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Alabama TV Reporter Reveals Ignorance of the First Amendment in Attack on Web Press and Our Coverage of the Rob Riley and Liberty Duke Relationship

Posted on the 09 December 2015 by Rogershuler @RogerShuler

Alabama TV reporter reveals ignorance of the First Amendment in attack on Web press and our coverage of the Rob Riley and Liberty Duke relationship

Ken Curtis, of WTVY

An Alabama television reporter recently took several swipes at the Web-based press, including our little operation here at Legal Schnauzer. We have no problem with thoughtful, constructive, fact-based criticism, but the piece from Ken Curtis, a senior reporter with WTVY in Dothan, was none of those things. In fact, those who read or viewed his piece likely were less informed about the issues afterward than they were going in.
We contacted Curtis via e-mail in an effort to help set the record straight and maybe even help educate his viewers on important First-Amendment issues. But we haven't heard back from Curtis, or news director Kim Allen, so we can only assume they aren't interested in helping viewers understand a subject that forms the foundation for our democracy.
Curtis' article is titled "Is Freedom of the Press Too Free?"--an odd title, to be sure, from someone purporting to be a journalist. It's kind of like Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, writing an article titled, "Do Banks Have Too Darned Much Money?"
Curtis' primary target is the Henry County Report, a blog published by Jon Carroll from his base in southeast Alabama, and its recent investigative series about Dothan police officers and their alleged tendency over the years to plant drugs and weapons on young black males, leading to a series of bogus convictions over roughly a 10-year period. The explosive report garnered considerable attention in both the Web and mainstream press before a number of outlets started questioning Carroll's reporting and largely backed off the story.
What to make of the report from Carroll's blog? It's too early to say where the story is headed, but we are not going to join the race to distance ourselves from the reporting. Given our experience with corrupt police officers in multiple states (Alabama and Missouri), we would not put much of anything past law-enforcement officers--especially as we learn more about efforts to cover up the Laquan McDonald shooting in Chicago.

Alabama TV reporter reveals ignorance of the First Amendment in attack on Web press and our coverage of the Rob Riley and Liberty Duke relationship

Rob Riley

From a journalistic standpoint, Carroll published an article two days ago ("Victims Come Forward and Describe Dothan’s Narcotics Team Terrorizing the Black Community for Years") that appears to provide solid support for his original report.
As for Legal Schnauzer, WTVY's Mr. Curtis could not resist taking a bone-headed shot at us. It's based on our coverage of the relationship between Birmingham lawyer Rob Riley (son of former governor Bob Riley) and lobbyist Liberty Duke, which led to my five-month incarceration in the Shelby County Jail after Riley and Duke filed a defamation lawsuit. Here are Curtis' words on the subject, with a reference to heat that the Henry County Report and Jon Carroll have generated:
Some have threatened lawsuits against Carroll for false reporting though, to our knowledge, none have been filed. However, the man behind the Alabama-based website Legal Schnauzer was recently jailed for several months after refusing to remove unproven reports involving the son of former Alabama governor Bob Riley.

A reasonable person could read that paragraph and come to the following conclusions:
* Journalists are incarcerated all the time because of defamation lawsuits; it's a regular thing, an "occupational hazard" for reporters, you might say;
* My incarceration was proper, based solidly on provisions of law that provide such a remedy for those who claim they have been the victims of false and defamatory reporting.;
Both of  those conclusions, of course, are wildly off target. The imprisonment of journalists in defamation cases almost never happens--and our research shows I probably am the only journalist in U.S. history to be jailed under circumstances present in the Riley/Duke case--because of a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that are contrary to 230 years of First Amendment law.

Alabama TV reporter reveals ignorance of the First Amendment in attack on Web press and our coverage of the Rob Riley and Liberty Duke relationship

Liberty Duke

More importantly, no U.S. law exists to support my incarceration. In fact, Near v. Minnesota (U.S. Supreme Court, 1931), considered the "foundational" 20th century case on the subject, specifically prohibits such preliminary injunctions as "prior restraints."
Did Ken Curtis bother to clue in his readers on any of this? Not in the original article. Does he intend to correct the record, based on accurate information I sent him? Doesn't look like it.
That leaves me to take matters into my own hands, which I will do by sharing the e-mail that WTVY apparently does not want you to see.
(To be continued)

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