Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Kingfishers of Alabama's Mainstream Newspapers

**Updated Thursday pm
In an archived article from Harper's Magazine the problems with Alabama's newspapers is spelled out in pointed language--they are too close to the state's "political powers that be" to function as true news sources and in actuality they're nothing more than the daily platforms of special interests and political operatives.

Nothing's changed from 2007 to the present which makes the Harper's article still relevant today.

Whether it is environmental issues, political ethics issues (often these two are joined at the hip) or simply "general news" nothing seems to go into print without sanitation and outside influence directing the content and the overall theme of  "news stories."

That makes our job at the Confidential even more difficult in attaining accurate information on Alabama environmental issues to deliver to our readers--but we are not without alternate sources to get at the real story despite the concerted efforts of Alabama's newspapers to under-report items of interest to the general public's welfare and right to know.

The long-standing history of collusion and influence in Alabama's press is worthy of some discussion in our opinion.

As we have said before, news organizations have an obligation to their readers to present the news fairly and accurately without hidden agendas and special interests sway of their coverage. Time and time again Alabama's press ignores that basic tenet of professional journalism and continually resists disengaging themselves from certain established political and corporate powers that dominate Alabama.

From the Harper's article "All the King's Men Reloaded";
The major papers in the state (three of which are owned by the same company, S.I. Newhouse’s Advance Publications—though the Newhouse family is famous for letting former local owners continue to run the show even after acquiring them) have the outward appearance of newspapers, with the requisite supply of paper, news ink and photographs. But when you look into their coverage of local politics generally, you quickly get the sense that there’s something extremely foul afoot. They have a very sharply focused political agenda. It not only affects their call about what is and isn’t news; it creeps right into the coverage of the news they report.

The bottom line is that these papers have an amazingly warm and cozy relationship with the current political powers-that-be in the state. I have no idea what they get out of this relationship, but on matters such as this I am far too cynical to think that they’d engage in such reputation-damaging factual contortions without very strong incentives.
The Birmingham News hired a new publisher not long ago and the Birmingham Business Alliance [BBA] welcomed her warmly with an invitation only reception in her honor:
Fom: Birmingham Business Alliance [mailto:laura@birminghambusinessalliance.ccsend.com]  
On Behalf Of Birmingham Business Alliance
Sent: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 9:37 AM
Subject: RESENDING: BBA working new business investments totaling $1 billion

From the Birmingham Business Alliance's own newsletter----

BBA to welcome Birmingham News Publisher Pam Siddall

Thanks to the sponsorship of Trinity Medical Center, the BBA is hosting a CEO Welcome Reception honoring Pam Siddall, the new publisher of The Birmingham News. This event is an exclusive, by invitation only affair for investors on the Chairman’s Circle, Board of Trustees and members of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee.

"Invitation only affair, exclusive."

We do understand the surface implication of why the BBA did this and don't find it unethical that they would welcome Ms. Siddall to the community. Where we find fault with it is when we look at the history of the BBA and the controversial projects they have proposed in Jefferson County that often require the county to "put up" money in one form or another to help the obscenely wealthy corporations that make up this alliance fund their own projects. The winner in this twisted relationship is always the corporations (along with their political operatives) and we think that is against the basic concept of business--that successful ventures rise and fall based on their own abilities not bailouts and propping up from funding borne by the taxpayers and municipalities.

**And here's the Birmingham News allowing one its business writers to openly attack a commenter (a citizen) in a recent column who does not fall in line with his ideal and that of the BBA's "Blueprint Birmingham";
This is what has held back the Birmingham region forever: People criticize, blast, naysay and rip a plan when they haven't even read it, or at least read it closely. Clearly Sasquat hasn't, or he wouldn't make the claims he's making, unless he's just being dishonest. But that's OK. There will be these loud do-nothings out there.
That business writer is certainly allowed his opinion but doesn't it send the message that the News condones unleashing it's dogs on those who dare to have their own opinions and question the BBA's proposal? Doesn't the acerbic and insulting attitude of the News writer serve to discourage rather than encourage free and open debate on the issue, thereby sending a signal to all of its readers that if they disagree with the "message" prepare to be made a public target by the News?

When you have a major newspaper to "carry your water" then the unsavory relationship of tilted propaganda and active suppression of all sides of the issues begins-- unbiased reporting is not possible in this  incestuous atmosphere between the press and special interests.
No doubt you once read Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, and remember how the Kingfish managed newspapermen.
Some traditions are slow to die in the Southland. And the danger is, of course, that many people down in Alabama don’t realize that what they’re getting served up as news doesn’t pass minimal professional standards. On the other hand, the other issue is all the news that the publishers suppress because they’re concerned that it will harm the powers-that-be. 
The Birmingham News should have a recorded message for callers to its offices that goes something like this:
"You have reached the offices of the Birmingham News...press "one" for our department of ignoring news we don't like...press "two" for our department of making stuff up.."three" for the BBA and any other number for BARD."
There's an old saying that goes "never pick a fight with a guy who buys ink by the barrel." Maybe that's true, but in the age of the Internet that long-standing uneven playing field has become more level. When there's a questionable alliance of interests, which we submit this ongoing relationship between the Alabama Press and big business is, the media should expect some fight picking from the Confidential along with a myriad of bloggers and independent papers who refuse to accept the status quo any longer.

So say we the Opinion Board of the Vincent Alabama Confidential

**Editor's note--The Birmingham Business Journal ran a 2009 article about the Trinity Hospital move that took a tone far outside of their normal pro-business to a fault purview and scrutinized this project, raising questions about the political involvement (Governor Riley) at play here. Shocking, but appreciated, however, the Kingfisher News never followed suit and as far as we know nothing like that ever ran again.
*"500 years of news reporting walked out the door in 2 years"
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  1. And maybe they don't want to piss off advertisers like the BBA and Trinity which ran several 3/4-page ads preceding the CON rubber stamp of approval,encouraging citizens to phone their legislators and tell them they wanted the hospital to relocate to 280.

    Page 15 A
    Local Section of the Birmingham News
    (Sunday, March 21)
    Full-page color ad by the Birmingham Business Alliance in support of the ALDOT/Figg Hwy 280 plan.

    The B.A.R.D. folks (Drummond Co, US Steel, etc) are pushing hard for the ALDOT 280 plan, which includes:

    * adding extra lanes to I-459 from Acton Rd exit on one end to 1/2 mile beyond Liberty Parkway on the other
    * adding extra lanes to Hwy 280 from Eagle Point to Chelsea
    * adding an elevated section of road (double-decker) in the western section (the section that is supposed to be "at-grade") for the length of the Water Works treatment plant property.
    Roads in that area include Overton and Shook Hill.

  2. So true every word of it. I stopped subscribing to that rag of a paper because of this. I want news not garbage!!
    Glad to see them get a well deserved dressing down because all they seem to be interested in these days is putting this broke county further in the red.

  3. After reading the Harper's piece there should be phone choice option to the Birmingham No News for the Governor's direct line.
    What in the hell is Siddall doing at a exclusive, invitation only event in "her honor" sponsored by the very organizations the paper covers on a regular basis? It's impossible for anyone at the News to remain objective (since all stories go through the editor) with that kind of lovefest going on, which explains a lot of their coverage for the last few months.
    She doesn't see anything wrong with that?
    Wonder what the reader's would have to say about it?

  4. Excellent observations and I particularly enjoy the "Kingfisher" correlation.

  5. Kennedy's a blowhard a sanctimonious know-it-all always has been. I missed that article and agree it was way out line and bordered on bullying.
    No, wait, it WAS bullying and he should publicly apologize for it.
    Don't hold your breath waiting.

  6. Having lived in Birmingham all my life I have seen the city go through many changes, some good, some bad. I must say when the Post Herald folded I knew that would have effects that would linger for years.
    I was right. So are you about the Bham News.

  7. Alabama citizens are nothing to the machine, we're stupid, "naysayers" misguided and cannot possibly know "what is really good for us."
    Like hell we are.
    This attitude by the News and BBA that we must accept their infinite wisdom is a load of bull.

  8. If there is a state that is in more disarray than this one seems to be some let me know. If we don't have our government and politicians working against us, then leave it to the press to cleanup the leftovers.
    Either way, neither one are for the people. They sold their souls long ago to corporate America or maybe I should say Corporate Alabama.
    No hope for the people as long as the machine runs the show and the press continues its enabling of it.

  9. Name change to "Goat Hill Gazette"

  10. I would distinguish the publisher's policies from employees of the News, many of whom are working professionally and produce useful reports, e.g. Thomas Spenser's reports on the Northern Beltline, Eddie Lard's advocacy for transit, Joseph Bryant's coverage of Birmingham City Hall, and Marie Leach on schools, Carol Robinson, Jeff Hansen, Jeremy Gray, Kent Faulk,Jeremy Gray, Roy Williams, Eric Velasco and others who've reported stories as they well.
    I am aware of frustrated reporters whose story was quashed, remembering failure to cause various items related to lax/corrupt oversight by the Birmingham Housing Authority a few years back, such as slumlords in the Section 8 program, as well as its failure to follow the rules in the first Hope VI project.
    I hope that alternative news sources will continue to strengthen, improve and that the public will demand a high standard of careful investigation and accountability.

  11. TRUTH--

    We agree with you and realize there are some good people at the News, but isn't a company ultimately judged by its leadership?

    That said, one could say something similar to your points about ADEM. We acknowledge there are some conscientious people there, but again, the leadership levels have an agenda by their close relationships to the Governor and big business.

    It would be great if the tail could wag the dog, unfortunately though that rarely occurs.

    Very much appreciate your input.



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