Last week, The Anniston Star announced it was severing ties with long-time editor H. Brandt Ayers after a number of sexual misconduct allegations against him surfaced.
If you haven’t heard by now, Ayers is accused of spanking female employees decades earlier, which has resulted in his resignation from the board of Consolidated Publishing, the parent company of the Star. Ayers has since acknowledged the charges according to a report from the Star’s Tim Lockette.
In a statement published by the Star, Ayers said his resignation was “in the best interests of the paper and its mission.” Josephine Ayers, his wife who previously served as vice chairman, will replace him.
Ayers served as the Star’s (his family’s paper) editor for 47 years before stepping down in November 2016. He then remained chairman of Consolidated Publishing, which operated Talladega’s The Daily Home, Heflin’s The Cleburne News, Pell City’s The St. Clair Times, The Piedmont Journal and The Jacksonville News in addition to the Star.
Ayers’ father, Col. Harry Ayers, was also a long-time publisher of the Star and orchestrated a merger in 1912 of two Anniston newspapers to form the Star.
In a semi-masochistic feat, over the last few days, I’ve reviewed Ayers’ columns going back to late 1980s. The experience provided a painful walk through 30 years of history from the perspective of a self-aggrandizing Southern socialist.
Ayers and the Soviet Union: A love story
Ayers used the pages of The Anniston Star not just to promote a liberal agenda, but as his own personal travel log. He filed stories with datelines from all over the world offering ideas he picked up to make American governments better.
“Brandt goes to the Soviet Union every few weeks to find out how best to run government,” former Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt once said, ribbing the Star editor in a June 1987 speech at Lakepoint Resort State Park in Eufaula.
At the time, The Anniston Star pursued Hunt’s comments as if they were serious, but a spokesman for Hunt had to tell the Star they were joking. However, Hunt was not that far from the truth.
In the later years of the 1980s, the Star published several stories about Ayers’ meetings with Soviet and Chinese government officials and journalists and highlighted how Ayers would brag about how those governments were a “positive example” in speeches to local Calhoun County groups.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ayers didn’t take it as well as most Americans did. He penned a farewell column to the former communist state on December 29 of that year, headlined “Saying goodbye – to an old friend.”
“How do you end a friendship of 16 years, a friendship that had a difficult beginning in the frost of mutual suspicion but one that warmed over the years into genuine affection and respect?” Ayers wrote. “How do you say goodbye to such a friend? The Soviet Union was not an easy friend to have. It was a considerable embarrassment at home.”
Ayers reminded his readers that his paper once earned the nickname “The Red Star”– a moniker offered by former Alabama Gov. George Wallace. But Ayers made no apologies for his appreciation of the Soviet Union.
“The governor of the state himself made speeches kidding me about going to the U.S.S.R. to learn how to make government more effective and some local citizens derided the newspaper as ‘The Red Star,’” he continued. “But those jibes were understandable misperceptions. They jumbled together in one, inseparable lump the Marxist political ideology with Russian culture.”
Ayers is not just your run-of-the-mill blowhard who professes the virtues of left-of-center — even communist — governance. He has long been active in not only the Alabama political scene but the national scene as well. Ayers hosted fundraisers for Alabama Democrats, including a $1,000-per-plate dinner at his home in September 1990 for then-Alabama Education Association head Paul Hubbert, who (at the time) was running for governor against Guy Hunt.
Hunt went on to win that election by a narrow five-point margin. But Hubbert would remain a fixture in Alabama politics for the next 24 years as head of the AEA.
The loss did not deter Ayers’ involvement with money and politics, but more on that later.
The 1990s and a shameless defense of Bill Clinton
With the 1990s came all the alleged sexual misconduct of former President Bill Clinton, who won the presidency despite the charges. Ayers often decried the media’s coverage on this topic — it, of course, would be more than two decades later that the state would learn of Ayers’ own allegedly handsy proclivities.
“Of course we love scandal and sensation,” Ayers wrote in the April 12, 1992 issue of the Star. “We always have — from the limited-circulation Roman scrolls that reported Caligula’s orgies to the bare-breasted bimbos staring out at the reader today from page three of British tabloids. There isn’t a minister of the gospel who, though perhaps vague about Gov. Clinton’s foreign policy views, doesn’t know the name Gennifer Flowers.”
“We would deny our nature to claim we aren’t titillated by tales of crime, sex and violence among the celebrated and powerful,” he continued. “From ancient times various gazettes, broadsides and journals have pandered to our taste for sensation. That is nothing new. What is new is technology; commercial television is the dominant news medium. Trying to cram all the day’s news into a tiny, less than half-hour slot means putting democracy on a starvation diet.”
As expected, the Star endorsed Clinton in his bid for the White House against President George H.W. Bush that election cycle, but not without reminding readers Ayers was an acquaintance of the governor for several years.
Later in Clinton’s presidency, his zipper problem would land him in the crosshairs of a Republican-led Congress. That was not to the liking of H. Brandt Ayers.
“Is there some way for us in the media to escape the turgid river flowing from our cynical exploitation of Diana’s death and hypocritical lynch-mob reporting of Bill Clinton’s indiscretion?” he wrote in a Sept. 6, 1998 op-ed. “For that matter, is there some way for the judicial system to swim against the rip-tide it has created by elevating a private lapse to a constitutional crisis — drowning media and public alike?”
That was one of the many protests from Ayers about the Clinton affair of the 1990s. Before leaving the White House, Ayers had some parting advice for Clinton on how he should have handled the Lewinsky affair: To “be a man, fess up!”
In a July 2000 essay, Ayers argued what Clinton should have done was taken a page out of former Alabama Gov. “Big” Jim Folsom’s playbook.
Before television thrust its obtrusive snout into the political party, before the insistence on speaking in hurried sound-bites, there were politicians who made confession and evasion an American art form.
Historically, most masters of the art were from the South, and there are a couple of Southerners today who’ve made political speech funny and creative.
It’s too late to help President Clinton, but former Alabama Gov. James E. (Kissin’ Jim) Folsom would have advised Clinton to do as he did: Never deny anything. There’s a story that may be apocryphal (but what the heck) about the governor in the 1950s being confronted by reporters who asked, “Governor, is it true that you slept with a ‘colored girl’ all last night in a Phenix City motel?”
“It’s a damn lie,” Folsom retorted, “Not a word of truth to it. Didn’t sleep a wink.”
Imagine how an 82-years-old H. Brandt Ayers could have implemented the “Big” Jim Folsom strategy for his own indiscretions.
Surprise! Ayers wasn’t a fan of Bush-era Republicanism
Eventually, the Clinton years gave way to the Bush years, which delivered eight years of Bush derangement syndrome.
Ayers was a willing participant in the passing left’s passing fad of anti-neocon Bush bashing. After all, he seemed to see himself as the authority on all things foreign policy in eastern Alabama.
The 2006 midterm elections were a devastating loss for Republicans. A very unpopular Bush tied to a scandal involving then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and congressional pages resulted in a landslide win for Democrats.
Ayers did not allow the opportunity to pass for him to criticize the GOP for Foley’s indiscretions.
“As it turns out, that great gray Republican promontory of morality and security is merely the façade of a men’s club,” Ayers wrote in October 2006. “Inside its members are conflicted and confused, one of whom may be a sexual predator. This is what happens when a nation’s government becomes a private social club governed by its own rules, which refuses cooperation with non-members, and is immune to critical questions from any source.”
Imagine that – Ayers, ignoring his own closeted bad behavior, lambasted elected officials for treating the government as a “private social club.” In Ayers’ defense, at least he wasn’t acting that way on the taxpayers’ dime.
One of the more amusing efforts from Ayers came a few months later when he opined about the importance of character. The Anniston Star columnist offered a remarkable comparison of former Alabama head football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and Hillary Clinton, who at the time was gearing up for her first presidential bid.
“Bear Bryant drank and smoked too much, and though devoted to his wife Mary Harmon there is reason to believe he may have had one other woman friend,” he wrote. “Despite these flaws, he is a man of rock-ribbed character. Two other great Southerners who touched my life, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black and President Jimmy Carter, have exhibited great character. And then there is Bill Clinton. Hold your guffaws about Clinton as an example of character until we’ve discussed the other two and have explored points in the Bear’s life that called forth from somewhere examples of true character.”
Ayers’ apparent point was that while although those men had flaws, they also had redemptive characteristics that made them praiseworthy.
Obama, the rise of Donald Trump and the fall of Roy Moore
As the first decade of the new millennia wound down, even though Ayers backed his “pen pal” Hillary Clinton, he would celebrate the election of Barack Obama. That immediately gave way to his criticism of the Tea Party movement, which returned the U.S. House of Representatives to the Republicans.
At the end of eight years of Obama, Ayers would toe the left’s line on Donald Trump, who he deemed to be a “mean, arrogant bully.”
The law of unintended consequences of Trump’s election win gave Alabama the national political spotlight in 2017. Predictably, Ayers was not a fan of former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, who was the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in last month’s special election.
Equally predictable was a late November screed from Ayers reacting to allegations aimed at Moore for sexual misconduct in the 1970s, which ironically was the same decade of the charges Ayers is facing.
“His self-righteous convictions are rooted in no denomination, recognized by no school of theology, they are the product of the conjuring of his own mind,” Ayers said. “Yet they have taken control of his being, precisely the kind of tyrannical mind that should never be given authority over other human beings.”
Even at the end, Ayers’ hypocrisy had no bounds.
Ayers: A loyal Democratic Party fundraiser
Ayers was not just a blowhard with a newspaper. He was a Democratic Party activist.
Aside from the fundraisers he held at his home for local and state Democratic politicians, he also wrote checks for many Democrats seeking federal office. An OpenSecrets.org search shows Ayers has given thousands of dollars to Democratic Party organizations and politicians over the past 20 years.
The list of Ayers’ beneficiaries includes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. There was one $1,000 contribution to Sen. Richard Shelby in 2003, but Ayers was a loyal Democrat. His wife Josephine, the newly appointed chairman of Consolidated Publishing, gave thousands of dollars as well over the years.
Although his alleged indiscretions do not quite rise to the level of disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, in some ways Ayers is an Alabama version of Weinstein. He actively supported liberal causes, held a position of prominence in his industry and he managed to get away with sexual harassment for decades.
Yet the media in Alabama – they are hung up on process, grappling with the absurd notion of whether a journalist should be given license to report out a potentially disparaging story about his home publication.
Perhaps that is interesting to those who dwell in the theoretical playground of proper journalistic protocol. Do not get caught up in the weeds though. A prominent Democratic Party activist who used one of the state’s major newspapers to advance liberal causes was potentially in violation of what his party has used as a wedge issue in the past three national election cycles.
Shouldn’t that be the story?
Jeff Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and works as the editor of Breitbart TV. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeff_poor.