An al.com article last week critical of the blog that launched a statewide media storm — over whether Gov. Robert Bentley is having an affair with his senior adviser — has led to that al.com reporter now being personally impugned by the very blogger he criticized.
Roger Shuler, who writes a blog called The Legal Schnauzer, went to great lengths this week to personally attack al.com reporter Charles Dean, accusing him of being named in the recently released Ashley Madison files. Dean wrote an article published last Friday profiling senior adviser Rebekah Mason’s role in the governor’s office and reporting the rumor of an affair with Bentley which took flight after Bentley’s wife, Dianne, filed for divorce a week earlier.
In his article, Dean referred to the rumor coming from radio and “blogs of dubious credibility,” something that apparently got the schnauzer’s hackles up. For his efforts, Dean was treated to a classic blast from Shuler this past Tuesday in which he claims Dean’s name appeared in the Ashley Madison document dump and offers it as a reason the veteran reporter might not have immediately jumped with both feet into the schnauzer’s unsourced, undocumented claims of an affair between the two.
“Has Chuck Dean been trying to cheat on his wife — and perhaps succeeding — via an account at Ashley Madison? Publicly available documents suggest the answer is yes. Does that help explain Dean›s preposterously softball treatment of the Bentley scandal? A reasonable person could conclude the answer is yes,” Shuler wrote.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time discussing how airtight the Ashley Madison documents are as journalistic sources, but even if someone’s name did appear on the list, the time, circumstances and outcome of any activity aren’t clear. Shuler’s reporting of the matter as fact shows once again why those who purport to be “real” journalists should steer clear of Shuler as a primary source of information.
Whether the story of the governor’s affair turns out to be true or comes unhinged remains to be seen, but neither Shuler nor any other media outlet have yet provided documentation of such an affair or even an indication Mrs. Bentley sued him for divorce because of an illicit relationship with Mason. Maybe she was tired of him leaving the toilet seat up. We won’t know unless one of the principals involved talks or the judge unseals the divorce papers.
Shuler also offers Dean and Mason’s Facebook friendship as solid proof he’s in the bag for her as well. I don’t know either Dean or Mason, but my guess is they both have lots of FB friends. I know I’m FB friends with tons of people I don’t even know and plenty of folks who we cover routinely. I can’t imagine someone liking a picture of the tuna sandwich I ate at lunch would keep me from doing my job.
In his attack on Dean, Shuler quickly brushed off any questions the rest of us on the World Wide Web might have about the veracity of what he’s burned pixels on over the years. He claims that in his 35-year career as a journalist he’s only been sued twice and both times by Republican operatives, as if that proves he was right. It would be hard to imagine who else might sue him since he typically only writes about Republican operatives having illicit affairs or engaging in sexual behavior that would fly in the face of their squeaky-clean, family-values images.
Do I doubt some of that happens? Of course not. People are people. But Shuler goes after his political enemies with such reckless gusto.
There are some real doozies, like the nude photos former Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor supposedly took for a magazine when he was a young buck. And, of course, those affair claims that got him sued into the ground — a $3.5 million judgment — and jailed for five months after he refused to sit for a scheduled deposition. In one of his stories, Shuler claimed Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and a campaign aide had an affair that produced a child, an accusation both denied.
Shuler’s brand of “journalism” is a particular issue these days because he has become essentially “judgment-proof” in terms of being sued. His house has been foreclosed upon from a previous lawsuit and he almost certainly has no means to pay the $3.5 million judgment or any others that may come his way due to publishing unsubstantiated rumors.
Certainly at this point Shuler has shown me he has no journalistic ethics at all. His attack on Dean appears to be highly personal. Also, one of his original posts about Mason had a picture of her standing with her three young children. Even if she is having an affair with Bentley, posting her kids’ picture on his site shows a total lack of restraint, ethics and class on Shuler’s part.
It remains to be seen what will come of the Bentley/Mason rumors. At the end of the day Shuler may turn out to be right, but if he is I’m not sure his means justify the ends. Reporters almost always know things before they are printable — as Dean points out in his article — but they become printable by doing the hard work, the reporting. Anyone with a computer can print rumors.