Saturday, 22 February 2014

A Blogger Story

This is a history and civics piece today.

Long ago...in the late 1700s...newspapers were carrying a heavy piece of the public view of the British-run America.  What they published....people read.  If it infringed on the British view of things....then the king's royal troops would take down the printing establishment.

As things developed with the Bill of Rights and Constitution....there was a general gut feeling that nothing should stand in the way of a public press existing. In the same view of a person having a right to say something....a press should have the same right.

After the Revolutionary War....it's an interesting thing.  The newspapers of America....kind of divided themselves into two fronts, and for sixty-odd years.....waged a sharply worded war to support their view of the North and the South, with slavery as the topic of debate.  You could say that a strong part of the coming Civil War.....will be the fault of newspapers and their aggressive nature.

After 1865.....things went in some different directions.   Papers don't make a profit.....unless they can generate excitement or attention.  So the more successful newspapers in America discovered that doing expose material, investigative reporting, and pointing out the terrible threats to the public....was the best way to ensure profits and readers.

There are various eras that come and go through this period.  By the 1920s....people have learned that the court system can easily be used to slam newspapers.  An odd thing happens.....lawyers start to become part of a newspaper staff.  Some stories fall off the plate of a newspaper....because the evidence in existence just wasn't enough to defend in court.

Editors by the 1930s.....started to get smart, and find ways to encourage reporters to keep digging.  Find the facts....establish contacts....prove your point.

By the 1950s, TV was appearing, and discovering the same issues.  If you slandered someone.....they'd take you into court....demand as a minimum of an apology, and in some cases.....cash.

The threshold of a story....got tougher.

Around twelve years ago.....blogging came along.  Everyone admired Drudge because he went after stories that weren't going to get published by the newspapers or handled by the networks.  Drudge published the Monica story.....along with dozens of other pieces.  Interestingly enough.....Drudge has been fairly right on his stories.  So far, as far as I know.....no one has taken Drudge to court.

The National Review (a blogger site) got into some recent court fights between the climate guy....Micheal Mann, and the National Review boss....Mark Steyn.  Mann held the upper card in the court episode against the blogger Steyn....until the point where Steyn counter-sued and asked for Mann's data collection to be put in full view of the court.  So far.....as least as far as I've seen....Mann just won't cooperate with that request, and the entire case brought by Mann against the blogger.....may dissolve.

So, this all brings me to the newest case of blogger legal trouble.  There is a web site out of Alabama....."Legal Schnauzer" (LS)....which had been doing a fair amount of corruption commenting from the state.  Somewhere in the fall of 2013....LS picked up this one story.

It was a gossip-type deal.  Son of a former Republican governor.....meets up with a lobbyist gal.....both married....ends up in an affair....Lobbyist gets pregnant....Republican Party shows up and pays her $300,000.  Lobbyist husband decides to divorce the wife shortly after this.  So the LS tells this whole story.

Ex-governor's son and the lobbyist gal....take the blogger who runs LS into court.  Slander.  The judge jumps into the business, and there's a fair number of issues.  It's not plain and simple.

Facts to substantiate the affair and the $300,000?  So far, it's a connection that isn't clear and absolute.  There's nothing that you'd call absolute on proof.  A statement by the lobbyist husband?  No.

The judge (a Democrat in this case).....came to say that if LS took down the story.....then things would subside and just end.  Well....the blogger felt that it was the truth and refuses.  The judge tossed the blogger into the county jail, until he complies.  Alabama law dictates this.

Well.....it's been almost five months now.  This blogger, Roger Shuler, still sits in the jail.  Right now....he is the only blogger in America....jailed for such behavior, and it's getting traction out in the various tech discussion forums and political chat areas.

Have there been screw-ups with the handling of the case?  Based on five hours of reading around the various accounts....I'd say that the prosecutor has a problem or two....the judge might have done something of a questionable nature....the deputies who tried to serve the warrant may have used brute force that was unnecessary, and the warrant itself may be questionable.

Problems by the blogger in this case?  Well....he thinks he's absolutely right, and questions legal advice given so far.  In some ways.....I'd say that he's bound and determined in this case....and will not take the story down.  Some will suggest smarter ways of handling this whole thing, and maybe Shuler is not one to view the bigger picture or legal definitions.

The current blog?  Well....his wife publishes it and continues on.

I've come to three observations.

First, bloggers aren't treated the same as newspapers.  Most newspapers look down on bloggers.  The disgust?  Well....bloggers are putting up thrilling stories....which newspapers are ever fearful of taking....because of the court activity that could get them dragged into economic trouble.  Rights for bloggers?  No.   Rights for newspapers?  More than bloggers.  Respect in the court for newspapers?  Yes.  Respect in the court for bloggers?  Rarely.  In California.....you might have some respect as a blogger.....same for Washington DC and New York City.  In Alabama?  Zero.  That won't be changing.

Second.  This $300,000 number.  I come back to look at it.  Let's say this activity did take place with the former governor's son and this lobbyist gal.  Who would have coughed up the $300,000?  The Republican Party in the state?  No.  They could never be part of this 'party'.  They might line up some supporter, and then aim him to enter the deal as an outsider.  That's the only way this would have occurred.  Who has $300,000 to wave around in the state?  In cash?  A check?  It's a small crowd when you start looking at this....maybe forty to fifty folks in the state who might be pro-Republican and that wealthy.  

Third and final.  There's the problem of slander that newspapers and news channels got into years ago.  Most are  extremely careful now about telling stories.  There has to be facts....witnesses....phone records....emails....recordings...etc.  Without that....they won't tell the story.  Fear?  Yeah......this is what they lacked in 1780, 1855, and all the way to the early part of the 1900s.  They've got fear now.  And the bloggers will eventually wander into the same amount of fear.  More and more people will use the courts to take down bloggers.  More blogs will end up as an anonymous pieces.....done by guys sitting hundreds and thousands of miles away.  It's awful hard for a lawyer to agree to take a case....against someone who is anonymous.

So here we are....a son of a former Bama governor, a lobbyist, some Republican rich guys, the Bama court system, $300,000, some brute cops, and a blogger quietly sitting in jail, and not likely to see daylight in 2014....unless some significant pressure gets pressed onto the judge or the state governor (a Republican).

You'd think the Democrats would be all over this.....but for some reason....they've sat on the sidelines.  I suspect they know a fair bit about this deal.  But why spoil the effect here?  They are quietly waiting for this ex-Republican governor's son to rise up in status.... perhaps being a state candidate for senator or governor or vice-president twenty years down the road.  Then, they will pull out the $300,000 information....and shock everyone.

Yeah, that's the way things work in Bama.  It's all out war with Republicans on  Democrats, and vice-versa.  And this blogger guy?  He's just caught in the middle.  Come the end of 2014....unless the governor gets worried about bad press....this will continue on.  Yeah.....it kinda makes the state look evil and bad.....but it's nothing new.  That's the sad part about this whole thing......more of the same.