Roger Shuler was recently jailed at the tail end of a fairly protracted battle against the Alabama political establishment. The story goes like this:
Shuler writes a blog about political stuff. He apparently found out through undisclosed sources that Rob Riley, son of Bob Riley—former Republican governor of Alabama, had an affair. Shuler mentions it on his blog a few times. Rob Riley sues Shuler for defamation and gets a court to serve a restraining order that requires Shuler to stop writing about the affair. Shuler doesn’t stop. Shuler is arrested in his home, roughed up a little, maced in the face, and then carted off to jail, where he is being held without bail.
Many people are saying Shuler should have contested the court order legally, but in the meantime, followed the stipulations of the restraining order. I might agree, but the whole thing stinks nonetheless. There are plenty of speculative assertions made on the internet, and most of them don’t mean a whole lot. A public figure needs to develop thick skin, and I don’t think a blogger should be jailed for mentioning a politician’s dalliances with a lobbyist. As far as I’m concerned, it’s open season for gossip on public figures. If it isn’t true, does it really matter?
Furthermore, the use of legal connections to silence a blogger does not bode well for freedom of the press. I would include blogging in the press, and I want to be left free to make assertions about public figures and expose local government corruption.
Should Shuler have exposed the source of his information? I don’t think so. He’s currently being held in jail without bail for writing about a single low-level politician’s sexual misconduct. Do you really think he trusts that the justice system in Alabama is going to treat his informant to any proper level of due process? Probably not.
Freedom of speech and the press is breaking down in this country. Freedom of expression is not about vulgar language and pornography, although that is about all the civil government has been dedicated to protect. No, freedom of expression is most vital in those areas where a solitary voice may be the only difference between concealing corruption and exposing it.
Even if Shuler’s claims were actually false, and I doubt they were based on the reaction, it should be disturbing to us how easy it is for politicians to silence their detractors. From Obama on down, this has become the norm, and it is a Republic-destroying trend.