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Opinion | The fallen Star

Joey Kennedy

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At the beginning of last year, when former Consolidated Publishing chairman and Anniston Star publisher H. Brandt Ayers basically admitted to abusing at least two of his former female employees by spanking them decades ago, those of us who followed the story knew this was just the cliché’d tip of the iceberg.

When my wife, Veronica Pike Kennedy, told her story in B-Metro Magazine in February of last year, other women who said Ayers abused them came forward. Some worked in Ayers’ home, while others were young journalists who had at one time worked for the Star.

Clearly, the abuse extended far beyond the mid-1970s. It may have been happening earlier than that, but we know Ayers’ awful behavior continued for years (decades?) after.

Yet, the story appears to have died, frozen with the abuse of three women in the mid-1970s. Alabama Political Reporter broke the story on Jan. 1, 2018. The Anniston Star was in a position to break the story, too, but instead tried to kill it.

But what media outlet is in a better place to report the entire history of Ayers’ abuse than the Star? Presumably, the Star has employee records and could canvass former workers just so they could receive, if nothing else, an apology from the newspaper for failing to protect them when they worked there. Of course, not even Veronica, public and on the record, has been given that courtesy.

And the newspaper still has Ayers; ask him.

While Ayers at first denied he’d abused any of his employees, he finally admitted to going to the apartment of one and spanking her.

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Concerning Veronica’s abuse, Ayers finally said “let the accusation stand,” which can clearly be taken as an admission of guilt.

While the Star rushed out a story a few hours after former Star reporter Eddie Burkhalter scooped his ex-newspaper on APR, most of the management’s response was in defense of why they hadn’t reported the story, and, frankly, they were in the typical CYA mode we often see from companies caught in embarrassing moments.

Burkhalter quit his job at the Star in November 2017 because the newspaper wouldn’t aggressively pursue the story, even though he had one of the abused women, Veronica, on the record, others who knew of and/or had witnessed the abuse, and court records indicating Ayers’ frightening fetish truly existed.

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Even as the newspaper was aggressively pursuing stories on Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore’s thing for teenagers when he worked in the Etowah County district attorney’s office long ago, it was moving so cautiously on the Ayers story that it got scooped by one of its own former reporters working on his own time, unpaid.

Star managing editor Ben Cunningham directly criticized me after I wrote about Burkhalter leaving his job on principle after nine years. I first named Ayers as my wife’s abuser in an APR column right before the new year, with her permission.

Then, as Burkhalter’s story of Ayers’ abuse was published on APR that New Year’s Day, I had a companion column about the Stars’ foot-dragging on the story obviously hoping it would go away, and the manner in which Burkhalter was treated by Star management as he was doggedly pursuing a difficult but important story about his newspaper’s top boss.

Cunningham wrote at the time: “What’s harder to brook, though, is a column (mine) published in the same outlet (APR), which aims accusations at this newsroom’s leaders about our work on this story. Those allegations are flatly false, and were delivered without any attempt to verify their accuracy or opportunity to respond.”

Here’s what I knew: Eddie Burkhalter was credible then, and he remains credible today; the Star, not so much. The newspaper had the story for weeks and was sitting on it. I know this because my wife was interviewed early in the process by the new reporter assigned to the story, and then everything went quiet. Other outlets were also working on the story, but apparently because of Ayers’ “reputation” and power in the publishing business, didn’t want to be first.

This is one of the many characteristics I love about Alabama Political Reporter. Get the story right, of course, but when you’ve got it, go with it. There can always be follow-ups. A reporter doesn’t have to know everything before reporting something.

I knew Burkhalter’s reporting had been thorough and accurate – he’d been actively reporting it even after leaving the Star — and I know the women (and men) he talked with for the story.

As important, Burkhalter truly had empathy for my wife and the other victims. He cares about them and doesn’t understand exactly what went wrong at a newspaper that once had a superb reputation.

Cunningham’s feelings were hurt because I didn’t attempt to contact him back then. I didn’t need to. I had the story, and Cunningham and crew were in CYA mode anyway because the Star clearly fell down on reporting about its abusive leader, in the #MeToo era no less.

All of this resurfaced last week when the Star announced respected Washington Post executive editor Martin “Marty” Baron was to deliver the annual Ayers Lecture. Baron, however, fell ill and had to cancel the appearance.

Still, some people, including Burkhalter and me, wondered why Baron would grace the stage for the Ayers Lecture, knowing that Brandy’s victims would perhaps question why he was giving credibility to a media outlet that failed to report on their boss’ strange sexual spanking fetish. To his credit, Baron answered candidly.

Still, why did the story about Ayers’ long years of abusing women die? Because the Star didn’t continue reporting it. The Star let it go. The newspaper in the best position to dig out the ultimate truth – with names, phone numbers and Ayers right there to ask – let it drop.

Now, Ayers’ wife, Josie Ayers, is the newspaper’s publisher and chair of Consolidated Publishing. Former publisher and editor Bob Davis left last May to become executive director of High Plains Public Radio.

Star management didn’t care enough about the women victims left in Brandy’s wake of assaults to continue reporting the story. To issue apologies. Please, just make it go away, they appear to be saying.

Or, if the Star is continuing to work on the story, we don’t know it, and we certainly don’t see any product.

I did reach out to Cunningham to ask where the Star was on reporting this story.
As of this writing, Cunningham had not responded. My breath is not being held.

The rest of this story is out there, though. Out there, waiting to be reported. For those women intentionally hurt by Ayers, doesn’t the Star even care?

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Opinion | Doug Jones’s pathway to victory: Substance over lies

Jones said his work in the Senate should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity. 

Josh Moon

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Alabama Sen. Doug Jones speaks during the Democratic National Convention.

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones believes voters will ultimately see through Tommy Tuberville’s lazy campaign and lies, and that enough of them will be moved by his work over the last two years to send him back to D.C. 

Jones’ comments came during a lengthy interview on the Alabama Politics This Week podcast. He also discussed his plans to address some of Alabama’s most pressing issues and also praised Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican.  

But it was Jones’ comments about Alabama voters — and whether too many of them are incapable of moving away from the Republican Party — that were most interesting. Jones still believes there are open-minded voters in the state, and that there isn’t enough attention being paid to polls showing a growing dissatisfaction in Alabama with President Donald Trump. 

“There are a number of things that Donald Trump has done that people (in Alabama) don’t agree with,” Jones said. “There are a number of things that he’s done that’s hurt Alabama and that they’re not OK with. That’s where I come in.”

Jones said his work in the Senate, where he’s sponsored the most bipartisan legislation over the last two years, should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity. 

“I tell everyone, you owe it to yourself to look at every candidate and every issue,” Jones said. “I do that. I’ve been a Democrat all my life but I don’t think that I have ever pulled a straight lever. Because I look at every issue. I will tell you that there have been times that I didn’t vote for people who are Democrats for whatever reason — I just couldn’t do it. I think we owe it to ourselves to do that.”

Jones had the perfect example to drive the point home. 

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“Y’all all know our state auditor, Jim Zeigler? Jim wasn’t always a Republican. Jim’s first runs for office were as a Democrat. 

“I rest my case.”

You can listen to the full interview at the Alabama Politics This Week website, or you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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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.

Joey Kennedy

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Congressional candidate Rick Neighbors at a campaign stop. (VIA NEIGHBORS CAMPAIGN)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Steve Flowers

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(STOCK PHOTO)

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.

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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.

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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.

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Opinion | Electing Tuberville could cost Alabama billions

If your conscience or decency isn’t enough, vote your wallets.

Josh Moon

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Sen. Doug Jones, left, and Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville, right.

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. 

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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. 

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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.

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