Bentley had bought disposable "burner" cell phones at a Best Buy store in Tuscaloosa.
Al.com's cell-phone story is intriguing, and it provides a possible key angle to the story, suggesting Bentley was buying the phones to hide evidence of his phone calls and text messages to paramour and former senior advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
So where does hypocrisy enter the picture?
Al.com for months has tried to paper over the fact that it got soundly beaten on the Bentley/Mason story. I broke the story, here at Legal Schnauzer, of the extramarital affair and some of its repercussions seven months ago, on August, 31, 2015. Al.com finally awoke from its slumber last week, in the wake of reports from former ALEA chief Spencer Collier that Bentley and Mason had engaged in an affair, plus release of audio that had Bentley speaking fondly of caressing Mason's breasts and exploring her nether regions.
During the seven months al.com failed to report on the affair it repeatedly disparaged my work as the product of "unsubstantiated rumors." Why the use of that language? It apparently was because I based my story on insights from anonymous sources, who happen to be highly knowledgeable insiders on Alabama politics but did not want their names released because of concerns about possible retaliation from the Bentley administration--which has shown it is quite capable of seeking retaliation.
Now, guess what al.com's used in its story about disposable "burner" cell phones. Anonymous sources--surprise, surprise! This is from reporter Connor Sheets article:
Gov. Robert Bentley personally bought multiple inexpensive, disposable cell phones last year at a Best Buy in Tuscaloosa, according to current and former employees of the electronics store. . . .
Two employees – one current and one former – of the Best Buy location in the Midtown Village shopping center in Tuscaloosa told AL.com Thursday that they had each personally sold a single disposable cell phone to Bentley last year.
"[U]p until the scandal came to light, Bentley HIMSELF would by (sic) little burner phones ... I witnessed it with my own 2 eyes and even sold him one," the current Best Buy employee wrote via online message. "I sold to him once, saw him purchase twice."
The current employee said that on both occasions, Bentley purchased inexpensive AT&T flip phones, "the type you buy minutes for. They cost around 15 bucks."
The former Best Buy employee corroborated the general thrust of the current employee's story in a phone conversation Thursday morning.
Did al.com give the Best Buy employees' names? Nope. They remain nameless in Sheets' followup piece today:
Gov. Robert Bentley spent $1,732.68 on "cell phones and prepaid wireless" at Best Buy last year, Bentley's state campaign finance records reveal.
The evidence of the expenditure bolsters the stories of two employees – one former, one current – of the Best Buy in Tuscaloosa's Midtown Village shopping center who told AL.com Thursday that they each personally sold a single disposable "burner" cell phone to Bentley last year.
Why did the Best Buy employees want to remain anonymous? Probably because they feared retaliation--in the form of being fired from their jobs for speaking out about the governor. In other words, al.com granted anonymity to key sources for the same reason I granted anonymity to mine.
|Disposable "burner" cell phones|
Here is a brief journalism lesson from someone who has spent his adult life in the field: If a story is built on anonymous sources, it does not mean it is "unsubstantiated"; it does not mean the story presents "no evidence" to support its claims. It means a professional reporter trusts his sources and believes they have legitimate reasons for wishing to remain unnamed.
Do anonymous sources matter in journalism? Can they change the course of history? Just ask Richard Nixon (except he's dead). Or you could ask Robert Bentley in a few weeks or months, when he might be out as Alabama governor and headed for a federal "correctional facility."
The Bentley/Mason story did not break last week; it broke last summer, and last week's reports only prove that my reporting was on target all along. Al.com does not want you to know that, probably because they don't like the stinging criticism I've sent their way over the years and they are embarrassed that a one-man news shop has kicked their ass--and not for the first time.
To be clear, I applaud Connor Sheets' reporting on the "burner" cell phones. It makes for darned good reading, and I think it could lead to important evidence regarding Bentley's actions.
But Connor Sheets works for a slipshod news organization, one that never has had a very good reputation, and it's now a mere shadow of its former dubious self.
Our message to Connor Sheets is "good work." Our message to his employer? Hypocrisy, thy name is al.com.