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Opinion | No, Mr. Marshall, it’s you

Attorney General Steve Marshall speaks on a proposed rewrite of the state ethics laws. (Chip Brownlee/APR)

A few hours after Bridgette Gentry Marshall ended her life on Sunday, June 24, her husband, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, approved a press release that exposed her, “long struggle with mental illness.” Just days later on Wednesday the 27, Marshall summoned the state’s news media to the Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Albertville where, in front of the press and broadcast on Facebook Live, he revealed, in intimate detail, her private battles.

Why he felt it necessary to have his office divulge his wife’s, “long struggle with mental illness,” is unclear. He, however, did say the press conference was because of a new article. The news items to which Marshall referred was a non-descriptive report on his wife’s death gathered from a publicly issued police incident report. The press conference went far beyond anything the press had reported or would have had reason to report if Marshall had not recounted his wife’s many personal struggles.

What was the purpose of the press conference?

Marshall apparently blames the media for some of his wife’s problems. “She also was worried for me. Because she had seen the negative articles that were false and malicious, that were written by some that were on blogs and claimed to be journalists.

“And she saw what they were doing, in making up facts, and she was scared that someone was going to write the fact that she was committed and that she had a problem.

“And that those facts were going to be revealed to the world. And she didn’t want that. And so her answer was to leave the state.”

Marshall said his wife left Alabama because she didn’t want the media to report, “that she was committed and that she had a problem.”

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But it was not the media who published his wife’s problems, it was not the media who reported the Marshalls’ troubled marriage, it was not the media who recounted the many ways that Bridgette Marshall suffered. No, Mr. Marshall, it was you, her husband, who did those things.

Former colleagues who have left the attorney general’s office describe Marshall as angry, insensitive and paranoid.

Perhaps this is why he carelessly exposed his wife’s most personal difficulties.

Others say he is driven by an unhealthy ambition in which remaining attorney general is his life’s focus.

Whether callously insensitive or cruelly calculating, his wife’s tragedy is not something that needed airing before she was laid to rest or even now. But it was you, sir, who opened the door.

He can be excused for lashing out at the media. His anger in a time of grief is understandable, but he should not be allowed to lay that blame at the feet of the press when he was the man who exposed her sorrows.

Marshall knew full well that taking the job as attorney general might endanger his marriage, but he did it anyway.

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During a testimony given at Lifepoint Church and published on Yellowhammer News, Marshall talks about how accepting then-Gov. Robert Bentley’s appointment as attorney general would negatively affect his marriage.

“The plan is for me to be around until August when Faith [his daughter] goes to college, and then Bridgette will come down there [Montgomery], and it’s going to be a hard period on my marriage and family… and that’s the area where Satan is going to attack me most.”

While Marshall’s speech was published on April 16, 2018, by Yellowhammer News, it is evident from his remarks that the event was recorded shortly after accepting the job of attorney general.

After taking Bentley’s offer, Marshall told Alabama Political Reporter and others that his wife agreed to him going to Montgomery on the condition that he returns home to Albertville by suppertime every Friday. He also said his wife hated politics and Montgomery.

During his testimony at Lifepoint, Marshall also spoke about the media scrutiny that came along with being attorney general. “We talk about the First Amendment by the way. It’s a wonderful Amendment unless you are on the receiving end of a lot of criticism which is kind of what has been going on a little bit this week, but I think it’s gotten better.”

APR has reported on Marshall many times because he is the state’s Attorney General. APR never published a word about Bridgette Marshall until after her death, and those were just sterile facts. APR has heard many unpleasant things about the Marshalls’ marriage but has never researched, much less reported, a single word about their personal lives.

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APR deals in facts and informed opinions to educate and alert the public about politics and the public officials who shape policy.

Mrs. Marshall was not a public figure as such, but Mr. Marshall is a public officeholder by choice.

While addressing the Lifepoint congregation, Marshall said, God gave him his “dream job.” Along with any high position in public office comes a spotlight of accountability. That is how representative republics work.

At a time when we should be talking about the state’s appalling mental health system, or how to help others who suffer debilitating mental troubles, we are being lectured by a man whose actions have demonstrated a gross lack of empathy.

When APR‘s staff learned of Bridgette Marshall’s death, we purposefully withheld the details of her passing out of respect for her and her family.

With earnest sensitivity, APR has approached reporting on Mrs. Marshall with the utmost concern for her dignity. It is you, Mr. Attorney General, who shamed your wife and exposed her most intimate secrets, and it is you who bears the blame for opening her deepest wounds for the world to see.

It is you, sir. Not the press.

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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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