I have written about the legendary capitol reporters who use to cover Goat Hill. There was Bob Ingram of the Montgomery Advertiser, Al Fox and Hugh Sparrow of The Birmingham News, Rex Thomas of the Associated Press, Don Martin of UPI and Clarke Stallworth of the Birmingham Post-Herald. A young cub reporter named Jim Bennett joined the Post-Herald in 1961 and later had a distinguished career in public service. None of these legends is any longer with us.

Today’s Capitol press corps also works hard -- they stick with “just the facts,” conscientiously researching their stories and leaving out the speculation, “what-ifs,” opinion and political slants.

The men and women I knew in the Montgomery press corps then and today, may have personal views, but they all were and are vigilant in their work as professional journalists. They defended the freedom of the press, the right of the public to know the facts and the actions and decisions of public officials and how they would impact education, taxes and the economy.

Over the last few years, an ongoing debate has emerged as to whether reporting on political news is still just the responsibility of professional journalists and whether online bloggers can also be trusted sources of news reporting.

The contemporary Capitol press corps, like their colleagues of a bygone era, work hard to meet their deadlines. These professional reporters put in long hours to get evenhanded quotes, verify pertinent facts and simply report an issue, controversy, or an event in an evenhanded way.

Some online bloggers sometimes will do the same but others add innuendo, supposed behind-the-scenes reasons and anonymous inferences. Often an online “journalist’s” story will give contorted, incendiary perspectives that have no basis in reality.

Some suggest this is done to enhance the number of online “clicks.” Make the story more salacious, attack someone’s reputation either directly or indirectly, make it cynical and imply insider deals and corruption – and you will get your clicks!

In many cases, stories are published by journalists only to be later “reinterpreted” by online bloggers with an editorial or political agenda.

Because of the cynicism and negativity that this new 24/7 online blogging creates, I have heard of many good men and women who would otherwise wish to give back to their communities by serving in public office essentially say “no thanks!” They have spent a lifetime building up a good reputation in their communities and businesses. They cannot imagine putting up with pseudo-journalists, who are trying to build their reputations by the number of online clicks they get, attacking someone’s reputation in such a careless way.

We must make sure that individuals get the news and information they need to be informed, responsible citizens. Those sources can be from journalists, bloggers and other digital platforms.

Let’s be vigilant about the freedom of press, whether it is old-fashioned, hard-nosed journalism or 24/7 blogging. However, let’s also clearly delineate whether it is political opinion and gotcha stories that tarnish reputations, foster cynicism and further public alienation from politics. Opinions are great and important to public discourse but see them for what they are -- do not try to mask them as facts.

Recently, the Alabama Political Reporter brought the documentary, “Atticus and the Architect,” to the Davis Theatre in Montgomery. A packed house watched the story of former governor Don Siegelman’s persecution. The film left no doubt that Siegelman was prosecuted for political reasons.

Siegelman spent close to 10 years in prison, unduly. It is one of the saddest stories I have witnessed in my lifetime of following Alabama politics. The travesty has not gone unnoticed by young potential leaders in the state.

I have the opportunity to get to know some brilliant, young Alabamians in my university classes on Alabama and Southern politics. Many of them are political science and prelaw majors. I will inquire as to whether they are interested in pursuing a political career. Most will tell me that they would never seek political office, not even a judgeship. Invariably, they will point to the Siegelman prosecution as one of their reasons for not being a part of the political process. They realize that their lives could be ruined by political persecution.

 

Steve Flowers served 16 years in the Alabama Legislature. Readers can email him at www.steveflowers.us.