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An Open Letter to Governor Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Dear Sirs,

The freedom of the press is under attack in Alabama, not just small news organizations like the Alabama Political Reporter but the very idea itself.

Over the last year, our news organization has reported a series of articles that have examined the conduct of many leaders within state government.

Chiefly, we have reported on the financial and political dealings of the current Speaker of the Alabama House Mike Hubbard.

Mr. Hubbard, personally and through surrogates, has launched an aggressive  assault against us personally as well as professionally.

Mr. Hubbard, has never publicly denied the facts of our reporting nor has he allowed us an opportunity to question him personally concerning these matters.

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What he has done is use state-paid employees to actively cause harm to our business.

Using his influence and methods of fear and intimidation, he has cost our news organization valuable advertising dollars.

Troy University pulled its advertising contract because of Mr. Hubbard.

Others potential business clients have expressed fear of reprisal if they were to advertise on our site.

Recently, Mr. Hubbard’s Chief of Staff, Josh Blades, a state employee, who makes over $100,000 dollars a year in taxpayer-funded dollars, approached lobbyist for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and tried to convince them to have the tribe removed their advertising from our site.

The incident at Troy University along with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians lobbyist are easily verified.

Do you, sirs, believe that it is right or just that an elected official or his staff or operatives use the authority of the Speaker of the House to ruin the business and livelihood of others?

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Surely, it is incumbent upon you General Strange to investigate such matters. Is it not also your moral duty, Mr. Governor, to ensure that leaders of our state do not abuse their office?

If Mr. Hubbard did not like the way a mechanic repaired his automobile would you condone him using his office or state employees to destroy the mechanic’s business and reputation?

We are credentialed members of the press and follow the historical guidelines of a press organization. We are not a blog, published by a school-boy in the darkness of his parents basement.

Of course you both know this as you have both granted us personal interviews on several occasions.

General Strange, you have known us long before we came to Montgomery. You have broken bread with us on more than one occasion.

You know us as individuals and as members of the press.

Mr. Governor, you have also sat with us for several hours and given us full access to your office. While it is more than likely that you have not always been pleased with our reporting you have not tried to harm our business in retaliation.

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Our reporting on Mr. Hubbard has been well documented with facts.

His answer has been retaliation by attacking our businesses’ advertising base. Is this not a violation of his office?

Many reporters in our state are afraid to report on Mr. Hubbard because they fear losing their jobs. Is this the way that the government of Alabama should operate? Are these the Alabama values that Mr. Hubbard wants to wear as a mantle for the next election?

Through his office as Speaker and the powerful influence of his Auburn Network and its affiliates, Mr. Hubbard as cowed the press through threats and financial terrorism.

One journalist said, “I am not going to report what the Alabama Political Reporter has, because he [Hubbard] could have me fired with one phone call.”

Is it not your jobs sirs to privately and publicly denounce, investigate and bring an end to such practices?

Please allow me to remind you of what Justice William Brennan wrote in the landmark, US Supreme Court case, The New York Times v. Sullivan, “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”

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In his opinion, Justice Brennan maintained that freedom of expression, freedom of the press must have the “breathing space” it needs to survive.

But how does a free press survive if their means of making money is thwarted by those elected officials on which they report?

Would you, sirs, stoop to such low measures or do you believe like James Madison that, “the right of freely examining public characters and measures, and of free communication among the people thereon, which has ever been justly deemed the only effectual guardian of every other right.”?

We believe you are honorable men and we do believe that you want to do what is best for our state.

This is why in this public way we ask that you stand with the free press and bring your legal and moral power to bare to stop Mr.

Hubbard from continuing to use the power of his office to destroy the free press in Alabama.

We are not so naive as to believe that Mr. Hubbard will relent or renounce his ways of conducting his political affairs. We can only pray that honest men will rise up and say, “Enough is enough.”

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History is on the side of a free people, our country has proven that to be true.

Our country has also proven that a free and unfetter press, however unpopular, is the best defense against the corruption of would-be dictators.

Justice Brandeis, in his concurring opinion in Whitney v. California wrote, “Those who won our independence believed . . . that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government. They recognized the risks to which all human institutions are subject. But they knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies, and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, they eschewed silence coerced by law—the argument of force in its worst form. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed.”

Our reports on Mr. Hubbard have been fact-based, he has countered, not with facts but with attacks on our business.

We have reported Mr. Hubbard’s action, accurately and factually.

He has responded by using his office and state workers in an attempt to ruin our business. No one is safe, when those in government are free to uses their power to destroy.

This is not about one news outlet, or the few people who have been directly effected by the actions of the Speaker. It is about all of us, who we are as a people. It is about what it means to be a good public servant, a good citizen and a good government.

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It is about what what Thomas Jefferson said, “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

We at the Alabama Political Reporter have staked our ground, we will stand and fight.

We ask you sirs will you stand with those of us who believe that good and honest government should only fear the press when that government is neither good nor honest? Or will you sit silently by until there is no more liberty to defend?

Stand up for the people and the press and call down those who would limit freedom of speech and freedom the press, it your duty.

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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