|Mike Hubbard, at the Lee County Jail|
last Friday night.
All three have been brought down in the past year by stories broken and largely driven by the non-traditional press. Hubbard, convicted last Friday night on 12 of 23 charges that he violated state ethics laws, might be the largest fish the Web press has hooked so far. After all, many considered him the most powerful political figure in the state, the one who led a Republican takeover of the Alabama Legislature for the first time in more than a century. But Hubbard probably will not be the last to take the fall. Governor Robert Bentley and a number of his associates already appear to be forming a line, one that has drawn orchestrated scrutiny from federal investigators.
Alabamians have many lessons to learn from the Hubbard episode, but the main one might be this: If you wait around for the mainstream media (MSM) to break, report, and analyze conservative corruption . . . well, you might have a long wait. Pro-business conservatives--like Hubbard and his friends at Riley Inc.--bought, neutered, or threatened the corporate press a long time ago. That has left it to a small band of intrepid journalists to take the lead via the Internet.
I'm pleased to know that Legal Schnauzer and I are counted among their number. So is attorney Donald Watkins, whose Facebook page should be must reading for all Alabamians who care about public affairs. Watkins and I largely are responsible for exposing and helping to bring down Fuller and Mason--and we are the ones who have caused Bentley to be teetering on the edge of a cliff, in a high wind.
But there is no doubt who did the heavy lifting on the Hubbard story. Watkins presented important reporting and analysis, especially as the case drew closer to trial; he provided an experienced lawyer's insights to the criminal-trial process, and that was an invaluable contribution for those who wished to understand the complex details surrounding a high-profile, white-collar case. You might call me a spear carrier in the Hubbard drama, taking certain key issues and trying to analyze them in a way that would enhance our readers' grasp of corruption that largely was funded on the taxpayers' time--and dime.
The journalistic ringleader of Hubbard's downfall, without question, was Bill Britt and his staff at Alabama Political Reporter (APR). How many Hubbard-related stories did APR produce, many of them containing critical, on-target details that received little or no attention in the MSM? I'm not sure, but it has to be at least several hundred. Would there have even been a Hubbard indictment without APR? I doubt it. Is there a prize for the kind of old-style investigative reporting that makes a difference in citizens' lives? I don't know, but if there is, APR should receive one--stat.
No one knows better than me the dangers that come with practicing real journalism that targets powerful figures who don't much care for being targeted. Riley Inc. thugs ruined my 20-year career as an editor at UAB. I was beaten up and doused with pepper spray inside my own home and then dragged for a five-month stay in the Shelby County Jail--all based on a supposed warrant (for alleged civil contempt, involving no crime) that I've never seen and is prohibited by more than 200 years of First Amendment law. My wife and I saw our home of 25 years stolen out from under us, in a foreclosure that almost certainly was unlawful. And I saw my wife's left arm shattered during an unlawful eviction in Springfield, Missouri, carried out by law-enforcement thugs here who probably have connections to political thugs in Alabama.
Bill Britt and his wife, Susan, know what that kind of thing is like. Hubbard and his associates reportedly went after APR's advertisers. Riley Inc. lackey Bryan Taylor filed a defamation lawsuit against the Britts that was so thin it should have cost Taylor his bar card. Britt has written several times about threats directed at him and his Web site.
But APR refused to be cowed into silence, and Bill Britt provided important insight in a column published today, titled "Guilty: The System Worked." A guilty verdict was not necessary to validate APR's top-notch reporting. But I'm sure it's nice to see all that work lead to a difference the public can see and feel. From Bill Britt's column:
Hubbard’s consuming quest for power, control and riches were his undoing. His wrong doing was on display for all to see, but he, with the aid of the Rileys, Billy Canary and others, wielded such power few dared stand against the machine they had constructed.
From the witness stand in the Lee County Justice Center, the constant refrain was that Hubbard was talented and intelligent. But, intelligence without conscience, and talent without morals, is a toxic elixir that induces the worst forms of arrogance and hubris. Of the hundreds of email exchanges between Hubbard and his enablers, there was never a mention of what would benefit the people of our State. In every instance, it was about how they could use their positions and privilege to reward themselves.
Hubbard said he was a disciple of Bob Riley, the former governor’s daughter, Minda Riley Campbell, said, “Aren’t we all.”
Let' all pause for a moment so we can vomit. Riley's children, Rob and Minda, tend to have that effect on people. That's why we call them Uday and Qusay, in honor of Sadam Hussein's diabolical, evil, and worthless sons. Here's more from Bill Britt:
The “Gospel of Greed” was the scripture most revered by Hubbard and his clan. Riley loved him like a son, but he never helped him, he only used him. Others claimed to love Hubbard like a brother, but it was an affection born out of politics, and politics is most simply explained as who gets what. For Hubbard’s adopted family, it was all about how they could use government for their own personal gain.
The villains in this most sordid of dramas were clearly identified one by one as they took the stand in Hubbard’s defense. The lies, half-truths and failed or altered memories, revealed each witness’s true complicity in Hubbard’s crimes. Will Brooke, and Rob Burton were his friends. That is why they gave him $150,000 for his failing printing business. Yet, Brooke confessed their real motive when he said he didn’t want Hubbard to have to work for a company that might compromise his position as Speaker. But that is exactly what they did. What Brooke should have admitted, at least to himself, was he and his followers at the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) were purchasing the Speaker, so no one else could. Jimmy Rane appeared to be Hubbard’s only true friend, but even his $150,000 was a crime.
And what are we to make of former State Health Officer, Dr. Don Williamson, who lied to protect Hubbard? Why would a man with his sterling reputation surrender it so shamelessly to help Hubbard? Whatever Williamson hoped to gain from his altered testimony, the damage to his reputation and credibility was far greater.
Many reputations have taken a hit in Alabama over recent months; Hubbard, Mason, and Fuller all have fallen since August 1, 2015. It looks like the next 12 months could provide more of the same--and the Web press likely will be leading the way.