Justice Integrity Project — Issue 1009

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Justice Integrity Blog Post

In Memoriam: Post Editor, JIP Co-Founder Robert Alden, 1932-2020


Longtime Washington Post editor Robert Ames Alden died this month at age 87, leaving an inspiring leadership legacy in journalistic and other civic affairs. Of particular note here, he was one of five founding directors of the Justice Integrity Project (JIP) a decade ago and with active encouragement and other support until his final illness. 

He died on June 1 at his home in McLean, Virginia, from what his widow, Diane Alden, described as complications from Alzheimer's.

Robert Ames Alden (Marie Marzi Washington Post photo) He retired from the Washington Post in 2000 after more than 48 years as an editor, making him the longest-serving editor in the paper’s history until that point and one who had been personally involved in some of its more notable coverage.

As night news editor in 1963, for example, he put together the Post's first extra edition since Pearl Harbor to cover the assassination of President Kennedy. As world news editor in 1974, Alden  was the principal architect for the layout of the Post’s coverage of the resignation of President Nixon.

Alden is shown in Washington Post photo at right by Marie Marzi.

Culminating a seven-year effort in 1975, he co-founded and later led the National Press Foundation to improve journalism education. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was the leading advocate among National Press Club members for the admission of women into the Club, where he served as president in 1976.

Toward the end of a 1984 appearance on C-SPAN, he showed a mock souvenir edition of the Post that highlighted his leadership as Club president, among other career highlights to that point. The main headline extolled his "persistence."

The first native Washingtonian to lead the Press Club, he began his career as a sportswriter for the Cleveland Press in 1947. He helped innovate the use of more statistics in baseball coverage and was an award-winning writer.

Also, he was a visionary community leader in planning a green, central park, library, outdoor stage, community center and theater for McLean, VA, whose Alden Theatre carries his name.

robert alden 1959 post photo resizedAlden, shown at left in a 1959 Washington Post photo, earned bachelor and master’s degrees from the George Washington University, where he won the university's top history award as a student for 17 years in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 2005, university officials bestowed a distinguished alumnus award and described Alden as “a living legend” in Washington journalism. This editor attended that ceremony with him after meeting him the previous evening at the Press Club bar, where he had exercised his raconteur's gift to describe his encounters with the great and near great through the decades, including such officials as Lyndon Johnson, heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano and film stars Gary Cooper and Elizabeth Taylor.

In early 2010, Alden joined with four others (former U.S. Navy captain and businessman Ron Fisher, and former White House correspondents John Kelly and John Edward Hurley, along with included this editor) in co-founding the Justice Integrity Project to investigate complex, under-covered news stories of importance. The bios, one of the most heavily read sections on this website, are here.

Our initial focus was on politically motivated federal prosecutions and similar actions by the U.S. Justice Department involving issues of unwarranted secret pressures. These were of a kind much in the news even now, as evident in the controversies surrounding Attorney General William Barr and such defendants as Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Michael Cohen. 

At our outset, one such case arising out of the so-called U.S. attorney firing scandal of 2006-2007 during the Bush administration was the longstanding federal corruption investigation of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, his state's most popular Democrat and a target by Alabama Republicans in the state attorney general's office from the first month that the new governor assumed office in 1999.

The relentless prosecution on highly dubious corruption charges ramped up during the Bush presidency beginnning in 2001. The result? A seven-year sentence imposed after his second trial despite massive evidence including whistleblower revelations that the prosecution had been hoked up to remove him from elective politics, particularly his planned re-election campaign in 2006. The core charge against Siegelman was that he had founded a foundation before his governorship to advocate for better K-12 funding in Alabama and that he had reappointed businessman Richard Scrushy, a donor to the foundation, to a state board on which Scrushy was already serving under previous Republican governors. 

Alden provided vital advice on that story, first published in May 2009 as front page exclusive by the Huffington Post under the title Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows.  Another headline, $300 Million in Bush Military Contracts Awarded to Judge’s Private Company, pointed the way to the obvious conflict of interest and likely  financial corruption that helped explain the vast number of irregularities in the prosecution..

The project went on to publish here scores of stories on the Siegelman / Scrushy case that generating many hundreds of thousands of page views. Among the headlines were: 

  • Siegelman's Judge Accused Of Beating Wife, Affair With Clerk
  • Wife-Beating Siegelman Judge Resigns, Ends Horrid Career With Civic Lesson 
  • Alabama Judicial Scandal Could Taint Many Cases, Not Just Siegelman's 
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