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Opinion | Yeah, people are ‘disgruntled’

Joey Kennedy

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We have to give credit to the staff at the University of Alabama’s Crimson White newspaper. They carefully and accurately reported a difficult story about the hiring of the university’s new director of the Office of Student Media. That’s what good journalism is all about.

One of the top candidates for UA director of student media is former Anniston Star publisher and editor Bob Davis. The problem, as reported by the Crimson White (with reporting led by Jessa Reid Bolling), is that Davis was the top newsroom executive at the Star when its former publisher H. Brandt Ayers was publicly exposed as a serial abuser of women in his newsroom and elsewhere. At first, Ayers denied the accusations, but as the evidence mounted, he admitted he had indeed physically assaulted women by spanking them.

Davis knew the particulars of the story long before it was published. The evidence is clear, including on-the-record comments from one of the abused women, my wife, Veronica, when she was a young reporter at the Star.

Eddie Burkhalter, a nine-year veteran of Consolidated Publishing, the company that owns the Star and other newspapers, had worked the story hard throughout the fall and early winter of 2017 despite being told to stop.

Very obviously, Davis tried to kill the story about his boss, Ayers. That is a fact. He told Burkhalter to quit reporting the story. Burkhalter refused and, eventually, quit his job over the dispute after being reprimanded. He was punished for doing his job better than his bosses wanted him to.

In 45 years in professional journalism, at the Houma (La.) Daily Courier, the Cullman Times, the St. Clair News-Aegis, the Anniston Star, and The Birmingham News, I have never, not once, been told by an editor to stop working on a story.

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There were lots of stories that didn’t pan out – that’s why we report on them before we publish them. But never was I directed by a publisher or editor or any boss at any of the five newspapers for which I worked to STOP reporting a story, to not interview credible sources with information about a story, to lay it aside and go home.

Bob Davis did that.

And now the University of Alabama would presume to hire Davis to lead its student media department?

I attempted to get a response from Adam Sterritt, who the Crimson White says has final say on who is hired for the student media director’s position. Sterritt is assistant vice president of the Division of Student Life at UA.

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Instead of a response from Sterritt, I heard from Monica G. Watts, associate vice president for
Communications, Division of Strategic Communications, at Alabama. She writes this in an email
response to my question to Sterritt:

“Hello Joey,

Your message was forwarded to my office. I hope the following statement will be helpful to you:

“The Director of Student Media position remains open. We will continue to search for the
candidate who can be the most effective and successful in the position. The University respects
the confidentiality of all individuals during the hiring process and will take all relevant
information into consideration when selecting the right candidate for the role.”

“Best regards,

Monica”

I appreciate the response, though it contains little solid information.

If Davis was ever a finalist for the position or if, remarkably, he is eventually hired, that is an indication of two possibilities:

  1.  Either the university selection committee didn’t vet Davis very well, or
  2. The selection committee simply didn’t care they were about to hire a director of student media who tried to kill a credible story about sexual and physical abuse that was detrimental to Bob Davis’ own boss at the time.

When the Crimson White reached Davis to ask about Burkhalter quitting the Star, Davis had the typical, tired, trite response nearly all bosses make when an employee publicly disagrees with them:

“I would suggest to you that Mr. Burkhalter is a disgruntled employee who tried to make the story about himself, not about real suffering of people, which is the story that The Anniston Star pursued,” Davis told the Crimson White.

If the circumstances weren’t so serious, that would be laughable. Yes, Burkhalter was “disgruntled.” He was disgruntled because his boss was trying to kill an important story and, in fact, ordered him not to pursue the story. It’s to Burkhalter’s great credit that even after he left the Star because of own journalistic principles, he continued reporting the story on his own time, eventually publishing his report Jan. 1, 2018, through Alabama Political Reporter.

The Star threw together a story that was published a couple hours later, but newsroom leaders there spent much of the next few days playing CYA through their columns. That Davis says Burkhalter didn’t care about “real suffering of people” is a joke. Thank God, Burkhalter DID care or this story likely never would have been reported.

It was Davis and the leadership at the Star who didn’t care about the “real suffering of people.” My wife never received any communication from Davis or Ayers about anything, much less a much-deserved apology and explanation. And, important too, is that the Star has yet to pursue just how widespread Ayers’ abuse actually is, likely spanning decades. The Star, which is in the best position to continue reporting the story, let it die.

The newspaper company now is led by Ayers’ wife, Josie, who has approved the publishing of columns written by Ayers since he resigned that first week in 2018 and who was supposed to have nothing to do with the newspaper ever again.

And don’t forget, either, according to the Crimson White, that “Ayers and Davis started, with Ayers’ funding, an ongoing partnership between The Anniston Star and the University of Alabama’s community journalism masters program in 2004, just after Davis joined the staff as an editorial page editor in 2003. Davis also served as president of the Ayers Family Institute for Community Journalism from 2010 to 2018.”

Sounds pretty cozy.

This Ayers story isn’t going away. Even now, other media outlets are looking into the history of Ayers’ abuse. There are consequences to such bad behavior, and Ayers should have to pay them, not simply put his wife in charge of his newspaper company and continue business as usual.

This is enough to make anybody truly “disgruntled.”

Note: Jessa Reid Bolling is an intern at APR. Eddie Burkhalter now works for APR on a journalism fellowship.

Editor’s note: The University of Alabama confirmed today that former Anniston Star publisher and editor Bob Davis is no longer a candidate for the position of director of the Office of Student Media at the university.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every 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 | What in the world are people thinking?

“Some of us don’t take the virus seriously. Until it directly impacts us. And then we speak with regret.”

Joey Kennedy

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Here some of us are, waiting fearfully for the Thanksgiving surge of the coronavirus. Hospitals are full. New cases are setting records. Deaths are soaring. And then, Christmas is coming. What a holiday season, right? But it’s our own fault. We’re impatient. Some of us don’t even take the virus seriously. Until it directly impacts us or a family member or a friend. And then we speak with regret.

I’d rather regret a disturbed holiday season than regret losing my wife, who has underlying health conditions that could make a bout with COVID-19 deadly.

I was on the Next Door website the other day, and I saw somebody asking for recommendations for a personal chef who can cook a Christmas dinner. At her home. For her family and 10 to 12 other couples. That’s more than 20 people, gathering inside a home, at dinner, on Christmas.

Don’t do it, I wanted to respond. But I didn’t. If that person wanting a Christmas dinner is planning a meal for two dozen people, a suggestion that she postpone wasn’t going to do anything but make her angry.

I get plenty of pushback already because I always wear a mask outside my home or car, or when I’m at a drive-through, or when I meet a delivery person at my porch. I hear from readers who, after one of my columns warning of the consequences of letting down our guard during the pandemic, tell me I shouldn’t be afraid of a virus that the vast majority of people recover from.

Yeah, that’s true. And it’s also true that the virus kills at higher rates than the flu or many other diseases. Yeah, no need to be afraid. Unless it’s you who brings the disease into an environment where at-risk persons live. Or unless it’s your wife or mom or dad or brother or sister or good friend or another relative that gets sick. And dies.

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I have a close friend who is about to enter her fifth semester of nursing school, and she’s already told me, with resignation, that she expects that she’ll get COVID at some point. And she’ll be in line for an early vaccine.

Why are we so impatient that we cannot bear to postpone big Thanksgiving Day lunches or Christmas night dinners? What is it about us that we refuse to look ahead, knowing that if we do contract the virus, we could beat it and still have chronic health problems that dog us for the rest of our lives?

Why aren’t we more afraid? So afraid that we don’t look at wearing a mask as giving up some constitutional right, even as we wear shirts and pants and shoes every day?

As of this writing, the virus had claimed more than 271,000 lives in the United States. It has killed more than 3,630 in Alabama. In the state’s largest population area, Jefferson County, more than 500 people have died.

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Does that matter to the great majority of people? You wouldn’t think so by looking at how our national and state leaders are handling things.

Children tend to recover quickly from the virus; well, at least those who it doesn’t kill. But pushing to keep schools open during a huge surge without the proper PPE, social distancing, and safety measures in place, isn’t going to protect the teachers, janitors, school nurses, and administrators who have to be there with those kids.

Yeah, I miss going out to eat, watching UAB play basketball, visiting with friends, and going to a play or movie. But I don’t miss them enough to give in to my wishes because I’m just tired of the pandemic.

Holding classes on Zoom is exhausting. Attending classes on Zoom isn’t the best way to learn.

But you can’t learn anything if you’re dead or, even worse, you get the disease and kill somebody else because you’re careless.

A personal chef for 10 to 12 couples at a Christmas dinner? What in the world are people thinking?

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Opinion | COVID killed the Don

“The March invasion of the coronavirus derailed the Trump Train,” columnist Steve Flowers writes.

Steve Flowers

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President Donald Trump speaks during the Republican National Convention. (VIA RNC)

Around Labor Day when this year’s presidential campaign was beginning to heat up, I wrote a column about the classic 1960 presidential contest between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. This pivotal presidential race marked the beginning of television as the premier political medium. The first televised presidential debate that year was the turning point of that campaign. Kennedy won the White House with his performance, or, as some would say, Nixon lost by his appearance on TV that fateful night in October of 1960.

A lot has changed in the past 60 years, America was a more Ozzie and Harriet, Andy Griffith Mayberry America. There was not a lot of difference, philosophically or ideologically, between a Republican Kansas farmer and a blue-collar Democratic factory worker in Pennsylvania. They both believed in American values of decency and hard work. Even though the Pennsylvanian was a union man who tended to vote Democratic and was probably a Catholic, and the Kansas farmer voted Republican and was a protestant, they both were Christian conservatives.

The country was more homogenous and amicable. This America lent itself to a close presidential contest where 40 states were in play in the Electoral College and only 10 predetermined. Today, it is just the opposite, 10 states are in play and 40 are predetermined.

The country is more divided than at any time since the Civil War. You are cemented into either a conservative Republican tribe or a liberal Democratic tribe, and there is no peace pipe to be smoked. There are very few independent voters in the middle. It is these truly undecided swing voters that decide the presidential race. Also, it is even a further defined swing voter who resides in a swing state — primarily the states of Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and now Georgia.

Both parties got their bases out to the maximum. Democrats hated Donald Trump. Republicans loath Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders. They stoked every fire possible, and the two tribes almost broke about even.

Trump lost the middle of America swing voter in the key battleground states and he lost them overwhelmingly. Why? You ask: It is simple, the COVID pandemic.

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It would have been impossible for any humble, genuinely caring, kind and compassionate president to overcome a pandemic that has killed over 250,000 people and annihilated the economy. A legendary, revered leader like Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan would have had a hard time surviving the epidemic destroyed our economy.

It is always about the economy. Trump’s administration was the overseer of the most robust economy in years. He could have possibly won re-election with this rosy economy. However, the March invasion of the coronavirus derailed the Trump Train. There is an old political adage that says, “If you claim credit for the rain, you got to take blame for the drought.”

Any presidential election campaign where there is an incumbent president up for re-election is a referendum on that president. Therefore, this presential race was all about Trump. He would have had to have been an FDR or Reagan to have survived the events of this year. Folks, Trump is no FDR or Reagan.

To win a presidency, people have to like you. Very few people genuinely like Trump. All exit polling revealed that even the most ardent Republicans disliked Trump the man. They were only voting for him because he was a proven true-blue, hardcore conservative. Even evangelical conservatives voted for him knowing his personal and business life was not exemplary of a practicing Christian, but he was the vessel for conservative Supreme Court Justices.

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However, key swing voters, primarily suburban women, just did not like a brash, irreverent, egocentric, irrational, narcissist as their president. They had seen the sideshow on television and Twitter for over three years, and they had had enough. There is another tried and true maxim: “More people vote against someone than for someone.”  This played out to the nines on Election Day. Very few people voted for Joe Biden. They voted against Donald Trump.

See you next week.

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Opinion | The blackest Black Friday ever

“The coming weeks are going to be difficult, no doubt about that.”

Joey Kennedy

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(APR GRAPHIC)

Thursday was Thanksgiving, and it’s understandable that many people didn’t have a lot to be thankful for. More than 260,000 people are dead because of the COVID-19 pandemic that Donald Trump simply ignored. Around 3 million people have been infected, with many of those suffering lifelong health complications from the virus.

A first Thanksgiving without loved ones. A first Christmas without loved ones bearing down.

Millions of people lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands are in danger of being evicted from their homes. Many don’t have water or power or heat as the winter settles in.

Thanksgiving? Really?

Except …

Yes, there are many things to be thankful for. Our families, if we have them. Our friends, and we all have them. Our animals, and many of us have them.

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We can be thankful that the long, horrible tenure of Donald Trump is nearly over. It’s the end of an error.

We can hope that racism will be wrong again. That homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, and cruelty will fall from the everyday ordinary to the awful extraordinary. Kids in cages, separated from their parents, no more. Chaos in government simply an anomaly at last.

We can hope. That alone is something to be thankful for.

The year 2020 has been a hot mess. Masks, social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing are the norm now. They may be forever.

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We should be thankful that COVID-19 vaccines are on the horizon. But that’s a strange thankfulness, and we cherish a vaccine for a disease that didn’t have to spread as far and wide as it did. It was mismanaged as badly as a crisis can be mismanaged.

There still are people out there who refuse to wear masks or who believe the virus is a hoax. A doctor described people she was caring for who were dying, and all the time denying the virus existed, even to their last breaths.

That’s certainly nothing to be thankful for.

Our health care workers, those on the front lines, deserve our thanks and our love. As do grocery store workers, first responders, teachers, and delivery people. Heroes work there.

I’m personally thankful for my wife of 41 years. My daughters in San Diego. My friends here and elsewhere. My pugs and other dogs and animals. I’ve got plenty to be thankful for, when we pare life down and don’t expect so much.

The coming weeks are going to be difficult, no doubt about that.

Too many people traveled this Thanksgiving, and there’s going to be a price to pay. Too many people are making plans for Christmas, and there’s going to be a price to pay. Too many people are planning New Year’s Eve celebrations, and there’s going to be a price to pay.

Oh, I’ll have some champagne and stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, if only to witness that this damn year doesn’t hang around for one second longer than is allowed.

Perhaps we can see a light at the end of this 2020 tunnel. Maybe by spring, we’ll all be vaccinated, and this pandemic will be at the beginning of its end.

But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t count on, yes, anything.

This is Black Friday. The blackest Black Friday ever. Be careful out there. Wash your hands and wear a mask. Take care of each other. Believe in science. Don’t trust a reality show president who, fortunately, finally has been fired.

Do your best to do your best. Let’s have a new year that at least promises hope.

Dig deep and find what you’re thankful for. Then hug it close with all your might.

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Opinion | The emperor has no votes

The outcry of illegalities over the recent election is simply the latest example of just how far they’ll go.

Josh Moon

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Two-and-32. That’s the record of the super-fantastic “strike team” of “elite” attorneys representing the Donald Trump campaign in various lawsuits around the country that contest the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

For a refresher: Joe Biden won that free and fair election in a landslide and will be the next president of the United States. The end.

In case after case after case, despite what the president has tweeted and despite what enablers and spineless politicians have helped him push, the Trump elite attorney strike team has failed to offer even the slightest bit of proof of the grand fraud that Trump has repeatedly claimed on Twitter or that his “dye hard” personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has screeched about during insane, “Veep”-like press conferences. (Have you ever witnessed a stranger, more disturbing image than that of “America’s mayor,” wild eyed and ranting, with his cheap hair dye running down his face as if his ears were bleeding?)

In fact, in the overwhelming majority of the cases filed by strike team Trump, the team has been forced to admit to judges that they have no evidence of fraud or that they’re not able to claim fraud.

It’s pathetic that we’re still doing this — that the transition to a new administration is being held up by this band of grifters looking to squeeze one last drop of donations from the marks who have already forked over so much to this long-running American con.

That’s all this is.

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The entire Trump presidency has been exactly this — a con game to enrich him and his closest business partners. To that end, it has been highly successful.

It has also been successful in turning seemingly rational people into googly-eyed yes men willing to sully themselves for a taste of the political fortune or fame that comes with being near the presidency.

It is, to be honest, shocking the ease with which so many in the highest offices of our federal and state government have been convinced to denounce reality and make fools of themselves to ensure they either benefit from being in the cult’s favor or at least not being a target of the cult.

The outcry of illegalities over the recent election is simply the latest and most horrific example of just how far they’re willing to go and how little of America they truly hold sacred.

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Alabama’s Secretary of State John Merrill, for example, has given media interviews in which he willingly passed along wild, long debunked conspiracy theories of Biden getting thousands of votes at once, and how there’s no explanation for it. And yet, there was an explanation — one that had been given over and over and over.

Alabama congressman Mo Brooks, a man who so frequently buys into rightwing conspiracies that he almost certainly has purchased an extended warranty for all of his cars, sent a bat-guano insane letter to a constituent this week in which he laid out how “socialist Democrats” were able to “steal” the election through massive fraud and how Republicans in Congress can steal it back.

One of the means by which this election was stolen, according to Brooks, was by excluding Republican poll watchers. None were excluded. And the strike team has now dropped that line of attack altogether.

Brooks and Merrill aren’t alone, however. Up and down the line, Alabama GOP officials and the media mouthpieces they pay to amplify their idiotic ideas have gone full in on this idea of fraud, even when other Republicans — like that poor secretary of state in Georgia — were trying desperately to tell them it wasn’t real.

Honestly, it’s like Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is being played out in real life, right in front of us. Only, the swindlers became the emperor.

Trump and his minions continue to walk around stark naked while insisting that he has on the most beautiful, perfect clothing in the whole world. And there’s this one group of people who are buying it. And then there’s this whole other group who know full well that this guy is buck naked but they’re too afraid of alienating the first group, even if it means undermining the cornerstone of American democracy.

In the meantime, the swindlers just keep sending out fundraiser emails. Because, again, that’s all this is.

Look at the frivolous lawsuits and how thoroughly Trump’s strike team has been embarrassed in every courtroom so far. This isn’t about winning or about massive fraud or about correcting problems in the election system. It’s about money. Pure and simple.

Finally, late Thursday, two influential Republicans, Sens. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse, said what we all know.

Sasse said the lawyers have “refused to actually allege grand fraud.” He was also critical of the strike team’s tactics.

Romney said Trump was trying to “subvert the will of the people.” And he said he couldn’t imagine “a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American president.”

Hopefully, that will open the floodgates for a river of sanity and basic common sense. Because the longer this goes on, the more likely it is something catastrophic takes place.

It’s not too late yet for the president to put some clothes on.

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