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.

Lyndon B. Johnson

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 told Johnson in one call that he thought he was the only commission member to read the entire report. Shortly before the report's release, Russell later told Johnson he did not believe the staff-promoted single-bullet theory. “I don't either,” Johnson replied.

We now know also from a declassified 1967 CIA memo, Dispatch No. 1035-960, 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 not know that the CIA popularized the term “conspiracy theorist” via the agency's many media contacts to deride critics of government. For example, an April 5 review of disparaged the publisher of a new book, Ruthless Ambition, that is 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.

This essay of 4,800 words charts a path from the Shuler case study in Alabama to the JFK killing, and then moves to Hersh's disclosures.

My conclusion is that many journalists who shy away from controversial topics do so because of survival is so difficult in downsized newsrooms. Job safety rests 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 than public relations control of information that used to be simply public. But the mainstream media increasingly dares not address many sensitive matters. True, some are more independent on web or other alternative media. But those platforms tend to be small, vulnerable to disruption and otherwise lacking in influence.

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 involving 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. Riley was Siegelman’s GOP successor for two terms ending in 2011. Siegelman and others have pointed to sworn evidence that the top prosecutor and Karl Rove were part of a plot to frame Siegelman even before his indictment.

Judge Mark Fuller Phil Fleming PhotoShuler, among others, reported in sworn testimony in 2007 that Riley’s son, Robert Riley Jr., was involved in a plot to frame Siegelman. According to a Republican lawyer, Dana Jill Simpson, Riley predicted in early 2005 that Siegelman would be secretly indicted and the case would be steered to a Republican, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery. She quoted Riley as saying the judge “hated” the defendant and would “hang” him. The rarely photographed Fuller is shown at right in a portrait by freelancer Phil Fleming.

The younger Riley denied the claim, but was never cross-examined. Fuller declined comment. Rove denied the claim also. Close review of Rove's congressional cross-examination in 2009 reveals that it was a whitewash. He spoke off-camera under special protections. Democrats failed to ask specific, well-researched questions, and failed to 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 regarding conflict of interest and misconduct by the judge, top prosecutors, and other authorities.
 
The conflicts included $300 million in Bush Air Force contracts given to a company the trial judge, Fuller, secretly controlled. Fuller was by far the largest shareholder of Doss Aviation, Inc., with up to a 44% ownership. I reported that scandal for the Huffington Post in 2009 but authorities, remarkably enough, have consistently found no potential for conflict of interest in a judge being enriched in such fashion by the federal government without knowledge by the defense.

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 with 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.

Additionally, Shuler 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 more than $200,000 in funds. The money was reportedly raised from political allies of the married Riley and his father.  

The younger Riley, a regionally prominent lawyer, and Duke fought back with libel suits in July. They were filed under seal in Shelby County and included affidavits denying Shuler’s claims.  

Claud NeilsonAlabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore took the initiative to handle the Riley-Duke lawsuit. Moore is nationally famous a decade ago for installing a Ten Commandments monument at his courthouse in defiance of a U.S. Supreme Court in order.

Bypassing elected judges in Shelby County, Moore picked retired Circuit Court 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, shown in a file photo, is an attorney with an active practice, raising further question about his appointment 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 his trial, in which he had no lawyer, Shuler protested unsuccessfully that he did not resist arrest and that authorities never produced an arrest warrant at the scene or afterward.
 
Other Sex Scandal Claims

On the Legal Schnauzer blog, Shuler has alleged other sex scandals linked to politicians, court officials and their alleged financial misconduct or other abuses of power. Shuler’s track record in muckraking doubtless affected his harsh treatment by the judge and by the journalism community locally and nationally.

Some news reports about Shuler suggest that he is obsessed by scandals. But the context below shows that his sex-related muckraking often relates to claims of hypocrisy and 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. Prosecutors are required to disclose all such contacts to defendants pre-trial but failed to do so in this case and suffered no sanction. Bailey's interrogations were part of a paramilitary dimension in the Siegelman probe. A multiyear special state-federal task force was assembled at great expense by Republican prosecutors a decade ago just to find evidence against Siegelman. It was headquartered at an Air Force base, with supervision by a Justice Department prosecutor who was also an colonel in the Air Force reserves. Bailey, a slightly built man, feared that he would be subjected to rape by fellow inmates in prison unless he gave authorities the testimony they wanted. These concerns were 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. The plane flew a banner denouncing Alabama’s governor. The University of Alabama was playing at the time 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." 
  • William Pryor, Jr.U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge William Pryor, a married Republican who rose to prominence advocating family values, 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, right, 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 righteous 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. By that standard either in Alabama or elsewhere, an ostensibly crusading reporter may also be, wittingly or not, a mere instrument for players in a higher-stakes games.
  • 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. Also, the judge's company was winning huge awards to train Air Force pilots and refuel Air Force planes. Other evidence indicated the affair was with the judge’s married court clerk during a period of major legal irregularities in the Siegelman prosecution. Fuller has had no comment on the claims, which were documented in court filings put under seal, as I reported in Project Files To Unseal Fuller Records, Describes Importance.
  • Republican Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, right, and his former campaign manager Jessica Medeiros Garrison had an affair during a multiyear period when she also received more than $350,000 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 Luther Strange$58,000 in campaign funds and title to a car 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 (shown in a file photo) be required to testify during the trial this month on whether the prosecutor had had an affair while he was making payments to Garrison, who is now executive director of the Republican State Attorneys General Association. Details include Johnson’s claim that Strange’s office has “hounded” her for years with the probe, resulting in a devastating impact on her employment and the rest of her life in her small town.

Here is a pro and con argument regarding such coverage.

Publish allegations? Sex scandal is often intertwined with other issues of character, policy, and corruption. The public is hurt if 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 far more government leaders than most in the public might imagine. Those exposed in sex scandals might be despicable charlatans – or, conversely, scapegoats who refused to violate their office oaths enough when threatened with blackmail.

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 someone who would become a scapegoat facilitating 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.

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 based on 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 and visited him in the Birmingham jail last month to brief him on the lack of support media groups were willing to provide even in terms of a letter to the court. Like most writers I am reluctant to get involved in a story. But this was an exceptional situation whereby First Amendment precedent, not just Shuler, was being undermined and my journalism membership groups were doing little of consequence.  

Who Helped, Who Did Not

Shelby Country Sheriff Logo

Others helped also, including with 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. Others published for journalism, political 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.

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’ rare prestige and national circulation. Unfortunately, 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 newspaper portrayed Shuler as, for example, a would-be martyr who wanted to remain in jail. It reported also that he was prone to defamation suits instead of reporting the specifics: two such suits 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 judge's highly irregular appointment. The article also failed to disclose the right-wing activism of Ken White, a former federal prosecutor in California writing angry blogs as "Popehat." The reporter quoted White as a seemingly neutral expert authority.

In sum, the Times treatment helped poison the well for other national attention.

More important generally, 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 so much power was arrayed against Shuler. He has repeatedly defended others' rights across the South from abuse in courts. Three of Alabama's largest newspapers have moved to there-day-per-week publication. So routine coverage of the courts by mainstream journalists in Alabama especially is dwindling.

As a postscript, Riley decided not to run for office this year after the allegations against him became well-known. Even though I have written many investigative stories targeting him, I remain open-minded on whether he had the alleged affair with Duke. I do not doubt that Shuler had sources, but when the stakes are so high there is always the possibility that sources are in error or have complex motives.

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 could 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 that 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 should have been a top priority for the news industry. The judicial law-breaking victimized a United States reporter unjustly jailed in a civil case while undertaking investigative work on a public figure.

The broader implications are apparent 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. 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

Lee Harvey Oswald militaryThe gist? Last fall’s JFK coverage, despite its sheer volume, did not sufficiently pursue the most important evidence except sporadically.

One such issue was whether Oswald became a secret U.S. government operative after his Marine service (shown in a photo) and his remarkably easy return from Russia as a supposed defector. 

Jack Ruby Murders Lee Harvey OswaldSignificant evidence exists, for example, that Oswald secretly worked in 1963 in New Orleans with conservatives and federal authorities on anti-Castro initiatives while pretending publicly to be an advocate for Cuba's Communist leader.

Another big question, of course, was whether Kennedy died from a bullet shot from the front or side, not from the rear. Among many other questions is why Jack Ruby murdered Oswald, as shown in an iconic photo. Some, at least, have provided answers not readily available in the mass media.

We do not need to read all the evidence to question whether our news organizations are presenting all the evidence in a professional manner.

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 avoids 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. The Justice Integrity Project will begin its publication in serial form later this month.

It's a true-life mystery story but I can provide the overview: many of Washington's "mysteries" are because so-called national security priorities are regarded as too sensitive to share with the public. Yes, that happens.

The Latest Scandal

For now, suffice to say that new evidence of corporate mainstream cowardice appears almost every day.

Presidential PuppetryOn 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.

Petraeus and BroadwellCIA Director David Petraeus was at the heart of it. But the Petraeus forced resignation just after the 2012 election was obscured by a leaked sex scandal involving him and Paula Broadwell, shown below, as if intelligence services would force such a public humiliation of a top official without having other motives.

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.

Madsen broke 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 point.

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 such organizations as Project Censored, which originally published this column – 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 -- not patting themselves on the back with innumerable awards contests and training conferences. Training for what? Stenography or to be the next Seymour Hersh or Roger Shuler?

 

 
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Related News Coverage

Alabama Sixth Congressional District

Legal Schnauzer, Rob Riley Discovers Rogue Web Site and Cites It To Raise Questions About My Release From Jail, Roger Shuler, April 14, 2014.  Alabama political figure Rob Riley has asked a judge to determine if I had any involvement with a Web site running articles that had been removed from Legal Schnauzer in order to purge a contempt finding and gain my release from jail.  The Web site in question is legalschnauzera.blogspot.com, with the addition of an "a" being the only difference between it and the title and address of my blog. "LegalSchnauzera" is filled with pop-up ads and pretty clearly appears to be a rogue Web site of some sort. Riley is asking Judge Claud Neilson for a hearing--or to require my wife, Carol, and me to show cause concerning any involvement with "LegalSchnauzera." Carol removed certain items from Legal Schnauzer, plus my YouTube and Twitter accounts, in order to purge a contempt finding and gain my release after five months in the Shelby County Jail.

Yellowhammer, Who will be Alabama’s next 6th Congressional District representative? Jeff Poor, Oct. 1, 2013. Alabama's 6th Congressional District Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, set off a media firestorm yesterday when he announced that his 11th term in the U.S. House will be his last. Bachus has represented Alabama’s 6th District in Congress for over two decades. His impending departure will leave the the seat open for the first time in a generation. The speculation about his potential successors has been hot-and-heavy over the last 24 hours. Here’s our take on who might jump in, and who will probably take a pass. In alphabetical order [13 possibilities]:

....Robert Riley, Gov. Bob Riley’s son was widely seen by insiders as one of the most powerful people in the state during his dad’s tenure on Goat Hill. Rob is a successful attorney with his own firm in Homewood. He has stayed extremely involved in state politics via the political action committees that have been the focus of legislative Republicans’ fundraising over the past two election cycles. Rob has privately expressed interest in Congress in years past, and he has unique perspective on the demands of the job having experienced his dad’s tenure in the U.S. House as a college kid.

Legal Schnauzer, Inmates Acted With Disbelief When Told Journalist Was In Jail For Writing A Blog, Roger Shuler, April 9, 2014. "Why are you here?" tends to be the most common question that inmates ask each other. Inmates in the Shelby County Jail usually reacted with disbelief when I told them I was in jail for writing a blog. That's one of several new insights from "The Accidental First Amendment Martyr," an article by Versha Sharma at Vocativ.com. Sharma points out that issues in my case go well beyond the press; they have implications for anyone who might write critically about an individual or entity on the Web -- at Facebook or Twitter, for example.

Legal Schnauzer, New York Times Falsely Claims That Legal Schnauzer Blog Has Generated "Many Defamation Lawsuits,"  Roger Shuler, April 7, 2014. A photo caption in a New York Times article about my incarceration states that the Legal Schnauzer blog has "prompted many defamation lawsuits." The statement is false and comes on top of other inaccuracies that we have previously noted in the story. The January 12 article, by reporter Campbell Robertson, inaccurately states that I was "unwilling to hire a lawyer" and that I planned to "bring federal criminal charges" against the judge in the defamation case that led to my incarceration. But the newspaper stepped way out of bounds by hinting on multiple occasions that I have long been the target of defamation lawsuits. The record, however, shows that I had been a professional journalist for 35 years without ever being sued for defamation--until two Republican political figures filed similar lawsuits within roughly one month of each other in August/September 2013. In short, my experience as the target of defamation lawsuits involves two cases in the span of roughly one month during a 35-year career. That constitutes "many defamation lawsuits?"
 
Legal Satyricon, Bloggers are protected as 'Media” – Comins v. VanVoorhis, Marc John Randazza, April 13, 2014. It’s an all-too-common scenario: A blogger criticizes someone online, and then gets sued for his statements. The plaintiff sued because of the blogger’s characterizations of him shooting two dogs at close range; the defendant blogger was in Florida – and thus protected by Fla. Stat. § 770.01. (I am proud to have represented Mr. VanVoorhis, the blogger in this case). Florida’s pre-suit notice statute, § 770.01, requires defamation plaintiffs to alert defendants to the allegedly defamatory material before filing suit. The statute reads, in its entirety:   770.01 Notice condition precedent to action or prosecution for libel or slander. The essential point, which the appellate court agreed with, is that a “journalist” is not something you are but is rather something that you do. Mr. VanVoorhis’ blog was journalism, and thus he was considered to be a “media defendant.” In agreeing, the appellate court gave us some wonderful language supporting the proposition that bloggers serve an essential function.

Al.com, Former state Sen. Lowell Barron demands day in court as trial postponed, Paul Gattis, April 12, 2014. A year ago, former state Sen. Lowell Barron accused state Attorney General Luther Strange of conducting "a witch hunt" for indicting Barron on state campaign and ethics violations. On Saturday, Barron criticized Strange for "denying me my day in court." The latest twist in the high-profile criminal case brought against a man who was once one of the most powerful lawmakers in Alabama is that his trial, scheduled to begin on Monday, has been delayed. Because prosecutors from the Attorney General's office filed an appeal Friday of the trial judge's order issued the day before, state law mandates the trial is automatically postponed. Barron and co-defendant Rhonda Jill Johnson, a longtime campaign worker, were each indicted on six counts of violating state campaign and ethics laws in April 2013.DeKalb County Circuit Judge Randall Cole issued an order late Friday afternoon delaying the trial because of the prosecution's appeals. Cole said comments Johnson regarding a romantic relationship with Barron to a reporter of a Montgomery-based blog could not be introduced at trial, which is an element of motive....If Cole's order on Thursday is not reversed on appeal, prosecutors said in court documents that it would be "fatal" to their case against Barron and Johnson.

Peter B. CollinsPeter B. Collins, Journalist Roger Shuler Recounts His 5 Months in Alabama Jail, Peter B. Collins (left), March 28, 2014. Roger Shuler, journalist and publisher of the Legal Schnauzer blog, was just released after 5 months in jail, and reports on his hellish experience. As regular listeners know well, Roger Shuler was dealt one injustice after another by the corrupt court system in Alabama.

AL.com, Legal Schnauzer blogger thankful to be freed from jail; maintains First Amendment rights violated, Kent Faulk, April 2, 2014. A Shelby County man released from jail last week after five months for refusing a judge's order to remove comments on his blog says he is thankful to be out of jail but maintains the court-ordered censorship violated his constitutional rights. "I'm very thankful to be out of jail. It was an extremely difficult experience, physically and mentally," Roger Shuler stated in an email Tuesday night to AL.com in response to a request for comment. A judge ordered Shuler released, at least temporarily, on March 26 after his wife, Carol, recently removed certain comments on Shuler's blog Legal Schnauzer. The judge had ordered Shuler arrested on a contempt charge in late October after he did not remove comments the judge had ruled were defamatory against the son of former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley. "I had hoped to be released much sooner than this, with the help of legal counsel that could have argued that the preliminary injunction in my case was improper under roughly 200 years of American law. It's a classic prior restraint, the kind that long has been forbidden under the First Amendment," Shuler wrote in his email. "Outside legal counsel was slow in developing, and I couldn't argue the case for myself from inside the jail, so over the course of several weeks my wife figured out how to remove certain items as ordered by the court and gained my release. I see her as a hero in this, operating under very stressful conditions," Shuler wrote.

Al Jazeera America, Case of jailed blogger raises First Amendment concerns, Wilson Dizard, April 8, 2014. Roger Shuler spent five months behind bars for what he says was lawful exercise of free speech. An Alabama blogger who had been listed as the only journalist in a U.S. jail for an offense related to something he had written is now free, but the issues raised by his incarceration remain a concern, free speech advocates say. Birmingham resident Roger Shuler was released from the Shelby County Jail on March 26, about five months after being taken into custody for refusing to take down posts on LegalSchnauzer.com — the subject of a 2013 defamation lawsuit.

Legal Schnauzer, Your Donations Help Legal Schnauzer Engage In the Battle To Keep Web Press Free From Censorship, Roger Shuler, April 1, 2014. Legal Schnauzer Publisher Roger Shuler has been released from five months in the Shelby County Jail, but numerous legal issues remain from his incarceration. No. 1 on the list probably is censorship, and a long line of court cases points in that direction.
Loyal readers have helped sustain this blog during a traumatic time, and we invite your financial support to help continue the battle. Donations can be made by clicking on the donate button to the right. Shuler was incarcerated because of a civil-contempt charged based on a preliminary injunction in a defamation lawsuit. But American law long has held that such injunctions constitute an unlawful prior restraint and are forbidden under the First Amendment. This is perhaps most strongly stated in Near v. Minnesota, a ground-breaking 1931 case on the subject of free-speech restrictions.

Siegelman Case

WAFF-TV, Appeals court grants former Alabama Governor hearing, Amanda Jarrett and Stephen Gallien, April 18, 2014. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear an appeal filed by former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Court officials say the hearing is tentatively scheduled for the week of July 28. Siegelman is serving a 78 month sentence for bribery, conspiracy and other charges. He's currently at Oakdale Federal Detention Center in Oakdale, Louisiana. Court documents filed in the Middle District of Alabama detail records needed for this appeal. Those records include nine volumes of pleadings, 113 volumes of transcripts, and three sealed boxes/exhibits. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is located in Atlanta.

JFK Murder and Hersh Foreign Affairs Coverage

London Review of Books, The Red Line and the Rat Line, Seymour M. Hersh on Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels, April 4, 2014. In 2010, Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons.​ Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia. Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.

London Review of Books, Whose Sarin? Seymour M. Hersh, Dec. 8, 2013. Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack.

Seymour HershFireDoglake, Seymour Hersh: Obama Administration Cherry-Picked Syria Intelligence, Avoided Al-Qaeda Connection, DS Wright, Dec. 9, 2013. In a piece that was rejected by both the New Yorker and Washington Post, legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, right, writes that the Obama Administration cherry-picked Syria intelligence and that President Barack Obama misled the American public on the case that the Assad regime were the ones guilty of using sarin gas. Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack.

Democracy Now! via OpEdNews, Seymour Hersh: Obama "Cherry-Picked" Intelligence on Syrian Chemical Attack to Justify U.S. Strike, Amy Goodman, Dec. 10, 2013. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh (below right) joins us to discuss his new article casting doubt on the veracity of the Obama administration's claims that only the Assad regime could have carried out the chemical attacks in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta earlier this year. AMY GOODMAN: Lay out your case for what it is that the Obama administration did or didn't tell us. SEYMOUR HERSH: Actually, Amy, it's really not my case; it's the case of people in the administration who believe when they -- when they take the oath, they take the oath of office to the Constitution and not to their immediate general or admiral or not to the -- or not to the president even. It's about truth.... There's -- it's a real rebel war there, civil war. And the point was that at no time did the United States ever consider al-Nusra to be a potential target of investigation.

 

Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

Pando Daily, Journalists celebrate purchase of staid local newspaper by plucky rival, David Sirota, April 9, 2014. The announcement that the Alaska Dispatch has purchased the Anchorage Daily News has been met primarily with celebrations about the out-of-nowhere triumph of the underdog. However, for journalism – as distinct from the media business – this isn’t novel, nor is it necessarily encouraging. For one thing: the money for the deal came from Alice Rogoff, a journalist and the wife of Carlyle Group’s billionaire founder and co-CEO, David Rubinstein   If in the midst of all the underdog triumphalism you missed that part of the story, don’t blame yourself. The Alaska Dispatch’s financial connection to the Carlyle Group – one of the world’s largest financial conglomerates – was only fleetingly mentioned in most coverage. And that particular conglomerate’s deep financial stake in Alaska was almost entirely absent.

Chuck StoneMaynard Institute for Journalism Education, Chuck Stone 1924-2014: "A Firebrand With Unassailable Journalistic Credentials," Staff report, April 5, 2014. Charles Sumner (Chuck) Stone, newspaper editor, professor, columnist, former Tuskegee Airman and founding president of the National Association of Black Journalists — a legend to many — died Sunday at 89, according to news reports. Stone, shown in a museum photo, died in his sleep early this morning at an assisted-living home in Farmington, N.C., relatives said. As news spread Sunday morning among National Association of Black Journalists members, many were quick to speak of Stone's influence on them.

Philadelphia Daily News, Nephew remembers a man in motion, Gene Seymour, April 7, 2014. Gene Seymour, a former film and jazz critic for Newsday, was a staff writer at the Daily News from 1981 to 1989. In my mind's eye, I will forever see my uncle, first and foremost, as a man in motion. Sometimes he is dancing to swing or bop. (In case any of you didn't know, he was pretty good at it.) Once in a while, he's jogging or skipping either to fill time or to make it go away. Mostly, he's striding forward, always forward, leaning into the wind, resisting any real or imagined restraints, always in haste, never dawdling, whether he had someplace to go. Nothing mattered more to Chuck than putting his quicksilver vision to direct use, sometimes to praise, just as often to condemn, always to make history pick up the pace -- and move along as quickly as he could. Just because he had to stop doesn't mean the rest of us should.

Anja Niedringhaus, courtesy Associated PressNational Press Club, Club mourns remarkable photojournalist killed in Kabul, Myron Belkind and Donna Leinwand Leger, April 4, 2014. The National Press Club joins with journalists around the world as we mourn the death in Afghanistan of veteran Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus, 48, an internationally acclaimed and Pulitzer Prize-winning German photographer. Niedringhaus was shot to death and AP reporter Kathy Gannon was gravely wounded Friday when an Afghan policeman opened fire on them with his AK-47 as they sat in their car as part of a convoy that was traveling in eastern Afghanistan's Khost Province to cover the country's upcoming election, which Taliban have threatened to disrupt. Gannon, 60, a veteran AP reporter, former bureau chief and a special correspondent for the region, was shot twice and underwent surgery, the AP said. She is in stable condition and expected to recover, the AP said. "Anja and Kathy together have spent years in Afghanistan covering the conflict and the people there. "Anja (shown in a file photo) was a vibrant, dynamic journalist well-loved for her insightful photographs, her warm heart and joy for life. We are heartbroken at her loss," said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll, speaking in New York.

Rep. Vance McAllisterWashington Post, Congressman who was caught red-handed might seek FBI investigation into leaked kissing video, Aaron Blake, April 9, 2014. Rep. Vance McAllister (R-LA, shown at right in his official photo), who is dealing with the fallout of a leaked video showing him kissing a staff member, might ask the FBI to investigate the leaking of the video. The Monroe News Star reported late Tuesday that McAllister would seek the investigation -- which would entail formally sending a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) -- but his spokeswoman has since told reporters that the matter is still under consideration. The video was published Monday by another newspaper in McAllister's district, the Ouachita Citizen, but the paper didn't say where the video came from. Whoever shot the video was taking footage of security video feeds in the congressman's campaign office. A local pastor has accused another McAllister staffer of taking the video and shopping it to McAllister's political opponents.

Huffington Post, 'One-Percenter' Convicted of Child Rape Dodges Prison Because 'He Wouldn't Fare Well,' Ashley Alman, March 30, 2014. A Delaware man convicted of raping his three-year-old daughter only faced probation after a state Superior Court judge ruled he "will not fare well" in prison. Robert Richards IVIn her decision, Judge Jan Jurden suggested Robert H. Richards IV, shown in a file photo, would benefit more from treatment. Richards, who was charged with fourth-degree rape in 2009, is an unemployed heir living off his trust fund. The light sentence has only became public as the result of a subsequent lawsuit filed by his ex-wife, which charges that he penetrated his daughter with his fingers while masturbating, and subsequently assaulted his son as well. Richards is the great grandson of du Pont family patriarch Irenee du Pont, a chemical baron. According to the lawsuit filed by Richards' ex-wife, he admitted to assaulting his infant son in addition to his daughter between 2005 and 2007. Richards was initially indicted on two counts of second-degree child rape, felonies that translate to a 10-year mandatory jail sentence per count. He was released on $60,000 bail while awaiting his charges.