of the facts. In November, the judge held a "trial," with practical ability for the jailed Shuler to call witnesses, have an attorney or otherwise prepare a case. The so-called trial occurred with Shuler in chains and any spectators forbidden from entering the courtroom by deputies.
“I was surprised," said American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama Legal Director Randall Marshall, "that there wasn’t more of an outcry from the media world when this first happened.”
Mitt Romney will extend a helping hand to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie this week by appearing at a Feb. 27 fund-raiser for the Christie-led Republican Governors Association.
Romney's participation was confirmed Feb. 22. Meanwhile, Christie, keeping a low-profile in the nation's capital during a meeting of the National Governor's Association over the weekend, avoided reporters seeking comment on the scandal of his administration's role in intentionally creating gridlock for four days last September on access to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, NJ.
Romney's speech this week helps him stay in the limelight and help fellow Republicans in case he runs in 2016 as a already vetted candidate.
Mostly, Romney helps former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a run for the 2016 by staving off scrutiny of Bush as a front-runner until Christie's almost inevitable collapse down the road as a viable contender. That downfall will come because of other and largely unreported scandals, as we have previously argued here.
The Justice Integrity Project does not cover routine political stories. In this case, however, my previous reporting on Christie and for the book Presidential Puppetry: Obama Romney and Their Masters provides important evidence missed by much of the mainstream media.
Most pertinent, as previously reported, are: The underlying strength of the Bush dynasty, whose scion Jeb is my prediction as the 2016 GOP nominee.
Romney is the most likely fallback choice because he is a known quantity from his races in 2008 and 2012 and has the backing of the powerful Mormon Church unless its power structure sees an opportunity to the otherwise longshot former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Conversely, Christie is highly vulnerable whenever his GOP rivals decide join vocal Democrats in undercutting him.
Before the knives come out, however, Republicans seeking mainstream support have every reason to stand with Christie. Until recently, Christie has fostered a rare blend of a common-man image coupled with faithful service to Wall Street and other elite interests behind the scenes.