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Bill Britt

Opinion | Comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable

Bill Britt

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One of the fundamental goals of journalism is to see things as they are and to report them accurately.

Conversely, one of journalism’s greatest failures is to see a story through a particular ideological prism which renders the reporting inaccurate.

While point-of-view commentary can be part of an editorial’s framework, it should be based in fact and not wild supposition or outright deception. As for news reporting, it must never crossover into opinion.

When teaching someone to write a headline, I remind them that a headline has to contain a noun and a verb.

My go-to example of a perfect headline is “Jesus Wept,” from John 11:35, which records the account of Lazarus’ death and how Jesus raised him from the dead.

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However, in the wrong hands, “Jesus Wept” might be rendered, “Cultist Snaps,” which recounts how a cult leader was in love with a male member of his group and then faked his death and resurrection for publicity.

It should not be difficult to imagine that a reporter aligned with the political and religious elites who hated Jesus could have written such a heinous story.

With ever-increasing frequency, politicians rely on alternative facts to drive a wedge between voters and the truth.

As an example last week, two Montgomery attorneys Julian McPhillips and Melissa Isaak presented a letter to Montgomery District Attorney Daryl Bailey asking for him to investigate Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s acceptance of campaign donations that appear to violate state law. In their letter, McPhillips and Isaak outline for Bailey how $735,000 in donations to Marshall from the Republican Attorneys General Association violate the state’s ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers. They’ve asked Bailey to present the case to a grand jury.

In response to McPhillips and Isaak asking that he be investigated for violating campaign finance law, Marshall, in a statement, called it a “stunt” and blamed “paid bloggers” and “liberal activist lawyers,” as reported by APR‘s Josh Moon.

Montgomery attorneys ask DA to investigate AG Steve Marshall

Marshall should know a thing or two about liberal lawyers, having been an Obama Democrat until 2012. He also knows a lot about paid bloggers since he routinely pays to have flattering “news” stories published at an online outlet.

Rather than addressing the issue of whether he broke the law, Marshall attacks the messenger with code words, innuendo and lies. Of course, Marshall has been joined in his deception by the leaders of the state’s Republican Party, the Alabama Ethics Commission and radio and online talking heads who Marshall pays.

The irony of Marshall’s defense is sadly lost on those who would protect him, but what is worse are those who remain silent when they know the truth.

When APR reported on then-Speaker Mike Hubbard’s corruption, he, like Marshall, called us liars. When we pointed out Gov. Robert Bentley’s lunacy, he, too, denied our reports; the same is true of BCA’s Billy Canary and others who have found themselves the subject of tough but honest reporting. It is the same today with Marshall and other politicians running for office who, when confronted with unpleasant facts, name-call, duck the issue and lie.

Calling out a corrupt politico is not a “hit piece,” showing where an elected official may have broken the law or is lying is not “beating up on them.”

All the pitiful howls by these individuals who APR has confronted are merely muted cries of desperation compared to the madness happening on the national stage, but it is a  part of the same pattern of dangerous behavior so prevalent among today’s political class.

The news is not supposed to make us comfortable, it should disturb us and it should challenge us to think. The press exists to hold government and its fellow actors accountable, not to make them feel good about themselves.

At APR, we don’t hand out prizes or praise to curry favor with the powerful. We are driven to present facts that inform, educate and alert.

When Jesus Wept is reported as Cultist Snaps, it destabilizes society as a whole and undermines the foundation of truth that is the beating heart of journalism and a free nation.

As has been noted throughout history, a journalist’s job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Will Republicans bring change or status quo?

Bill Britt

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For eight years, Republicans have dominated state government in Alabama, but those years are not a fair representation of Republican leadership because, for most of that time, corrupt, crazy or compromised men were at the helms in the State House, the governor’s office and throughout the political infrastructure.

Already, Republicans are laying the groundwork for the next four years by determining who will staff the governor’s office and cabinet, the committee chairs in the House and Senate and key leadership roles within the caucus. Those choices will show whether there will be a change in character, conduct, and competence or status quo.

Beginning in 2008, then-Gov. Bob Riley, ALGOP Chair and minority leader Mike Hubbard, along with BCA’s Billy Canary, began to methodically execute a plan to take control of Alabama’s political structure. While they personally failed due to greed and incompetence, their plan succeeded and even today, after Hubbard’s felony conviction and Canary’s ouster at BCA, many of their handpicked legislators, cronies and co-conspirators still enjoy dominant positions in government and the accompanying political apparatus.

Reportedly, Riley is laying low but will seek a comeback in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. Senate election, positioning either himself or his son Rob to take on Democrat U.S. Senator Doug Jones.

A scan of Hubbard’s book, “Storming the State House,” offers a look at those candidates who Hubbard, Riley and Canary selected and groomed to do their bidding. Some of their staunchest allies have either quit government or have been indicted or convicted, but still many remain.

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Some have changed horses, but not everyone is happy that their former masters do not still hold the reins.

Some miss Hubbard’s whip hand, Riley’s conniving and Canary’s money and outsized influence.

The Republican House caucus will meet Tuesday to determine key leadership roles.

Current Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon will not face a challenge even though there are some among his ranks who would like to return to a Hubbard-style leadership.

Rep. David Standridge has put his name forward for House Pro Tem, a position presently held by Rep. Victor Gaston. Standridge, it is believed, wants to bring new life into the position, however, Gaston is a well-known fixture. What is unclear is why U.S. Congressman Mike Rogers is lobbying for Gaston’s return as Pro Tem?

It is not sure if House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter will face opposition or if he should.

Where the rubber wheel hits the road is with committee leadership assignments that will come later. Several committees are still chaired by Hubbard loyalists who, again, long for his dictatorial command. Even the House Ethics Committee is currently headed by a man who believes Hubbard’s conviction was a grave conspiracy involving prosecutorial misconduct.

Over at the Capitol, Gov. Ivey’s staff and cabinet have well placed Hubbard and Rileyites, but there are no signs that Gov. Ivey will replace them.

Most troublesome are rumors that Ivey’s Chief of Staff Steve Pelham is leaving to take a post at Auburn University. No one can blame Pelham given the enormous burden of guiding the office for nearly two years, but replacing him will be a difficult task.

As for the Senate, President Pro Tem Del Marsh will continue his business management approach with few surprises in store. There are rumors of some significant changes, especially among budget chair assignments, but even that is mere speculation at this point.

Republicans have an opportunity to show their governing abilities beginning with its choice of leadership. This is extremely important because Republicans overwhelmingly control every office in state government. Moral, effective leaders are always essential but never more so than when there is no opposition.

If Republicans do not put forward honest leaders, they will be forced at some point in time to look around and say, “We have seen the enemy, and it is us.”

As President Harry Truman noted, “Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”

The people of Alabama have selected a Republican super-majority to lead the state. Let’s pray they are ready to prove the people were right.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Once again, Godspeed Speaker McCutcheon

Bill Britt

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When Alabama’s Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon released a statement regarding the 2018 House election results in legislative districts across the state, he did more than take a victory lap, he actually laid out a list of priorities for the next four years.

McCutcheon wrote, “Our infrastructure is in decay, and our roads and bridges must be given much-needed attention. Our public schools are in need of further improvement, and we must invest in security measures that ensure children who are sent to school in the morning return home safely in the afternoon,” McCutcheon said. “And our ethics laws must continue to ensure that elected officials who violate the public’s trust feel the firm hand of justice and the sting of substantial punishment.”

McCutcheon didn’t merely grandstand but cooly and correctly identified most of the state’s immediate challenges, saying, “Our mission is clear and well-defined, and it’s now our job to accomplish it.”

With 90 words, McCutcheon issued a prime objective and a promise to address the needs of our state.

McCutcheon’s list: infrastructure, public schools, school safety and ethics laws are at the top of his agenda. Both Republicans and Democrats should agree that these are important considerations that the state has failed to address for decades fully.

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It is far past time for state leadership to take steps to improve our roads and bridges as well as our broadband and tech infrastructure. Without strong public schools and the security to attend them without fear, there is no hope for our state to rise above the low-education status that endangers generation after generation of our young. Lastly, hard sought ethics reform must not be cast aside for politics. Lack of clear ethics statures led to the kinds of corruption that have plagued the state for decades, allowing devious men and women to plunder our state’s riches and resources for personal gain.

Speaker McCutcheon has laid out the agenda saying, “it’s now our job to accomplish it.”

It is incumbent upon all of us who work in politics to come together to support his goals as long as he stays true to the mission.

He also speaks about the “great sacrifices” and “the often unpleasant criticism that comes with life in the public spotlight.”

Grueling work and harsh criticism are to be expected if anything great is ever accomplished.

As President Theodore Roosevelt said in a speech delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, France on April 23, 1910, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

With any worthy endeavor, the road forward is fought with trials and routs, but these are but little worries when the future is at stake.

Speaker McCutcheon has set-forth some very worthy goals. We will all be wise in joining together to see them accomplished.

Godspeed from Middle English literally means God give you a prosperous journey, something our state dearly needs.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Reading right, left and center

Bill Britt

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Since its inception nearly eight years ago, the Alabama Political Reporter has worked to inform, educate, alert and, on occasion, call to action its readers on a wide variety of political issues facing our state.

APR’s focus is state politics and those things that make our state better.

Along with in-depth reporting on policy, the politicos that drive it and public corruption that harms, we strive to be a marketplace for ideas across the broad spectrum of right, left and center.

In today’s hyper-polarized political environment, allowing all voices to have a say isn’t always a popular consideration. We live in a time where some people would rather have their personal beliefs confirmed than actually educate themselves on a given subject. And heaven forbid that an opinion writer should challenge a prevailing thought or party.

At APR, we test the status quo, not to be arbitrary, but to move the conversation forward. It is easy to embrace the state’s current path of mediocracy, but that is not our purpose. We report news that matters, even if it is uncomfortable or casts a less than flattering light on things.

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Like the lone pamphleteers who forged our nation, we work to shape the discourse with fact-driven reporting and provocative thought.

There are plenty of blogs and news outlets that parrot the company line.

One of our goals is to cause people to think. But thinking is hard work and can make us uncomfortable. But the news itself can cause discomfort because it makes us face unpleasant realities.

When we find that more children in Alabama are living in poverty today than in 2000, it should make us not only uncomfortable, it should call us to action.

Report: More children are living in poverty in Alabama in 2018 than in 2000

Similarly, when the state’s Ethics Commission becomes a law unto itself acting outside the bounds of statute to please a handful of special interests, good citizens and honest lawmakers should be outraged.

Opinion | Terminal corruption and its accomplices

These are issues that should know no label because poverty, corruption and its brothers are what keeps a state from prospering.

But with the growing polarization of political discourse, often the things we can change are left undone because we can’t listen over the din of noise and anger about who’s right and who’s wrong.

President Ronald Reagan said, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local,” but over the last two decades with the rise of cable news local politics became nationalized.

A Reuters Institute survey released last year found a rising polarization in news consumption in the United States.

Of those surveyed, 51 percent of left-leaning Americans trust the news while only 20 percent of right-leaning Americans say the same.

Self-identified conservatives are far more likely to say they avoid the news because “I can’t rely on news to be true,” as reported in Forbes.

Forbes also reports, “Conservatives’ skepticism is nurtured by their deep, almost exclusive, commitment to Fox News. Two-thirds of conservatives watch Fox News, and an increasing number, 19 percent, visit the ultra-right wing site Breitbart.com.”

Progressive studies show those who identify with liberals turn to CNN and MSNBC, or the New York Times, but are not as brand loyal as their counterparts.

Sadly, opinions have been so manipulated by national cable news we can’t talk about the problems facing our state with any degree of civility on the right or the left.

When hot-button issues with little relevance to the future of our state replace honest policy discourse, we are in trouble because there is no demand for a plan on how we should govern. Also, when talking-points generated by bloviating commentators pose as an actual conversation, we have no real basis from which to began to determine our course of action to improve our state.

Once there was an intellectual underpinning to conservatism as well as liberalism. Sadly today, thinking is almost a lost art in the political arena.

Alabama’s challenges are homegrown and so should be its solutions.

APR promises to remain a part of the conversation that looks to make our state even better. We will continue to look at the hard facts so that our readers can make the tough choices – be they right, left or center.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | The people have a right to know if their attorney general is a cheat

Bill Britt

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If there is a shred of integrity left at the Alabama Ethics Commission, it will immediately convene an emergency hearing to settle the issues of whether the State’s Attorney General Steve Marshall violated campaign finance laws.

For nearly three months, the commission has failed to rule on whether Marshall knowingly ignored the state’s Fair Campaign Practice Act in taking $735,000 in illegal contributions from the Republican Attorneys General Association. RAGA is not registered with the state and commingles its funds with other political action committees, masking the donors contrary to Alabama law. Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton knows Marshall’s contributions were unlawful, so does Secretary of State John Merrill, but no one is willing to act. Even Marshall himself is on the record saying the type of contributions he received from RAGA are illegal and banning such contributions was, “the only legal protection standing between Alabama voters and the reality or appearance of quid pro quo corruption.”

Perhaps the larger question for the Commission and the Alabama Republican Party is should a candidate who willingly takes illegal campaign contributions be allowed to remain on the ballot?

In the least, the voters in Alabama have a right to know if the Republican nominee for the state’s top lawyer violated the law.

The primary function of the state’s attorney general is to represent the state in legal matters, protect the people and seek out and prosecute public corruption.

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The Ethics Commission must call a special hearing to address the allegation against Marshall before the Nov. 6 election.

If the commission refuses to act, it will confirm it is merely an extension of the political corruption that plagues our state.

Ethics Director Albritton and Secretary Merrill have made it clear in statements and previous writings that Marshall’s acceptance of the RAGA funds is an unlawful act.

Merrill, in 2015, asserted out-of-state PAC contributions made to an Alabama candidate are illegal if the PAC is not fully compliant with Alabama laws which require registration and full disclosure of its donors.

RAGA is not registered in Alabama, and its donors are not immediately disclosed under Alabama law because it accepts PAC-to-PAC transfers which mask the original donors.

Secretary of State’s letter addressed out-of-state PACs meddling in Alabama elections

For his part, in June, Albritton told al.com that he had informed other campaigns that similar donations would not be legal.

Merrill and Albritton make it evident that Marshall’s acceptance of the RAGA funds is a violation of the state’s campaign finance laws.

On too many occasions, the Commission has bent to the narrow interests of well-connected individuals or the broad considerations of powerful special interests. For once, it should look to protect the state’s voters from an attorney general who would skirt campaign laws for personal gain.

The right remedy in the Marshall situation lies with the Alabama Republican Party, which is responsible for pursuing such violations and taking appropriate action, but the so-called party of law and order has taken a pass on the Marshall fiasco, choosing to remain silent.

Republican Party Chair Terry Lathan and the Executive Committee could end the charade by immediately moving not to certify Marshall’s votes in the upcoming general election. Of course, this would mean conceding the race to Democrat Joe Siegelman. This might not be palatable, but how much more bitter is a win by cheating?

Since the party will not act on the issue, it falls to Ethics Commission Chairman Judge Jerry Fielding who can swiftly move to bring the Marshall matter before the Commission.

For years, Fielding enjoyed a sterling reputation as a respected jurist, but slowly over time, his willingness to allow questionable compromise on the Ethics Commision has taken the shine off his former standing. Marshall’s case is an opportunity for Judge Fielding and the entire commission to affirm the rule of law applies to everyone, even an appointed attorney general.

It is now time for the commission to act because the people have a right to know if their attorney general is a cheat.

 

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Opinion | Comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable

by Bill Britt Read Time: 4 min
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