By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter
One of my great editors from my newspaper days, Wendell Givens (God rest his soul), once showed me a copy of an old newspaper, probably from the Civil War era.
The newspaper had a sensational headline in a large font across the top. Underneath was a smaller deck, but still with more sensational words.
Then, right before the story started, just above the lede paragraph, were the words in a small font: “Important if true.”
I loved it. If it’s not true, it’s not important. Some newspapers during the Civil War used this gimmick because many stories were based on incomplete or completely inaccurate reports. There was no Facebook or Twitter. Instagram and the speed of online news was more than a century away. News back then, accurate or inaccurate, took a while to get around.
And even when the news was reported, whether it be casualty lists from the war or which side won a particular battle, “Important if true” warned the reader that, well, this report might not be true.
Today, we are an “Important if true” state.
We know first lady Dianne Bentley is calling off her 50-year marriage to Gov. Robert Bentley. We don’t really know the reason. What we do know from the initial divorce filing is that Mrs. Bentley “states that there is such a complete incompatibility of temperament that the parties can no longer live together and their marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown and that further attempts at reconciliation are impractical and not in the best interests of the parties.” The filing also says “there exists a conflict of personalities which destroys the legitimate aims of matrimony and all possibilities of reconciliation are futile.”
Rumors and innuendo are ugly, yet, they’re out there: That the governor has been having an affair with one of his advisers. Yeah, I know. But . . .
Important if true.
It is important and true that the governor’s office hasn’t confirmed or denied the rumors. And the Bentley camp says his political enemies are behind the rumors because he wants to raise taxes (a responsible position) to ensure the state General Fund budget (SGF) isn’t a complete disaster.
Fine. Show us. Who are these enemies who created an affair to wreck the governor’s ability to govern? The residents of Alabama deserve to know.
Important if true.
But we just don’t know. Nobody has come forward with concrete proof of this political conspiracy, any more than anybody has come forward with proof Bentley is having an affair.
The governor’s office issued this statement: “The Governor asks that you please respect the privacy of the Bentley family during this difficult time.”
When does a governor, who sought the state’s highest office twice, believe he is entitled to privacy? The very nature of being a governor is public. It’s a public office. And that means being public.
No public figure can have a reasonable expectation that he (or she) is entitled to “privacy.”
So the rumors, the innuendo, aren’t going away. They’ll just continue to spread, like a California wildfire, until the governor directly addresses the question. Preferably in a press conference, where questions can be asked. And answered.
“But I want to say one thing to the Alabama people,” Bentley could say. “I want you to listen to me. I’ll say it again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman. . . . These allegations are false, and I need to go back to work for the Alabama people. Thank you!”
Bentley could do that. And it would be important if true.
We need to know, from the governor or from Dianne Bentley. Or the alleged mistress. A very public 50-year marriage is done for. If Bentley did, indeed, have an affair with his adviser, there could be legal implications.
If Bentley used state resources to help facilitate this affair, this is bigger than him simply being a horny old man. It could remove him from office.
And if this is all a conspiracy to bring Bentley down, is Dianne Bentley part of it? Something catastrophic happened to end this five-decades long marriage. And Alabama deserves to know what that is.
With House Speaker Mike Hubbard wounded by 23 felony indictments for corruption, with Gov. Bentley hobbled by allegations, true or not, that he wrecked his marriage because of an affair, Alabama has a serious leadership vacuum as another special session to fix the General Fund looms.
At a time when our state needs credible leadership to fix a budget, to sort through serious financial issues, most of our leaders are forced to the sidelines because of alleged corruption, alleged affairs.
We are in deep, and our leaders keep digging the hole.
And that is important – and, sadly, true.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes this column every Wednesday for Alabama Political Reporter.
Email: [email protected].