The Missing Identifier
"Three Case Studies in Terrible Reporting by the NY Times on the Siegelman Case"
Today's entry, like yesterday's, is related to my book, "The Governor of Goat Hill." The following is the second of the three "case studies" mentioned above. The first, called, "Oops, We Caught the Wrong Bass," ran yesterday (Nov. 19) and is below.
This example is called:
"The Missing Identifier"
Notre Dame law professor Robert Blakey
Without question, the worst "Siegelman-beat" offender on the Times' news staff was Adam Nossiter, who manned the paper's New Orleans bureau and was a former Anniston Star reporter. He wrote 10 of the paper's stories on the Siegelman case, and, in my opinion, the worst ones, replete with what one might call, selective reporting.
Due to the fawning nature of his stories, Nossiter got quotes from Siegelman when others (see, Alabama media) could not. Gems like: “There’s no question that Karl Rove’s fingerprints are all over this case, from the inception."
And, for a later story, Siegelman told Nossiter, "His (Rove's) fingerprints are smeared all over the case."
When Siegelman was released from prison on appeal, the first reporter he called was Nossiter (again, he'd ceased talking to Alabama reporters.)
I'd never heard of Nossiter until I read his first story on the Siegelman case. I was on vacation during the sentencing hearings, which Nossiter covered. The sentencing followed, by less than two months, the release of Simpson's affidavit.
Nossiter's story was less a report on what went on inside court than an opportunity for Siegelman and his lawyers to criticize the case and accuse Rove of being behind it.
What immediately caught my eye when I read it over the Internet -- amazed me, really -- were the following portions.
One: "The shakiness of the federal case against Mr. Siegelman had forced prosecutors to “adopt the garbage-can theory of RICO,” said G. Robert Blakey, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame and former prosecutor, referring to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act. Professor Blakey suggested that the charges against Mr. Siegelman had been indiscriminate from the outset."
Two: “It’s a joke,” Professor Blakey said. “A guy (Scrushy) walks in, gives a contribution, and gets an appointment? Until Congress reforms this, this is the system we live under. They are criminalizing this contribution.”
And Three, the next and final paragraph in the story when (clue to readers) reporters sometimes inject their bias: "Furthermore, Mr. Blakey derided the prosecutors’ racketeering case against Mr. Siegelman. “It’s the worst-drafted RICO I’ve ever seen,” said the professor, whose career at the Justice Department began in 1960. “You find as much trash as you can, then you dump it in.”
Blakey is nationally known and his statements added muscle to the paper’s portrayal of Siegelman as political victim.
What Nossiter didn't tell readers was that Blakey was one of Siegelman lawyers at trial and the sentencing hearing. Before one of the quotes, he wrote that Siegelman's attorneys "vigorously disputed" that Siegelman did anything criminal. (Most criminal lawyers do that; the ones that don't, don't last.) However, he didn't identify Blakey as being one of those lawyers.
Within two of the Blakey segments Nossiter provider readers with the professor's bonafides to boost Blakey's credibility. Never, though, did Nossiter inform readers that Blakey was one of Siegelman's lawyers.
As a result, readers were left to infer that Blakey was an impartial expert who had
analyzed the case and thought it a pile of rubbish.
Imagine quoting Louis Franklin praising the case, describing him as a veteran federal prosecutor , but leaving out the part about him being the prosecutor in the Siegelman case.
Such an omission assuredly would not have been allowed by my editors, nor would I do such a thing.