Former Birmingham News staff writer Brett Blackledge discusses his 2007 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting at Auburn University, Montgomery, in this video obtained by the Locust Fork News-Journal.
To some legal experts, his admission that he was handed the information in a box raises some concerns about how he got the information in a highly politicized climate for the Bush Justice Department in Alabama that resulted in the jailing of former Governor Don Siegelman, as well as numerous federal cases against people who work for community colleges in the state and also serve in the state Legislature.
“If the materials include grand jury materials, then this may have been a criminal act,” says New York attorney and writer Scott Horton, who keeps up with the cases in Alabama for his blog “No Comment” on the Harper’s magazine Website at Harpers.org.
It also raises some doubts about the qualifications of the reporting for the award, since it doesn’t look like he did much “investigating,” and was perhaps just handed the information by federal prosecutors in possible violation of judicial codes of ethics.
The stories came preliminary to charges being brought against a number of legislators, including Sue Schmitz of Huntsville, who worked in a program that helps troubled teenagers. Her trial is ongoing in the federal courthouse in Decatur, and her lawyers have indicated an interest in this video as evidence.
The Pulitzer committee awards the prizes each year for “a distinguished example of investigative reporting by an individual or team, presented as a single article or series, in print or in print and online.” The prize pays a cash award of $10,000.
Blackledge’s award is billed as a reward for “his exposure of cronyism and corruption in the state’s two-year college system, resulting in the dismissal of the chancellor and other corrective action.” It was moved by the board from the Public Service category.
Blackledge left the News a couple of months ago to take a job with the Washington, D.C., bureau of the Associated Press, where he works for bureau chief Ron Founier. Since Founier took over the bureau a few months ago, critics say the coverage has demonstrated a “clear-cut GOP slant.”
Some bloggers have even gone so far as to connect Fournier to former Bush political adviser Karl Rove as a little bit more than a routine “objective” source, and media news outlets have released e-mails between Rove and Founier showing they were more like “buds” than reporter and source. (Since this report was published, Founier was let go at AP and was last seen at the National Journal, according to Wikipedia).
Blackledge also seemed to have unusual access to Rove at the News, where he quoted him at some length, while editorial writers at the Newhouse papers across the state disparaged the very idea that Rove would have any time for, or care anything about, political goings on in Alabama — since he must have surely been too busy working in the Bush White House.
Rove still faces a contempt charge for failing to appear before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to testify under oath about his role in turning the Justice Department into a political arm of the White House. When the House returns from it’s August recess, Speaker Nanci Pelosi has said she will consider bringing the issue of “inherent contempt” before the full House for a vote.
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