Shortly after the Anniston Star posted a story that Washington Post Executive Editor Martin “Marty” Baron was coming to Anniston to deliver the annual Ayers Lecture, the rumblings started.
On the surface, it appeared to be an insult to the many women, including my wife, Veronica, who were abused by H. Brandt Ayers, former publisher and chair of Consolidated Publishing, which owns the Star and other newspapers.
Ayers long has physically assaulted women by hitting them on the butt with a paddle or other available object against their will, often forcefully.
In Veronica’s case, Ayers struck her 18 times with a metal ruler (a pica pole) in the newsroom of the Star in the mid-1970s when she was a young reporter. Veronica tried to fight off Ayers, but he was strong and she was overwhelmed. She wrote about this assault in the February 2018 issue of B-Metro magazine. Unlike other Ayers’ assaults, Veronica had a witness, a newly hired reporter working in an unobserved corner of the newsroom.
When the story by former Star reporter Eddie Burkhalter broke on Alabama Political Reporter Jan. 1, 2018, Ayers at first denied assaulting any reporter. In the next couple days, Ayers admitted hitting another female reporter and, as for my wife’s claims, he said “let the accusation stand,” in effect, admitting the assault.
In the days that followed more reporters and even women who worked in the Ayers’ home came forward. We learned Ayers’ nickname among some people in Anniston is “Spanky.”
So we wondered why in the world would Marty Baron, one of the most respected newspaper editors in the business, grace a lecture with the name of “Ayers” attached to it. The Washington Post has been one of the media outlets in the forefront of the #MeToo movement. The newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of former Chief Justice Roy Moore’s pursuit and abuse of teenaged girls when Moore worked in the district attorney’s office in Etowah County.
As it finally turns out, Baron won’t be delivering the Ayers Lecture today. He said an illness forced him to cancel.
Baron was originally scheduled to deliver the Ayers lecture last year, but that event was canceled after the Ayers was exposed as a serial abuser and resigned as chairman of Consolidated Publishing. This past weekend, Ayers was one of the 200-plus men spotlighted in The New York Times quitting their jobs because of accusations of vile acts against women. Baron said via email that he didn’t cancel his appearance last year: “It wasn’t my call,” Baron said. “The invitation was shifted to this year. I said OK.”
Except for some, it wasn’t OK. Burkhalter actually quit his job at the Star because the newspaper told him to stop reporting on the story and to quit speaking to my wife. The Star was trying to bury a story instead of doing what a good newspaper like the Washington Post does: buckle down and report it, accurately and as quickly as possible.
After APR published Burkhalter’s account, the Star rushed out a story a couple hours later. The Ayers story trended nationally and internationally: Another powerful man caught doing terrible stuff to vulnerable women was forced to resign.
So here we are this week, the executive editor of the Washington Post, set to deliver the Ayers Lecture in Anniston this afternoon – before illness caused him to cancel.
Baron was eloquent in defending his decision to come:
“I am fulfilling a commitment I made a long time ago,” Baron said in an email after I contacted him. “I am appearing because I respect the Anniston Star’s history of advocating for civil rights, cultivating outstanding journalists and sustaining vibrant local journalism, which is critically important. It’s also an opportunity to speak on behalf of our profession in a part of the country where journalists are an object of particular suspicion and to represent the work of The Washington Post. I also will be able to meet with students. I see real value — and derive satisfaction — in encouraging the next generation of journalists.”
True, the Star has an awesome history. But that’s what it is: History.
I’m proud of the three-plus years I worked at the newspaper, and I made relationships that remain even today. I met Veronica when I worked at the Star and she worked at the Consolidated Publishing-owned Daily Home of Talladega.
But I wasn’t at the Star long before I began hearing about Ayers’ spanking fetish. It was fairly common knowledge in the newsroom, and female employees were counseled not to be alone with the publisher. Veronica told me about her being assaulted by Ayers before we were married.
I understand that with my wife directly involved, I am not unbiased. But, then, I’m writing informed opinion, by its very nature a biased form of journalism. In my first email to Baron, I offered that “I wish you weren’t legitimizing the Ayers’s (sic) abuse of many women by appearing at their lecture Thursday.”
Baron, probably rightly so, was offended: “Your suggestion that I am legitimizing abuse is insulting and runs counter to everything I have stood for throughout my career.” Indeed, Baron played perhaps the most important role at the Boston Globe nearly two decades ago in exposing the Catholic priests’ abuse of girls and boys, an awful situation that continues to this day. That work by the Globe was portrayed in the movie Spotlight, released in 2015.
Still, it seemed as if Baron were somewhat blind to the feelings of the women Ayers’ abused. No doubt, the living Ayerses, including Brandy, were likely to be at the event. Certainly the new chair, Josie Ayers – Brandy’s wife – would attend. The decisionmakers who killed Burkhalter’s story would likely be there. Baron did say he would praise Burkhalter’s reporting – if he were asked about it.
That didn’t sit well with Burkhalter.
“The week before I learned about the allegations against Ayers,” Burkhalter said, “I cowrote an article on an Anniston-area woman who became the fifth to accuse then Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual assault. As I thought about how we should cover this possible story, I thought of using the Washington Post’s great work on Moore as a template.”
And then: “To think that Baron will speak at the Ayers Lecture, possibly shake the hand of one of the two editors who ordered me to drop the story, saddens me,” Burkhalter said. “I’ve always looked up to the work they do at the Post, and the decision to speak at an Ayers lecture is a slap in the face to all the women Ayers assaulted, and to the profession I was proud to have spent almost a decade in.”
Here’s how two of the women abused by Ayers viewed Baron’s appearance: “At first, Mr. Baron’s scheduled talk saddened and sickened me,” said an unnamed victim from the mid-1970s. “How could he come to Anniston to honor the Ayers family? Just this week the New York Times listed pictures of prominent men who had been exposed through the #MeToo movement. There was Brandy Ayers among those with mug shots in The Times. But now, I am almost grateful to Mr. Baron because it brings to light once again the sick story of how Brandy sexually assaulted young female employees for years, got away with it and was so arrogant throughout his life. He was a predator. When his newspaper had a chance to be a fine paper covering the story, they recoiled and protected the predator.”
And my wife, Veronica, who is the public face of the women victimized by Ayers:
“When I first read about Martin Baron giving the annual Ayers Lecture in Anniston, I was sorely disappointed. The Washington Post has been at the forefront of covering the #MeToo movement, even breaking the story about Roy Moore’s predilections toward teen girls. I thought the editors there understood, but obviously I was wrong. Then, I found out that Mr. Baron has cancelled due to health issues. I am genuinely sorry that he is sick, and I do hope he gets better soon. He’s an important leader in our profession.”
Veronica continues: “I like to believe that he (Baron) thought about what message his visit, even though he may not have intended it that way, would be sending: That it’s OK to abuse women employees because after a bit of discomfort, you can go back to living your life.”
The kind of abuse bad men like Ayers dishes out does not go away in a year. It doesn’t go away in a lifetime. The many women Ayers assaulted will never forget what happens when a powerful man who held their careers in his hands gets exposed.
No apologies. No repentance. Just back to normal.
His wife is the new “boss.” His presses keep turning.
But other lives are altered, forever so. There is no back to normal for them. Normal died at the end of a pica pole in the newsroom, or in a lonely office where the big man ruled.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]
Opinion | Counting on good Neighbors
Even though Neighbors is likely a long shot, he’s at least got a shot. The people of District 4 need to vote in their best interest this year, not to help Aderholt get richer off the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
There’s a lot of reasons we know it’s an election year — political ads on television, presidential debates, Donald Trump super-spreader campaign rallies.
Oh, and Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt is back in his congressional district. Every couple years, Aderholt shows up. So he can “appear” connected to Alabama’s 4th Congressional District.
The 4th Congressional District starts just north of Birmingham and stretches horizontally across the state. The district includes Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb, Etowah, Fayette, Franklin, Lamar, Lawrence, Marion, Marshall, Walker and Winston counties as well as parts of Blount, Cherokee, Jackson and Tuscaloosa counties.
Aderholt pops in for a few campaign events, and then pops out to his real residence in suburban Washington D.C. He’s no more an Alabamian than Florida’s Tommy Tuberville.
Aderholt does have opposition this year in Democratic nominee Rick Neighbors, a Vietnam veteran who truly helps his neighbors. Early in the pandemic, Neighbors was passing out masks door-to-door in the district. He’s continued to help his neighbors throughout the pandemic with anything he can do.
“Being in Congress means being here and working with the people,” Neighbors says on his website. “In 24 years, Rob Aderholt has left us behind to focus on his radical agenda and gotten rich in Congress.”
That’s from a campaign website, but it’s absolutely true. Aderholt is still talking about expanding broadband access in his rural district. It’s one of the few issues he talks about every two years, for 24 years, without ever getting anything done.
Seriously. Name something Aderholt has done for his district or Alabama in the more than two decades he’s been in Congress. I won’t hold my breath.
And if you don’t think Neighbors’s campaign isn’t a little worrisome for Aderholt supporters, why are all the Neighbors signs disappearing from his district?
Adults, acting like sixth-graders, love to pull up political signs. Even in my comfortably Democratic neighborhood, some Doug Jones for Senate signs disappear. And, oddly in my neighborhood, I saw an actual Tommy Tuberville sign that had been pulled down in front of some misplaced person’s yard. It happens on both sides.
But in the 4th Congressional District, and especially in the Cullman County area, it’s hard for Neighbors and his staff to keep signs in place.
“Cullman has come down, and we have had to replace almost all our signs in Winston County,” said Neighbors’s campaign manager Lisa Ward. As for Winston County, Ward said, “we were told those are gone again.”
Can anybody be more junior high?
“We’ve seen places where our sign was, and it’s been replaced by Aderholt signs,” Ward said. “When we put signs out, we leave his and put ours next to his. We joke and say everyone needs friendly neighbors around.”
The Neighbors campaign does have the right spirit. They just work to replace the signs that disappear. But it is aggravating, to say the least.
“Someone told us that Aderholt is really worried if people find out he has an opponent or doesn’t live here he could struggle,” said Ward. “That’s why he’s not mentioning (Neighbors’s) campaign. And why we think they’re taking his signs down. So people don’t know. It’s really about people not getting a chance to know they have a choice. And there is no time to hear who he is.”
Well, here’s who he is: Neighbors served three tours in Vietnam during that war, enlisting when he was 17 years old. After the service, he got a college degree, then spent 35 years in the apparel business in North Alabama.
Neighbors and his wife, Judy, have three children, and Neighbors recently earned an MBA from the University of North Alabama.
Neighbors would be a breath of fresh air for Alabama in Washington. He won’t live there. He’ll be grounded in the 4th Congressional District.
If Aderholt wins, we won’t see him again until 2022. Twenty-four years in Congress is plenty of time to get something done. But with Aderholt, there’s not much to show for all that time.
And even though Neighbors is likely a long shot, he’s at least got a shot. The people of the 4th District need to vote in their best interest this year, not to help Aderholt get richer off the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
Opinion | Election less than two weeks away
If the Republicans lose these three and one more, then Sen. Shelby loses the chairmanship of appropriations and Alabama loses all of its power in Washington.
Our 2020 presidential election is less than two weeks away. We Americans will either elect Republican Donald Trump for another four-year term or Democrat Joe Biden.
In Alabama, we will either elect Republican Tommy Tuberville or Democratic incumbent Doug Jones for six years to serve with our iconic Senior Sen. Richard Shelby. The winner will be elected to a six-year term in this august body.
Several of you took issue with my statement last week that a vote for the liberal Democrat Doug Jones is a vote against Richard Shelby and the state of Alabama. Allow me to clarify and explain to you as simply as I can why that is true and why I reiterate that declaration.
The United States Senate is steeped in and governed by time honored rules and traditions. The most revered and sacred shrine is the vestige of seniority. The rule of seniority is paramount. The longer you serve in the Senate the more powerful you become. Some become more powerful than others. Richard Shelby has become the most powerful and consequential U.S. Senator to have represented our state in Alabama history.
In my 2015 book, Of Goats and Governors: Six Decades of Colorful Alabama Political Stories, I have a chapter titled, “Alabama’s Three Greatest Senators.” They are Lister Hill, John Sparkman and Richard Shelby.
Sen. Lister Hill was an austere, aristocratic gentleman who was renowned for health care. He was the author of the famous Hill-Burton Act and the father of the renowned UAB Medical Center. He served 30-years in the U.S. Senate.
Sen. John Sparkman served in the U.S. Senate for 32-years. He was from Huntsville and is credited with being the father of Redstone Arsenal.
If I were writing that chapter today, Sen. Richard Shelby would be alone as Alabama’s most consequential, powerful senator in our state’s history. He is in a league of his own. During his 34-year career in the Senate, Shelby has become renowned as the bearer of good tidings and federal dollars to the Heart of Dixie. If Lister Hill was the father of UAB and John Sparkman the father of Redstone Arsenal, then Richard Shelby can very aptly be referred to as the grandfather as well as great uncle to these two premier Alabama institutions. Richard Shelby is the reason UAB and Huntsville’s Space and Rocket Center are Alabama’s most prestigious as well as Alabama’s two largest employers.
Huntsville has become Alabama’s fastest growing and most prosperous city and one of America’s brightest high-tech destination locations. The City of Huntsville is soon to become the second home of the FBI. The state-of-the-art Huntsville FBI cybersecurity headquarters will employ over 2,000 very highly paid individuals. This coup for Alabama is due to one person – our senior Sen. Richard Shelby.
It is not just Huntsville and Birmingham that have benefited from Shelby’s prowess and power, it is the entire state. Every corner of the state can point to a Shelby generated road, building, industry, or military installation.
You might be asking, how has Shelby accomplished so much for our state? It is simple. It is federal dollars. Then you might ask, how does Shelby bring so many federal dollars to Alabama? It is simple. He is Chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee. He appropriates the United States budget, or in other words, he controls the federal checkbook.
In addition to being Chairman of Appropriations, Sen. Shelby is Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. If you do not think that is invaluable to Alabama, you best think again. There is no state in the nation that benefits more through defense preparedness and dollars in the United States than the good ole Heart of Dixie.
Under the Rules of the Senate, the political party that has the majority of members presides and makes the rules. More importantly, for Alabama, the majority party gets all the committee chairmanships. Our Senior Sen. Richard Shelby is a Republican. Currently, Republicans have a slim 53-to-47 majority in the Senate. There are three Republican incumbent senators in Arizona, Colorado, and Maine, who are in serious jeopardy of losing. If the Republicans lose these three and one more, then Sen. Shelby loses the chairmanship of appropriations and Alabama loses all of its power in Washington. Suppose your vote for Doug Jones, a liberal, national, California Democrat, is the deciding vote that puts the Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate and puts Richard Shelby and Alabama out to pasture.
See you next week.
Opinion | Electing Tuberville could cost Alabama billions
If your conscience or decency isn’t enough, vote your wallets.
Money matters in Alabama. Oh, I know that we’re not supposed to say that out loud. That we’re supposed to promote our image of southern grace and hospitality, of churchiness and care, of rich people never getting into heaven.
But the truth is greed is our biggest character flaw in this state.
Every problem we have can be traced back to our unending thirst for dollars. Our ancestors didn’t keep slaves because they hated black people. They did it because they loved money and the difference in skin color gave them an excuse — a really, really stupid excuse — to mistreat other humans to take advantage of the free labor.
Our rivers and lakes and dirt aren’t filled with poisons from factories because we’re too dumb to understand how this works. They’re that way because our politicians are paid off to turn a blind eye to the dumping of toxic waste.
Our schools aren’t terrible because we have dumb kids or bad teachers. It’s because we’re too cheap to pay for them.
You see what I mean? It’s our lust for the almighty dollar. Every time.
We love money.
Which makes me seriously wonder why so many people in this state are going to vote for a man who will cost us all — and especially our biggest businesses — so much of it.
Tommy Tuberville will be like a money vacuum for Alabama. Billions of dollars will vanish for this welfare state that relies so much on federal contracts, federal programs and federal dollars.
If you doubt this, don’t simply take my word for it. Just Google up the press releases from Sen. Richard Shelby’s office from the last, say, six years — the most recent span in which Republicans have controlled the Senate.
Almost every single release is about Shelby securing millions or billions of dollars in federal funding for this project or that project, getting the state’s share of dollars from a variety of different programs and initiatives implemented by Congress.
Shelby and I obviously have different political viewpoints, but it’s hard to argue that the man has been successful in securing money for Alabama. Lots and lots of money.
Money for airports and roads. Money for defense contractors in Huntsville. Money for the port in Mobile. Money for car manufacturers. Money for farmers.
Money. Money. Money.
Shelby can do that because of three things: He’s on the right committees, he’s a member of the party in power and he’s liked by the right people.
Tuberville will be none of those things.
Most pundits are predicting that Democrats will take over the Senate, tipping the balance of power and giving the party control of both houses and the White House.
That automatically means that a first-time senator in the opposition party will have little to no say in any decisions.
But what’s worse for Tuberville, and for Alabama, is that other Republicans don’t like him either.
Establishment Republicans essentially openly campaigned against Tuberville in the primary, tossing tens of millions of dollars behind his opponent, Jeff Sessions. They even favored third-place finisher Bradley Byrne over Tuberville.
It’s not hard to understand why — he’s clueless.
I know that’s a Doug Jones talking point, but this one happens to be true. Let me give you an example: On Thursday, Tuberville tweeted out what was meant to be a shot at Jones, claiming that Alabama’s current senator wouldn’t meet with Trump’s Supreme Court nominee because Jones knows “he won’t have much time in the Senate to work with her.”
If you’re unaware, the Senate doesn’t “work with” the Supreme Court. They’re separate entities.
Combine that with his other nonsensical answers on COVID relief, school reopenings, the Voting Rights Act, senate committee assignments, education, foreign affairs — really, the list is almost endless — and it shows how little work he’s put in over the last two years to understand this job he’s applying for.
Now, that might be just fine with Alabama voters who care more about the party affiliation and owning the libs, but it’s not OK with grownups who take the job of running the country seriously.
And those people — both Rs and Ds — don’t like Tuberville or his here-for-an-easy-check-like-always approach to one of the most serious jobs in the world.
He will be frozen out of the most sought after committee assignments. His voice will carry zero weight. His presence will be all but forgotten.
And in the process, so will Alabama. Especially in two years, when Shelby retires and his senior status is lost.
In the meantime, Jones is highly respected by senators on both sides of the aisle. He already has a presence on top committees, and is so well liked within the Democratic Party that he’s on the short list to be Joe Biden’s AG, should he not be re-elected.
The choice seems pretty simple. On the one hand is a competent, prepared and serious statesman who knows how to maneuver his colleagues to get the most for the state. On the other hand is an unprepared, uncaring, lazy carpetbagger who doesn’t understand any process.
If your conscience or decency isn’t enough, vote your wallets.
Opinion | Laura Casey offers sunshine for the PSC
Last time she ran for PSC president in 2016, Cavanaugh didn’t have an opponent. This time, however, she does.
Editor’s note: This is an opinion column. APR does not endorse political candidates.
During every big election cycle, Public Service Commission President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, a former chair of the Alabama Republican Party, sticks her finger out of her Montgomery offices to see which way the wind is blowing. If there’s a political position that looks possible, Cavanaugh steps out to take a run at it.
Last time she showed up, it was to test a run for governor in 2018. But that balloon quickly lost its air, so she decided to try for lieutenant governor, losing in a runoff to current Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth. Twinkle hurried back to her safety zone, the Alabama PSC. The pay is good, and work isn’t really heavy lifting – except when lifting Alabama Power’s rates to whatever level the company asks for.
Last time she ran for PSC president in 2016, Cavanaugh didn’t have an opponent. This time, however, she does. Perhaps her safe place isn’t so safe anymore.
Cavanaugh’s Democratic Party opponent is Laura Casey, a former actuary and attorney who moved with her husband, Sean, to Alabama in 2016.
Casey is known as the woman who tried to record hearings at the Public Service Commission but was denied the right to record the public meetings. She sued the PSC, and the Alabama Supreme Court, very Republican and very partisan, sided with Cavanaugh and the other two Republican PSC members.
A citizen of Alabama is prevented from recording a public meeting of the PSC: That’s outrageous, and if we had a more active legacy press in Alabama, that would have dominated headlines. But the issue got little notice, and now people who attend PSC meetings aren’t allowed to even take out their cell phones during hearings.
“I worry that if people don’t start to take an everyday, year-long concern about energy policy, then it may be too late,” Casey said Wednesday in a telephone interview from her home in Hoover.
If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for Casey to challenge Cavanaugh. She hasn’t run into Cavanaugh on the campaign trail because Casey mostly speaks to Democratic Party groups. Likewise, Cavanaugh may be spending her time before Republican groups. There just isn’t much of a campaign trail.
“As far as I’m aware, she’s not really out there,” Casey said. “There is nobody to organize a debate.” Speaking before public service clubs or organizations isn’t an option because of the plague.
“Sometimes it’s like screaming into the wind,” Casey said.
But Casey agreed: Cavanaugh is really using the PSC as a place to rest until she finds the next political job to run for.
“That’s what I’ve been able to observe,” Casey said. “She’s able to give all the powerful interests in Alabama whatever they want. She’s just the consummate gatekeeper to keep them happy. She’s the perfect gatekeeper, too. Net power rates have gone up 20 percent since she’s been on the commission.”
Cavanaugh first joined the PSC in 2010. In 2012, she unseated PSC President Lucy Baxley for president. All the time, at each big election, she looks for something else, but that something else hasn’t been there for her yet.
So Cavanaugh continues to run for PSC and continues to cover for Alabama Power Co. and other Big Mules in Alabama. Cavanaugh has no trouble charging Alabamians extra for Alabama Power if they install solar panels on their homes. She has no problem keeping the public away from the back-room deals the PSC makes with the corporations they are supposed to regulate.
Plainly put, Casey said the Public Service Commission “is a rubber stamp. It’s the definition of a rubber stamp.”
Until Alabama voters stop their straight-ticket voting or begin to listen to other voices and ideas, it’ll be difficult for a Democrat to change that rubber-stamp culture we find throughout government in Alabama.
Meanwhile, Alabama Power Co. is guaranteed a profit, no matter how much money they spend to generate power. It’s built into the system. Alabama Power doesn’t “own the sun, and they don’t own the (solar) panels,” Casey said. But, “they get to recoup all the money they’ve lost for not being able to sell you power.”
Meanwhile, Cavanaugh remains opposed to public hearings, Casey said. “We have not had one in 40 years. But nobody challenges her. The three Republican commissioners just want to keep it all behind closed doors.”
If you care about your energy bills, you should look closely at who is running the Public Service Commission. Find out more about Laura Casey at her campaign website: caseyforal.com.