By Adam Smith
“In old days men had the rack. Now they have the press.” — Oscar Wilde
It’s been an interesting several days for yours truly, as — for whatever reason — a brief conversation I had Monday with the father of an alleged murderer became a hot news topic on Tuesday.
It was actually my third conversation with Dr. Iqbal Memon since April 24. Each of the three times the Madison resident and Athens pediatrician came to our offices unsolicited and without legal counsel.
Memon’s son, Hammad, is behind bars in the Madison County Jail for allegedly shooting Discovery Middle School student Todd Brown in the back of the head during a class change. Dr. Memon and his wife Safia were both arrested on April 13 and charged with hindering prosecution.
Authorities allege the Memons were trying to help their 16-year-old son flee to Pakistan ahead of his June trial on murder charges. Hammad and Safia did flee the state, apparently, and were detained in Dallas, Texas, before being brought back to Alabama.
Iqbal and Safia Memon are currently free on $15,000 bond.
“Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century, and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press.” — Alexander Solzhenitsyn
When Memon came to visit on April 24, he asked to speak to someone about an article. I was the only writer in the office at the time.
I invited him up and sat him down at our conference table.
“You do know who I am, right?” he asked, and I honestly didn’t have a clue who he was. “I’m Dr. Memon.”
I had seen his mug shot in the news a lot lately, but it was my first time meeting him in person. He initially asked me to write an article stating that his office was still open for business and that he had not lost his medical license. I told him that would more than likely qualify as a paid advertisement.
However, I still had my pen and notepad in front of me and began asking him questions, all of which he answered candidly. He spoke about the hindering prosecution allegations, events leading up to the alleged murder of Brown and the need for criminal justice reforms that would help keep convicted teens out of state prisons.
On April 26, he dropped by again, asking to see a copy of the article I had written. While it is not the policy of The News Courier to let an article’s subject — or his attorney — review the article before it’s published, I acquiesced because I’ve always believed the media should never jeopardize a fair trial.
Memon came to call again on Monday and we talked again about the article and about his advertisement. He appeared to be in good spirits and told me I looked like Robert Redford. I know he’s looking for good publicity, but I felt it was a tad over-the-top.
He also talked about a committee he and his wife are forming to address the need for a juvenile justice overhaul in Alabama and nationwide.
He asked me to be on the committee, but I said no, as it would be a conflict of interest with my duties at the newspaper. However, I told him I’d be happy to write an article about the committee when it was fully formed.
After 15 minutes or so, I shook Memon’s hand and watched him walk out the front door. Imagine my surprise on Tuesday morning when I found out he had been hospitalized with an undisclosed ailment.
I know I have a firm handshake, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t me who sickened him. Perhaps him comparing me to Robert Redford was the first sign he was in physical distress.
I’m no doctor, but if I were under as much stress as Memon, I’d probably asked to be permanently hospitalized.
“I sometimes compare press officers to riflemen on the Somme — mowing down wave upon wave of distortion, taking out rank upon rank of supposition, deduction and gossip.” — Bernard Ingham
The News Courier reported on its website Tuesday morning that Memon had been hospitalized, and that he had visited us late Monday afternoon.
Then came calls from a couple of television media outlets who wanted to interview me about our conversation, and a reporter from one of those outlets actually showed up for a visit.
Not wanting to appear on television under any circumstances, I wrote the following statement:
“Dr. Iqbal Memon visited The News Courier offices Monday afternoon shortly before 5 p.m. to discuss ideas for a juvenile justice committee he is forming with his wife Safia.
He said the committee’s aim is to work with lawmakers to establish correctional facilities for convicted criminals under the age of 21 so offenders don’t have to serve time in state prisons. Memon talked with News Editor Adam Smith and appeared to be in good spirits during his 15-minute visit. It was his third visit to The News Courier offices in a week’s time. His visit on April 26 was to discuss advertising for his pediatric facility, and a visit on April 24 resulted in a lengthy interview in which he discussed incidents leading up to his son Hammad’s alleged murder of Discovery Middle School student Todd Brown in February 2010 and how the Memon family has been portrayed in the media. The resulting story from the interview is expected to be published in The News Courier in the coming days.”
It wasn’t the first time I had declined to appear on TV, and it probably won’t be the last. I once had a frazzled reporter ask me to appear on camera as I sat surrounded by packages inside the Riverchase Galleria in Birmingham. It was two days before Christmas, and I politely declined.
I once had a college journalism professor tell me, “You should report the news, not be the news.” It’s a philosophy I’ll continue to hold dear, or at least hold on to for as long as I can.
Even if I do look like Robert Redford.