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.
A 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 plaintiffs accused him of libel. 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 that the docket and courtroom sealed. 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. They combine self-righteous First Amendment rhetoric and aggressive support for democracy-building in foreign lands with craven self-censorship at home in deference to the powerful.
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.
Hersh 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 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 occurred at the same time last fall that I was researching 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. 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 being found in near-pristine condition.