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John Krull commentary: Two big Todd Rokita bad habits

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has at least two annoying habits.

One is picking senseless fights.

The other is wasting taxpayer money.

Our money.

Both these character flaws are on display in Rokita’s dispute with conservative commentator, radio talk show host and gadfly Abdul-Hakim Shabazz. Their quarrel now has grown into a lawsuit.

Let’s be clear about something. This is a stupid, stupid, stupid fight—and the stupidity is all on Rokita’s side.

The squabble began last October when Abdul—in media circles, he goes almost exclusively by his first name—tried to attend a Rokita press conference. Rokita’s staff barred him from entering.

The attorney general’s stated reason for doing so was both absurd and bizarre. Rokita said he locked Abdul out because Abdul was not “credentialed media.” The attorney general also argued that he needed to protect his staff because Abdul had said, half in jest, that he traded in “rumors, gossip and blatant innuendo.”

There are at least two problems with Rokita’s position.

The first is that Abdul is credentialed media. He’s had a state-issued media credential for years. Just about every journalist covering Indiana state government and politics has one.

Rokita’s argument then is that his judgment—or, rather, his inflated but tender ego—should overrule the state’s credentialing system, the needs of Abdul’s readers and listeners and any elected official’s duty to be answerable to the public. (More on the attorney general’s sensitive feelings in a moment.)

The second problem is that it is a rare journalistic enterprise that doesn’t peddle some rumor or gossip.

For years, two of the most heavily read parts of most newspapers were “Dear Abby” and the comics page, neither of which is fact-based journalism. And when TV newscasts do deep dives into the nature of Ben Affleck’s and Jennifer Lopez’s relationship or whether Prince Harry and Prince William still are speaking regularly, they’re not exactly doing hard-hitting reporting.

One suspects, though, that Rokita’s stated rationale for barring Abdul isn’t his real reason for doing so.

If it were, the attorney general would be banning other news outlets that stretch the definitions of fact-gathering.

Instead, he’s focusing on Abdul because Abdul—who, until this dispute, rarely found reason to question or criticize a Republican—didn’t lavish unqualified praise on Rokita during Rokita’s ill-fated campaign to be elected to the U.S. Senate.

The attorney general has a craving for subservience. Google Todd Rokita and staff memo if you doubt me on that.

So, what we have here is a case of a high-ranking state official with skin thinner and more fragile than the dust on a butterfly’s wings having a meltdown.

At our expense.

Before we go further, I need to make a disclosure, both because it’s the right thing to do and because my experience bears on what follows.

Years ago, I was executive director of what is now the ACLU of Indiana, the organization representing Abdul in this suit.

I worked with the ACLU’s legal director, Ken Falk, who is now Abdul’s lawyer. Falk is one of the best constitutional lawyers in the United States and exceedingly scrupulous. He doesn’t take a case unless he is sure that he is on firm ground and has more than a reasonable certainty that the government has violated the Constitution.

When the state loses a case on constitutional grounds, it is obligated to pay the legal fees of the organization or person who filed the suit. If the litigation goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the bill can run to six figures.

In this case, that means that if Rokita loses—as I strongly suspect he will—we taxpayers will pick up the tab for his foolish, foolish fight.

We will have to sacrifice funds that otherwise could have gone into roads, schools or healthcare—or even just back into our pockets—simply because our attorney general has the emotional resilience of a preschooler who missed nap time.

Todd Rokita has made it clear he plans to run for governor two years from now.

When he does, he doubtless will argue that he’s going to be a ferocious watchdog when it comes to guarding taxpayer dollars.

Our money.

Don’t believe him.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.