January 17, 2014

Now that the New York Times and other major media outlets have taken notice of Roger Shuler's plight, you'd think he would become a cause celebré for bloggers everywhere. You'd think that the judge, a crony of politician Bob Riley, would come under high scrutiny for ignoring the First Amendment in his quest to squelch any negativity about Alabama's Favorite GOP Son, Bob Riley.

Nope. Nada.

Matt Osborne:

Alabama has been transformed into Karl Roveistan, a country where it is not safe to be liberal or a Democrat. Political prosecutions have become a normal way of life here while massive political spending and resentment politics have allowed the GOP to take over every statewide office. The “Heart of Dixie” is now entirely under the control of people who often do not seem to regard liberals and progressives as humans, let alone Americans deserving the protection of laws and a Constitution. The unlawful and illegitimate arrest of Roger Shuler is a feature of the new Alabama, not a bug, and if allowed to proceed unchecked we can expect this outrage will also become “the new normal.”

Part of the reason Shuler's case has escaped notice is how media frames his predicament. The New York Times report minimized many issues which should concern us all. Salon writer Natasha Lennard:

The Times story gave the strong impression that Shuler has regularly engaged in salacious and defamatory writing about Alabama lawmakers and policymakers. Carol Shuler, Roger’s wife, spoke to Salon and claimed this was an erroneous characterization. She noted that her husband had never been sued for defamation, until two suits were filed against him at the same time.

“This is our first defamation case since starting the blog in June 2007,” Carol Shuler told Salon, noting that one other defamation suit was filed at exactly the same time as the suit by Robert Riley Jr. (son of the former governor), which landed Shuler in jail. “They both hit at the same time and we think they are linked in effort to shut us down by the power brokers in this state. But other than that we have never been sued for defamation,” Shuler stated.

Shuler has a reputation for exposing corruption and hypocrisy within the Alabama state house and Legislature. It is certainly fair to say that his journalism has earned him some powerful enemies. With this in mind, it’s worth scrutinizing not only the blogger’s imprisonment, but the rulings that led up to it — a number of which have struck legal experts as overreaching.

You might call it overreach when a judge tosses a blogger in jail indefinitely while slapping injunctions on him to remove posts he cannot remove from jail. Yes, I'd say that's overreach.

This should disturb everyone, from the highest echelons of journalism to the lowest. As Lennard says:

As the Times notes, “Shuler remains in jail, unwilling to take down his posts but also unwilling to hire a lawyer and contest his incarceration in the state courts.” So, indeed, while the blogger is not helping himself, the removal of defamatory blog posts should certainly not be a condition for attaining freedom — least of all in a country where the protection of free speech is constitutionally inscribed.

It isn't that Shuler isn't helping himself. It's that he can't help himself. He's in jail. His computer is at home. He has no resources to hire an attorney and no reason to trust any lawyers across the entire state of Alabama, as Matt Osborne notes:

These blatantly unconstitutional proceedings are exactly the sort of shenanigans that Roger has fearlessly reported for years even as they have quietly become the “new normal” in Alabama justice. Now being held without bond or representation, Shuler is being made into an example todiscourage other Alabama bloggers from reporting on powerful Republican interests in our one-party state. This is a chilling assault on the First Amendment, due process, and the entire body of Supreme Court precedent about prior restraint.

It is fascism come to Alabama wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross

Blogging in Alabama can be hazardous to your health if you're not a Republican. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has only one name listed under imprisoned journalists in the United States, and that name is Roger Shuler. Alabama must be so proud to be included alongside countries like Iran, Eritrea, and Turkey.

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