News coverage continued this week in erratic fashion regarding the Oct. 23 arrest and continued jailing of Alabama political commentator Roger Shuler, a longtime journalist and muckraking blogger.
A few news outlets covered as an important story Shuler’s ongoing jailing without bond on contempt of court charges. A few others provided brief reports. Most simply ignored the jailing of a journalist for violating court orders that themselves appear to violate decades of clear-cut constitutional law banning prior restraint of the media from reporting.
My column today summarizes developments and points to a pivotal hearing in the case Nov. 14. At 10 a.m. Central Standard Time, Shuler, fresh from his jail cell, is scheduled to defend the prevailing constitutional structure protecting the media’s right to report on public figures — and the public’s right to know.
It currently appears that Shuler, 56, must take on this burden without a lawyer and without access to law books.
This follows his three weeks of jailing because he refused to spike his stories alleging misconduct by a powerful Alabama attorney, Robert Riley, son of two-time GOP governor Bob Riley. Shuler alleged that the younger and married Riley had an affair with a lobbyist, Liberty Duke, who was also married at the time. Both denied the claims and sued Shuler for defamation.
Based on the judge’s temporary injunction forbidding Shuler from reporting the story, the hearing for a preliminary injunction banning Shuler’s reporting seems likely to extend the injunction. Any precedent could erode, in at least a limited way, constitutional rights in other jurisdictions where powerful forces are inclined to ignore federal and state law.
That is why it is worthwhile to recognize those whose experience and commitment enable them to see the dangers in the process.
Garland Robinette, right, is host of “The Think Tank,” the midday show on CBS Radio affiliate WWL AM/FM in New Orleans. He invited me Nov. 12 to discuss the case for two segments. His provocative questions encompassed the Shuler case and its predecessor, the federal prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman on corruption charges. Siegelman is serving a 78-month term largely for urging wealthy businessman Richard Scrushy to donate to the non-profit Alabama Education Foundation in 1999, and then reappointing Scrushy to a state board.
The Shuler and Siegelman cases are oft-told tales on these pages. So I’ll focus on the host’s more novel questions. Robinette asked me why more professionals in law and journalism do not show greater concerned, if not outrage.
HuffPost Live! interviewer Alyona Minkkovski posed a similar question to me in her video interview of me earlier this month. I provide my answer both below, and in a longer version in major Huffington Post column expected Nov. 13.