The Dishonest Broker (About Scott Horton of Harper's Magazine)

 

 

"The Dishonest Broker"

A chapter from,

"The Governor of Goat Hill"

 

             Scott Horton, here being interviewed on MSNBC regarding

             controversial -- and refuted -- reporting he's done declaring that        prisoners at Guantanomo were murdered.

(Note: This chapter, like all in the book, begins with two quotes)

      "There is extensive evidence that the prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman was directed or promoted by Washington officials, likely including former White House Deputy Chief of Staff and Advisor to the President Karl Rove, and that political considerations influenced the decision to bring charges.” 

        -- From introduction to April 2008 majority report by the House Judiciary Committee on “selective prosecution” by the Bush Justice Department. Scott Horton was quoted in the report and cited 15 times in the footnotes, more than any other source.     

          “For a few weeks now, I have been pointing out the similarity of the Alabama Newhouse papers (especially the B’ham News and Mobile Press Register) to the Soviet press of the pre-Gorbachev age. They are the golden voice of the Alabama GOP, presenting the world in politically flavored terms, start to finish. But yesterday, the coverage took a turn into territory that tops anything I ever remember in the Soviet press. Now the ’Bamamainstream papers are moving into decidedly North Korean territory.” 

        -- Scott Horton, in his July 31 column on the web-site of the venerable Harper’smagazine.   

       On April 22, 2008, a Huntsville-based group calling itself North Alabamians for Media Reform hosted, “An Evening with Scott Horton.”    

       The subject of the evening’s talk was, “Watchdogs or Lap Dogs?: Politics and the Alabama Press.”    

      The speaker was a bespectacled, slightly tubby and ever so rumpled man who looked more like a journalist or professor – his new professions – than his old, an attorney at an elite New York law firm.   

       Siegelman was there, having recently been released from prison pending his appeal, by order of the 11th Circuit. So too Jill Simpson, who, though overweight, radiated star power. Maybe it was her bright red hair or her odd confidence, or that she was still glowing from her appearance two months before on, “60Minutes.”

        The 200-plus crowd delivered standing ovations to Siegelman and Horton and gave Simpson a pleasant welcome.   

        Professor-like, Horton began by placing the failings of the Alabama media on the Siegelman case in historical context. He spoke of the blistering meted out by the state’s newspapers, circa 1880, to progressive Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Minott Peters. The judge was far ahead of his time in advocating racial equality. His reward? A reputation shattering attack at the hands of the prosecutors and Alabama newspapers. 

         “And the national media took notice, and the national publication that stood most in the forefront in covering it was a periodical in New York called Harper’smagazine,” said Horton.  

          To state the obvious: Peters is Siegelman; the likes of myself, Brett Blackledge and Kim Chandler and our editors are racist journalists; and Horton is the courageous national reporter setting things right.   

          Example two was the Civil Rights movement. The state media remained largely silent as blacks were beaten and discriminated against, and it took the national media to tell the world what was really happening in Alabama. And who could argue with that?  

        With historical precedent established, Horton came to the meat of the program – the state media’s coverage of Siegelman.      

        He said that once again developments in Alabama “were being catapulted into the national headlines, and I think the consensus emerged quickly amongst the national media, that the major Alabama papers, just as during the civil rights period, were not particularly reliable and they (the national media) needed to do their own work and reporting out in Alabama.”

          “I’m convinced that the local press fell down in its responsibility to properly report the Siegelman case and at this point, the national media is stepping in,”he said.  

         Horton had reason to feel good about himself that night. He had in the previous year helped choreograph a propaganda campaign that transformed Siegelman from convicted criminal to a nationally-recognized victim of a WhiteHouse-led Republican conspiracy.

         He accomplished this by writing more than 130 on-line columns about the Siegelman case for Harper’s and articles for the well-regarded American Lawyer magazine; waxing eloquent on national radio and television news talk shows; and, crucially, serving as the behind-the-scenes source for those in the national media and Congress who sang the song to a wider audience.  

       As I believe will be established in this final section, Horton fabricated meetings that never occurred, deals that didn’t happen, comments never made. He was forever enlightening subjects of his derision by placing them, actor like, in dramas that occurred only in his imagination. 

        Initially I couldn’t bear to read him, but later came to tolerate if not enjoy Horton. Reading him is like watching a documentary on one of those polygamy sects, fascinating and disgusting at the same time. His ability to cram multiple lies into a single sentence is awe-inspiring, and sentence after sentence, the fibs whizzing past like race-cars at Talladega, so fast you don’t have time to grasp onebefore hitting the next, and the next. For example, he wrote that the Siegelman prosecutors“spent roughly $30 million in taxpayer’s money to take down the state’s most prominent Democrat at the direction of Karl Rove …”   

           Where he came up with $30 million is beyond me. Perhaps from Siegelman, who priced his prosecution at $40 million, apparently confusing himself with Clinton and the Whitewater probe. The state’s most prominent Democrat? Not in 2005 he wasn’t. Prosecuted at the direction of Karl Rove? Only if you believed Jill Simpson.  

            During the Clinton administration, the rhetoric and commentary about Clinton and his wife, even from responsible voices, was routinely vicious, indecent, even sadistic. Horton is the equal of the ugliest of the Clintons’ critics, a Rush Limbaugh of the left. He doesn’t dislike, he despises; he doesn’t use sarcasm, but ridicule. Frequent target Louis Franklin was referred to, among other things, as,“Leura Canary’s sock puppet.” Mark Fuller was a crook who traded rulings on the Siegelman case for government contracts. The judge was also derided as stupid, with one of his briefs called, “farcical, the sort of thing that any judge would be ashamed to allow see the light of day.”    

          Horton seethed after the Montgomery Advertiser dared publish a pleasant feature on Leura (Garrett) Canary. He answered with a column comparing Canary to her “uncle” Si Garrett, the corrupt attorney general alleged to have played apart in the notorious 1954 murder of Phenix City reformer Albert Patterson.  

            “Would you expect anything different from Si Garrett’s niece? It must be in her DNA,” he wrote.  

            Among the errors in the piece – and they abound, each amplifying innuendo-- was that the long-dead Garrett wasn’t Canary’s uncle. He was from a different branch of family, something like her 10th cousin.   

           Blackledge’s Pulitzer Prize notwithstanding, Horton wrote that in “most states a reporter like Mr. Blackledge would not venture very far… But in ‘Bama, where they take their Kool-aid unalloyed, he’s the real thing.”    

          (In 2008, the Associated Press hired Blackledge to cover national intelligence issues, and he moved to Washington.) 

           Horton swamps his prose with literary reference. Cicero, Victor Hugo, Shakespeare and regional classics like Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men,”and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” all used to add solemnity and weight to the crimes of participants in the plot. Because he spent time as a human rights lawyer in Russia, that country’s writers make appearances. Comparisons between the Soviet Union and Alabama are frequent, usually in his obsessive lacerations of the Alabama press.

           Horton started writing for Harper’s within a month or two of leaving the prestigious New York-based international law firm, Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler, where he was a partner. According to an on-line biography, he founded that firm’s practice in parts of Russia and the former Soviet Union and also advised leaders in the region.  

            Horton’s erudition and intellectual heft are not in question. He is fond of posting on, “No Comment,” excerpts of, for example, German, Spanish, and French artists and philosophers, and in their original tongue.  

            The crowd in Huntsville that night took great delight in his matter-of-fact statement that coverage of the Siegelman case in the Alabama media was, “off the charts … worse than most of the cases I’ve studied in the former Soviet Union.”   

           In his world there is no middle ground, only saints and devils. His favored literary metaphor for the anti-Siegelman forces is Javert, the obsessive inspector from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Horton’s Javert encompassed Rove, the Bush Justice Department, the Rileys, the Canarys, and, perhaps especially, Louis Franklin. 

           The Javert conceit appeared regularly in Horton’s columns and in titles of his pieces, such as, “Javert’s Wailings Grow Louder,” and “More Responses to Javert,”and “Javert’s Amazing Pirouettes.”     

         “Javert is a part of a culture of moral collapse and decrepitude … This culture has nothing to do with justice and truth,” Horton explained. “It is indeed the enemy of truth and justice. Its natural matrix is fetid and dark, it operates with innuendo and falsehood writ large, drawing heavily on the reputation of ancient and once noble institutions through which its rot swiftly spreads.”  

            Swirling within this fetid matrix was the repugnant Alabama media, chiefly the Birmingham News and the Press Register, which as Horton never tired of pointing out, are “sister” papers, both owned by Newhouse-owned Advance Publication. In his brain, that’s no coincidence. In fact, we “co-ventured the prosecution,”probably after being bribed, and should be subjected to a federal criminal

investigation. 

             This from a March 2008 column, “A Brain Dead Press”:    

           

        "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 big offenders, as I have chronicled repeatedly, are the Birmingham News and the Mobile Press-Register. If a special prosecutor is appointed to examine the gross irregularities surrounding the Siegelman case — and calls for that step mount with each passing day — then the inexplicably cozy relationship between the two papers in Birmingham and Mobile and the politically directed prosecutors who pushed the case against Siegelman should be right near the top of the matters investigated.”    

         Horton will be a regular presence in the final section of this book. I recognize that by making him so I risk appearing vengeful, as Javert writing about Javert. In fact, I was far more troubled by what he wrote about others, especially the judge, jurors and prosecutors. Agree with them or not, they were honorable people doing their jobs. He treated them like dogs. But that’s not the reason Horton will figure prominently here. 

         Rather, it’s his relevance.    

         In part through his tireless advocacy of Jill Simpson and her story, this arrogant, nasty man – Javert if ever -- influenced the coverage of the Siegelman case by major national media and appears to have all but dictated the findings on the case by the Democrat majority of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

         That is the central scandal of this last section. It’s about a con, pulled off by Horton, Simpson and others, and leading his own charge, Don Siegelman.

 

 

 


 
 

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