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Republican Super Majority Leadership Threatens Freedom of Press

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

When the newly elected members of the Republican Senate Caucus met last Wednesday, the pressing business of the day was not the State’s financial worries, a faltering education system, overcrowded prisons or jobs, jobs, jobs. No. One of the more pressing issues for the incoming Senate was who would be granted press credentials to cover the State House.

Since 2013, certain members of the Republican controlled House and Senate have tried to limit press access to only a chosen few. It is not because there are hundreds of journalists trying to huddle into the boxes that line the back of the House and Senate chambers. No. It is because they do not want anyone reporting the whole truth about what occurs, not only on the floor of these institutions, but what goes on behind the scenes.

More specifically, some in the Republican super majority, controlled by Speaker Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, have worked overtly and covertly to destroy the Alabama Political Reporter and its ability to report the facts about their crimes and misdealings.

This is not vain paranoia.

In the past, both Senators and Representatives have stated in private that the Republican leadership wanted to rid the State House of the “Britts.”

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While the plan is fathered by Speaker Hubbard, who stands indicted on 23 counts of felony public corruption, the “mid-wives” in the past were former Rep. Greg Wren and Sen. Phil Williams.

Wren is no longer in the House, after pleading guilty to using his office for personal gain in relation to charges against Speaker Hubbard. Williams, who was recently reelected, is a true believer in an authoritarian, dystopia tomorrow, and therefore, ridding the State House of unfavorable press is a solemn mission he has accepted from his betters, Hubbard and Marsh.

The plan calls for the Senate to define who is a journalist and/or what is a news organization.

They will target what they derisively call “bloggers,” in favor of those who, publish in print or broadcast on TV.

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Defining who is a journalist or what constitutes a news outlet is tricky business and not something that this body would seemed fully prepared to accomplish on constitutional grounds.

At the end of 1776, there were roughly around 75 newspapers in the Colonies. Much of what the framers of the constitution had in mind when they enshrined Freedom of the Press into our National fabric was, based on the licensing and censorship laws of the 17th century.

Writing for the Atlantic, Rebecca J. Rosen states, “When Thomas Jefferson wrote about press freedom, the idea of a professional journalist didn’t exist in any modern sense. His ideas were motivated by the dual legacies of licensing and censorship. In the 17th century, censors regulated presses so tightly that only licensed printers could operate and they could publish only books explicitly approved by the queen.”

(See article here.)

It would seem that the leadership of the Alabama House and Senate want to recapture the Spirit of ’76, not from the position of the Founding Fathers but from the standpoint of the monarchy.

At the time of our Nation’s founding, it was often the work of the “lonely pamphleteer” who set in motion great change. Would the current Republican super majority jail Thomas Paine, who one could argue was little more than a rouge blogger? Would they ban him from the State House?

In 1792 Paine was tried and found guilty in absentia by the British Crown for the crime of seditious libel. Are our republican lawmakers ready to make these charges as well?

1972, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a “lonely pamphleteer” deserves the same First Amendment protection as the mainstream media.

The phrase comes from the 1972 decision in Branzburg v. Hayes, in which Justice Byron White writing for the majority expressed the the right of, “the lonely pamphleteer who uses carbon paper or a mimeograph just as much as of the large metropolitan publisher who utilizes the latest photo composition methods.”

This would certainly apply to those who use a digital format also used by the corporate press.

This year, the online only publication ProPublica, won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism. This speaks profoundly as to how the news delivery system has changed.

So, it is that the State lawmakers who to try to exclude those who do not tow the party line are little more than the children of all the petty tyrants who have come before them.

But, what can be expected of a State in which not one elected official has called for the removal of a man who has been charged by the state with 23 felony counts of public corruption?

Just the mere threat of denying press credentials is enough to send some reporters and publisher running for cover.

James Madison said that, “the right of freely examining public characters and measures, and of free communication among the people thereon, … has ever been justly deemed the only effectual guardian of every other right.”

Except at the Alabama State House.

The Senate and House leaders are giddy with their increased numbers and are more than likely to feel embolden to do as they please with regards to banning the Alabama Political Reporter from the press boxes.

However, this will not deter us from covering the rogue regime from the public gallery and in the faux-marble halls.

Of course if they move forward with such actions, this will trigger legal challenges to their unconstitutional actions. This would be an excellent test case for the Justice Moore’s Court as well as the U.S. Supreme Court. In a State that is infamous for New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which was the landmark case which established the actual malice standard, that had to be met before press reports about public officials could be considered to be defamation and libel; perhaps it would be fitting for Alabama Political Reporter v. Alabama Senate, to be another legacy of our State’s many wrongs, made right by a dogged press and the justice system.

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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National

Today is Thanksgiving

Today is a national and state holiday. Schools, banks, government offices and many private businesses are closed.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Four hundred years ago, on Nov. 11, 1620, after 66 days at sea, a group of English settlers landed near what is today Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Onboard the Mayflower were 102 men, women, and children, including one baby born during the Atlantic crossing, who made up the Pilgrims.

The Mayflower, captained by Christopher Jones, had been bound for the mouth of the Hudson River. The ship took a northerly course to avoid pirates, but the decision to avoid the then widely traveled sea lanes to the New World took the ship into bad weather, which had blown the Mayflower miles off course and left the ship damaged. Off Cape Cod, the adult males in the group made the fateful decision to build an entire colony where none had existed prior. They wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact.

“In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc. Having undertaken for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together in a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.”

After a few weeks off Cape Cod, they sailed up the coast until they reached Plymouth. There they found a Wampanoag Indian village that had been abandoned due to some sort of plague. During the Winter of 1620-1621 they lived aboard the Mayflower and would row to shore each day to build houses. Finally, they had built enough houses to actually move to the colony, but the cold, damp conditions aboard the ship had been costly.

Some 28 men, 13 women (one of them in child birth), and 8 children died in that winter. Governor John Carver would die in April. His widow, Kathrine White Carver, would follow a few weeks later. There is some recent archaeological evidence suggesting that some of the dead were butchered and eaten by the survivors.

The Mayflower and her crew left for England on April 5, 1621, never to return.

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About 40 of the Pilgrims were religious Separatists, members of a Puritan sect that had split from the Church of England, in defiance of English law. In 1609, they immigrated to Holland to practice their religion but ran into problems there too. Others in the group had remained part of the Church of England but were sympathetic to their Separatist friends. They did not call themselves Pilgrims, that term was adopted at the bicentennial for the Mayflower voyage. The members of core Separatist sect referred to themselves as “Saints” and people not in their sect as “Strangers.”

In March 1621, an English speaking Native American, named Samoset, visited the Plymouth colony and asked for beer. He spent the night talking with the settlers and later introduced them to Squanto, who spoke even better English. Squanto introduced them to the chief of the Wampanoag, Massasoit.

Squanto moved in with the Pilgrims, serving as their advisor and translator. The friendly Wampanoag tribe taught the Pilgrims how to hunt and grow crops. The two groups began trading furs with each other.

William Bradford, a Separatist who helped draft the Mayflower Compact, became the longtime Plymouth Governor. He was also the writer of the first history of the Plymouth Colony and the Mayflower. Bradford’s more notable descendants include author, dictionary writer and scholar Noah Webster; TV chef Julia Child; and Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

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In the fall of 1621, 399 years ago, the Pilgrims invited their Wampanoag Indian friends to a feast celebrating their first harvest and a year in the New World with a three-day festival. This has become known as the first Thanksgiving.

Today is a national and state holiday. Schools, banks, government offices and many private businesses are closed.

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Health

Alabama hospitals nearing COVID-19 summer surge levels

Wednesday was the 18th straight day with more than 1,000 people in hospitals in Alabama with COVID-19. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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UAB Chief of Hospital Medicine Dr. Kierstin Kennedy.

Alabama hospitals reported caring for 1,483 people infected with COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest number of patients since Aug. 11, when the state was enduring its summer surge. Wednesday was also the 18th straight day with more than 1,000 people in hospitals in Alabama with COVID-19. 

The seven-day average of hospitalizations was 1,370 on Wednesday, the 36th straight day of that average rising. The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 2,453 new cases Wednesday. The 14-day average of new cases was — for the eighth day in a row — at a record high of 2,192. 

Across the country, more than 80,000 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 on Tuesday, a record high and the 15th straight day of record hospitalizations nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project, a coronavirus tracking website.

The CDC this week recommended people not travel for Thanksgiving to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

“The only way for us to successfully get through this pandemic is if we work together,” said Dr. Kierstin Kennedy, UAB’s chief of hospital medicine, in a message Tuesday. “There’s no one subset of the community that’s going to be able to carry the weight of this pandemic and so we all have to take part in wearing our masks, keeping our distance, making sure that we’re washing our hands.” 

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Kennedy said the best way she can describe the current situation is “Russian Roulette.” 

“Not only in the form of, maybe you get it and you don’t get sick or maybe you get it and you end up in the ICU,” Kennedy said, “but if you do end up sick, are you going to get to the hospital at a time when we’ve got capacity, and we’ve got enough people to take care of you? And that is a scary thought.” 

The Alabama Department of Public Health on Wednesday reported an increase of 60 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. Deaths take time to confirm and the date a death is reported does not necessarily reflect the date on which the individual died. At least 23 of those deaths occurred in November, and 30 occurred in other months. Seven were undated. Data for the last two to three weeks are incomplete.

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As of Wednesday, at least 3,532 Alabamians have died of COVID-19, according to the Department of Public Health. During November, at least 195 people have died in Alabama from COVID-19. But ADPH is sure to add more to the month’s tally in the weeks to come as data becomes more complete.

ADPH on Wednesday announced a change that nearly doubled the department’s estimate of people who have recovered from COVID-19, bringing that figure up to 161,946. That change also alters APR’s estimates of how many cases are considered active.

ADPH’s Infectious Disease and Outbreak team “updated some parameters” in the department’s Alabama NEDSS Base Surveillance System, which resulted in the increase, the department said.

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Corruption

Judge reduces former Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard’s prison sentence

The trial court judge ordered his 48-month sentence reduced to 28 months.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard was booked into jail to begin serving his four-year sentence for ethics violations in September. (VIA LEE COUNTY DETENTION CENTER)

Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker on Wednesday reduced former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s prison sentence from four years to just more than two. 

Walker in his order filed Wednesday noted that Hubbard was sentenced to fours years on Aug. 9, 2016, after being convicted of 12 felony ethics charges for misusing his office for personal gain, but that on Aug. 27, 2018, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed convictions on one counts. The Alabama Supreme Court later struck down another five counts.

Hubbard’s attorneys on Sept. 18 filed a motion to revise his sentence, to which the state objected, according to court records, arguing that “Hubbard’s refusal to admit any guilt or express any remorse makes him wholly unfit to receive any leniency.”   

Walker in his order cited state code and wrote that the power of the courts to grant probation “is a matter of grace and lies entirely within the sound discretion of the trial court.” 

“Furthermore, the Court must consider the nature of the Defendant’s crimes. Acts of public corruption harm not just those directly involved, but harm society as a whole,” Walker wrote.

Walker ruled that because six of Hubbard’s original felony counts were later reversed, his sentence should be changed to reflect that, and ordered his 48-month sentence reduced to 28 months. 

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Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Wednesday said Walker’s decision to reduce Hubbard’s sentence was the wrong message to send.

“Mr. Hubbard was convicted of the intentional violation of Alabama’s ethics laws, the same laws he championed in the legislature only later to brazenly disregard for his personal enrichment,” Marshall said in a statement. “Even as he sits in state prison as a six-time felon, Mike Hubbard continues to deny any guilt or offer any remorse for his actions in violation of the law.  Reducing his original four-year sentence sends precisely the wrong message to would-be violators of Alabama’s ethics laws.”

Hubbard was booked into the Lee County Jail on Sept. 11, more than four years after his conviction. On Nov. 5 he was taken into custody by the Department of Corrections.

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News

Nick Saban tests positive for COVID-19, has “mild symptoms”

It’s unlikely Saban will be able to coach in person during Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Auburn.

Eddie Burkhalter

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University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban.

University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban has tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the Iron Bowl and has mild symptoms, according to a statement from the university on Wednesday. 

“This morning we received notification that Coach Saban tested positive for COVID-19,” said Dr. Jimmy Robinson and Jeff Allan, associate athletic director, in the statement. “He has very mild symptoms, so this test will not be categorized as a false positive. He will follow all appropriate guidelines and isolate at home.” 

Saban had previously tested positive before Alabama’s game against Georgia but was asymptomatic and subsequently tested negative three times, a sign that the positive test could have been a false positive. He returned to coach that game. 

It’s unlikely Saban will be able to coach in person during Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Auburn, given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for quarantining after testing positive and with symptoms. Neither Saban nor the university had spoken about that possibility as of Wednesday morning.

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