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Bill Britt

Doing our duty as free press

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

As is often the case, one country’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter; and likewise, one person’s anonymous source is a patriot and someone else’s traitor.

Like much in politics, traitor versus patriot largely depends on who’s blowing the whistle and who’s caught up in the malaise. The press who reported weekly on the so-called scandal against Gov. Don Siegelman’s administration were heroes, and their confidential informants were simply whistleblowers doing their duty, according to state Republicans. But when APR spent four years chronicling the wrongdoings of then Speaker Mike Hubbard, we were liars and worse, and our sources, well, they were false and dishonest. Of course, during the Siegelman era, the same was said by the Democrats.

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It is a shame that partisan loyalty allows for so much mischief waved aside, as if being faithful to the team is more important than doing what is right. Perhaps being faithful to the law, moral conscience and decency are better qualities than blind allegiance to a party.

Recently, ALGOP Chair Terry Lathan said, “Any party member that anonymously shares inside organizational bumps or espouses their opinion with a lack of information to the press should be ashamed of themselves.” Here, perhaps channeling the party’s standard-bearer, she adds, “Hiding behind anonymity is cowardly.”

Lathan’s comments in context are not altogether misguided, as a party official should speak boldly about internal disputes. They also should talk to the press when their concerns are not taken seriously by leadership.

ALGOP Chair, Steering Committee reprimand Hooper

U.S. law holds that whistleblowers should come forward when they see wrongdoing, even if it is done anonymously. The first ever whistleblower protection law was enacted on July 30, 1778. Records from the Continental Congress show that the original resolution stated, “Resolved that it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States … to give the earliest information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any persons in the services of these states, which may come to their knowledge.”

On the 236th anniversary of the first whistleblower law, a unanimous, bi-partisan resolution passed designating July 30 as National Whistleblower Appreciation Day.

The measure was sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore. Grassley noted on the occasion, “Whistleblowers are pivotal pieces of the oversight puzzle. Their work ensures that our system of checks and balances operates effectively.” Wyden added, “Individuals with the courage to blow the whistle in the face of government wrongdoing, waste or abuse are an integral part of our democracy. Too often, whistleblowers risk retaliation and scorn for drawing attention to misdeeds, so it is only right for the Senate to recognize their vital contributions.”

When reporting on government abuse, waste or fraud, anonymous sources are vital and often are the only way to get to the root of corruption. “Anonymous sources,” is a misnomer because the individual, or individuals, are known to the journalist and are generally someone who is a trusted government figure. They remain anonymous to the public so they can perform the critical task of helping a reporter find facts. Most often, their tips allow a reporter to find corroborating documents to expose the truth.

In a state like Alabama, where the open records act is rarely adheres to, and any tinpot agency lawyer can claim bogus privilege background sources are the only guides to facts concerning fraud, waste and incompetence. Informants who aid the press are placing their jobs, and in some cases even their lives, in danger. Their confidentiality is utmost to them and a trust that a good journalist will never betray.

According to the Society of Professional Journalist Ethics Committee Position Papers, “Few ethical issues in journalism are more entangled with the law than the use of anonymous sources. Keep your promise not to identify a source of information, and it’s possible to find yourself facing a grand jury, a judge, and a jail cell. On the other hand, break your promise of confidentiality to that source, and it’s just possible you might find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit.” In addition any reporter who exposes a anonymous sources under any circumstance is ruined.

President Trump thinks leakers should be jailed, but so far, unlike the Obama administration, he has not acted on those words. In 2013, it came to light that the Obama administration’s justice department, under U.S. Attorney Eric Holder, had named Fox News reporter, James Rosen, a “criminal co-conspirator” under the Espionage Act of 1917 to gain access to his emails and phone records. The Washington Post, in 2013, reported that the Justice Department had monitored reporter Rosen’s State Department visits through phone traces, the timing of calls and his emails. The state alleged Rosen received leaks of classified information in 2009 about North Korea.

During Obama’s tenure as president, seven Americans working for the U.S. Government, or government contractors with security clearances, faced criminal charges under the Espionage Act of 1917 because of alleged leaks to members of the press or online outlets. The administration said it didn’t target journalists, but Rosen proves that’s not the whole truth.

Hubbard targeted us, so did Gov. Bentley and others. We have been mocked for using anonymous sources and recently called fake news.

The real fake news almost always comes from corrupt politicians, not a journalist. In our state, the press, in general, serves as stenographers due to corporate pressure to sell advertisements, which many times means not offending anyone with power.

More often, it is the state that is the enemy of the people through corruption and greed. The free press, as envisioned by the founding generation, were the watchers who protected the people from government misdeeds and overreach. So, the next time someone uses the term “fake news” because a journalist uses an anonymous source, remind them what the Continental Congress declared 235 years ago. It is the duty of all persons to report misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any persons in the services of these states.

That means the press, too.

 

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Bill Britt

Ethics Review Committee is a long con

Bill Britt

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After last week’s initial meeting of the Ethics Review Committee, it’s now apparent that the body, as far as its leaders are concerned, is not assembled to strengthen and clarify the state’s ethics laws but weaken it through a wholesale rewrite. In other words, the Ethics Review Committee is a prop in a confidence scheme.

It seems the real purpose of the committee is to provide cover for lawmakers when, during the 2019 Legislative Session, the current “toughest in the nation’s” ethics laws are gutted like a prize pig.

Doing away with the present statutes should come as no surprise since Republican lawmakers and some businessmen have worked to overturn the ethics laws since Republican Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard was convicted of 12 felony violations of the existing laws.

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As in high stakes, poker lawmakers have “tells” which, when read, reveal their true intentions.

The resolution that created the Ethics Review Committee reads in part, “[T]he multiple piecemeal amendments over the last 40-plus years and the evolving interpretation of the Code of Ethics have created an environment where reasonable individuals can sometimes disagree on what is permitted and what is not with the result that qualified individuals are discouraged from seeking public office.”

Citing a law as old implies it antiquated and in need of replacement to fit the times. Piecemeal here is used as a pejorative to indicate the law is flawed because of so many additions. It also states that reasonable individuals disagree on what is permitted and what is not. Finding a reasonable person is a stretch, but what this means is when someone wants a way around the laws or breaks the law, they hire an attorney to argue about what the law means. Lastly, the authors of the resolution establishing the committee want the public to believe the laws discourage qualified individuals from seeking public office.

These are all talking points that only mean they are going to scrap existing laws.

It’s almost like the committee itself is an unwitting partner in a confidence trick. This move against the state’s ethics act feels like a “long con” in which, “a scam unfolds over a period of time and involves a team of swindlers, as well as props, sets, extras, costumes, and scripted lines,” according to Amy Reading’s The Mark.

The set-up began in earnest during the 2018 Legislative Session when Republican House and Senate leaders promised the public that the committee would use SB343 as the starting point for the review committee’s suggested changes.

But using SB343 as the underlying law on which to build is now being trashed.

At the end of the first meeting, Jefferson County Presiding Circuit Court Judge Joseph Boohaker asked, “Are we going to work in the existing Ethics law? Are we working on SB343? Or are we just starting from scratch?”

Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton, who co-chairs the committee, answered, “I think all three are possibilities. That’s what this committee should decide. If there are things you like about the existing law, then you can propose we keep those. If you like the Attorney General’s bill, then you can suggest those. If you want to start from scratch, then I would encourage you to present something to the committee that you do like.”

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh introduced SB343 during the 2018 Legislative Session. The bill was painstakingly constructed primarily by the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Division led by Matt Hart, a team assembled under former Attorney General Luther Strange that worked since August 2016, to deliver a comprehensive re-write of the Alabama Ethics Act. During the process, Hart’s team met with all the significant stakeholders which amounted to more than two dozen different groups consisting of attorneys, lobbyists, associations, prosecutors and university officials, as well as direct discussions with the Legislature, including Othni Lathram, the director of the Legislative Services Agency.

According to sources within many of those discussions, there was universal agreement that SB343 satisfied the concerns of the various interests.

The committee may be comprised of exceptional individuals, but the fix is in, and the grifter’s prize is a return to a lawless Legislature led by those who serve themselves, not the people.

The game is on, and mischief is afoot. It’s a con.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Cobb’s pledge sets a trap for rivals; Very Trumpian

Bill Britt

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Democrat gubernatorial candidate Sue Bell Cobb, last week, put forward a campaign pledge as cover for her failure to vet a field director who is a registered sex offender.

Rather than admitting her mistake and firing the sex offender and the staff member who hired him, she tried to change the subject by blaming the media, pointing her finger at Republicans and asking her opponents to sign a pledge to play nice.

The pledge itself is little more than a cleverly disguised Faustian bargain, in which she attempts to trick her rivals into agreeing to a promise that serves her end but not theirs.

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Second from the bottom, the pledge reads: “REFUSE FUNDING any group requiring financial support in exchange for an ‘endorsement.'”

This coming Saturday, the Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC) will meet to choose which candidates it will support in the June 5 Democrat primary. With the ADC’s endorsement comes an explicit understanding of financial support. It appears Cobb is conceding she will not receive ADC’s endorsement and doesn’t want one of her opponents to benefit from the group’s support.

Cobb learned something from her 30 years on the bench, which seems to be how to hide a trap inside a seemingly innocuous document.

Every Democratic candidate wants ADC’s endorsement, and everyone needs it.

Four of the five candidates running for governor under the Democrat banner signed the pledge. Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox called it a “stunt,” and didn’t sign.

Now if one of the other four office seekers should win ADC’s endorsement, they would have to refuse it to comply with Cobb’s pledge.

Of course, Cobb’s presser last week was an unmitigated disaster. From its premise to its ending, Cobb showed her inability to understand the fundamentals of decency, much less the vital role of the press. Has Cobb basked so long in the warmth of an adoring liberal press that she couldn’t realize that not everyone swoons when she takes the stage? Or has she fooled herself for so long that facts no longer matter?

Since resigning her position as Alabama’s chief justice, Cobb has given at least six different reasons why she stepped down, so either she doesn’t know why she surrendered her office to Judge Roy Moore or has yet to decide which version of the facts plays best with her audience.

As if to take a page from President Donald Trump’s playbook, Cobb, last week, strolled in front of the cameras, denounced the dishonest press, defended paying a sex offender $40,000 —over the course of two months—and then duped her opponents into signing away their legal rights and the ability to receive a coveted endorsement.

Cobb’s pledge also states, “MAKE PUBLIC all expenditures placed on behalf of my campaign whether paid directly or through consultants.”

Alabama’s FCPA law doesn’t require candidates to disclose such expenditures. Here, Cobb once again is not looking to make the race fairer but to take away a lawful advantage she believes her rivals are using.

Furthermore, Cobb made a fool of herself at her most recent presser by saying the arrest of her campaign field director, sex offender Paul Littlejohn III, was politically motivated.

Jefferson County Chief Deputy Randy Christian called her out  saying, “How sad that a candidate for governor supports a convicted sex offender over sexual assault victims.”

Chief Deputy Christian points out what is perhaps the worst part of this whole sorry affair – Cobb, rather than remembering the victim, put the entire focus on herself.

Cobb’s pledge was meant to deflect and distract from her failure to identify and fire a sex offender. Instead, she deceived her opponents by persuading them to sign a phony pledge.

Very Trumpian.

Full pledge:

The Republican leaders of all three branches of our government have faced scandals and been removed from office. We must do better. Legitimate journalism is under attack while paid, partisan websites flourish unchecked. We must demand better. As a candidate for the highest elected office in Alabama, I will hold myself to the highest standards of ethics, pledging to:

ABIDE BY all campaign laws and procedures;

REFUSE TO defame the character of my opponent, his religious beliefs, his family or his lifestyle, or to condone the actions of those who do;

CONDEMN the use of campaign materials of any sort that falsify the facts regarding my opponent, his professional accomplishments, or his personal background;

CONDEMN any appeal to prejudice or bigotry;

DISAVOW PUBLICLY any material or advertisements that are not factually accurate or that fail to disclose the identity behind such campaign activities or the source of funding;

MAKE PUBLIC all expenditures placed on behalf of my campaign whether paid directly or through consultants;

REFUSE FUNDING any group requiring financial support in exchange for an “endorsement.”

SHARE copies of this pledge to my campaign workers, volunteers, and key supporters.

This 10th day of May, 2018.

 

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Bill Britt

BCA, ALFA and PCI support candidates with a history of misogyny

Bill Britt

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BCA's Billy Canary, left; ALFA's Jimmy Parnell, top-right; and PCI's Robbie McGee, bottom right, are backing two candidates for elected offices with a history of physical abuses or covering for sexual assault.

In the era of the #MeToo movement, it should be shocking that the Business Council of Alabama, the Alabama Farmers Federation and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians are supporting men for statewide office who have either protected sexual predators or are themselves accused spouse abusers.

The popular novel, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” was originally titled “Men Who Hate Women.” Written by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, it chronicles how powerful men use the levers of government, establishment-institutions and cronyism to rob women of their humanity in the most degrading acts of defilement imaginable.

It would seem here in Alabama that some at BCA, ALFA and PCI are taking a page out of  Larsson’s book by offering misogynistic candidates covered under a veneer of their company’s respected logos.

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Court records show BCA’s Billy Canary, ALFA’s Jimmy Parnell and PCI’s Robbie McGee are backing two candidates for elected offices with a history of physical abuses or covering for sexual assault.

Hand-picked by ALFA’s President Parnell, with financial support from Canary and McGee, Agriculture and Industry candidate Rick Pate, according to court records, abused his wife so severely that the court ordered that he not enter the marital home because his wife feared for her life.

“The Wife avers that the Husband has committed actual violence to her person and from his manner and conduct toward her, she is reasonably convinced that he will commit further violence upon her person, intended with danger to her life and health,” the record said.

In a handwritten note provided to the Alabama Political Reporter, the former Mrs. Pate recanted her sworn testimony saying she and her first husband now have an excellent relationship.

However, at the time of their divorce, the court granted her request of, “a restraining order strictly enjoining and restraining,” her Husband from “entering the resident premises…assaulting, threatening, or intimidating,” her.

BCA-backed candidate Attorney General Steve Marshall used the power of his office to protect a man who, according to court records, sexually assaulted a co-worker in an act that a U.S. district judge described as “horrific.”

After woman’s “horrific” sexual assault, what did Steve Marshall do?

Instead of firing the accused sexual assailant, Marshall sought to isolate and punish the victim before defending the perpetrator in court.

In the victim’s own words, she recounted the attack in court saying, “He had me pinned with my back against the wall … I kept saying stop, stop, get off me, stop. Stop it. He was trying to put his mouth on me. I could still feel his hot breath on my neck. I felt like I absolutely was going to die. I couldn’t move him because he was so heavy. He kept pushing his hands — he had one hand on my breast underneath the top part of my bra. I could feel his fingers on my nipples. The other hand, again, I could feel he was at the top of my pubic area. And I knew I had to stop him.”

Marshall did nothing to protect his female employee. In fact, he moved her to a basement office where she feared another attack.

Pate wants to represent the state’s largest industry here at home and abroad. Marshall is to be the state’s top lawyer defending the state and prosecuting its worst criminals, yet when women were involved, neither Pate or Marshall could be counted on to protect them, according to court documents.

That ALFA, BCA, and PCI would support such candidates with personal endorsements, and large sums of money are not lost on some members of the Republican Party. In a letter given to APR by a member of the Alabama Federation of Republican Women, it pleas with other women to, “Let’s prevent another black eye on our state and our party.” It further states,”In order for us to prove that we do care about our members and share their conservative family values; we must reconsider our support of Rick Pate or be forced to defend our support of him. If not, our lack of action once we became aware of his history of violence towards women will be our downfall.”

Did Canary, Parnell and McGee not vet Marshall or Pate? Did they simply not care that both men have a history of neglecting or abusing women?

What does it say about the female members of BCA, ALFA and PCI when their organization supports men who protect molesters and abusers?

The #MeToo movement is sweeping our nation, but in Alabama, Canary, Parnell and McGee using the force of BCA, ALFA and PCI are sweeping  misogyny under the rug.

 

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Doing our duty as free press

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