Thursday, April 22, 2021

A loose coalition of right-wing media types, including Roy Moore's son, brought about John Merrill's fall; and for that, Alabamians should be deeply grateful

John Merrill and Cesaire McPherson


As an avowed progressive, I generally hold little regard for right-wing media. But after reading "Sex, lies and the Alabama secretary of state: The fall of John Merrill," a recent article at, I might have to reconsider that tune.

The article, by Connor Sheets and Kyle Whitmire, shows that a loose coalition of right-wing media types -- with Caleb Moore (son of Roy Moore) in the middle of it all -- helped run Merrill out of the 2022 U.S. Senate race by exposing his most recent sex scandal.

Any entity that might eventually rid Alabama of John Merrill altogether can't be all bad. So hats off to the right-wing media hit group -- and to Sheets and Whitmire for revealing their good deeds. Here is the heart of the story:

For more than two years, John Merrill carried on an affair, secure in the assumption that his secret life was safe so long as the woman he slept with didn’t go public about it.

However, on April 6 a self-described “New Right” political blog published recordings of Cesaire McPherson speaking in explicit terms about her relationship with Merrill. It might have been as much a surprise to McPherson as it was to the secretary of state. . . . 

A day after the audio of McPherson was published, Merrill, a married father of two, admitted the affair and announced that he would not make an anticipated run for U.S. Senate - or any other elected office - next year.

His fall revealed something important and new: The emergence of an ecosystem of hyper-partisan political media, one openly loyal to former President Donald Trump and supporting America First candidates, a new set of players gunning for politicians under a new set of rules.

These sites have taken up the role of supermarket tabloids that worked outside the practices of mainstream journalism to break stories on former President Bill Clinton and other political philanderers, said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute and co-author of Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload.

Like them or not, these sites are part of the political culture and a place where campaigns and operatives can put what they want into circulation.

“Now they basically can set up their own website and publish it and make you have to react,” Rosenstiel said. “That’s the new world.”

McPherson was not pleased with reporting on the story. But hey, she helped bring down John Merrill, so props to her, too:

The first that McPherson found out her name and voice had been released online was when a radio host from Minnesota reached out to her for an interview, McPherson said.

She now says she was tricked into giving up her anonymity and that she didn’t know that the things she said were being recorded. At least one of the people who set up that phone call denies she was recorded without being aware.

To be clear, McPherson wanted the world to know what had happened . . . in her relationship with Merrill. But she was reluctant to do it while also revealing her name.

First, she went to local media, but she didn’t want to use her name. Then Caleb Moore, son of former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, put her in touch with a man who had worked with his father’s 2017 U.S. Senate campaign.

Roy Moore has been keeping a low profile lately, so how did his son become a leading character in the Merrill drama? Sheets and Whitmire explain:

McPherson said she believes that Roy Moore has a political “vendetta” against Merrill that dates back to the Senate race, when Merrill certified the outcome despite the Moore campaign’s objections and allegations of voter fraud.

“Caleb Moore told me several times they don’t like John Merrill,” McPherson said. “They hate John Merrill, they don’t want him to run for higher office.”

Roy Moore did not respond to inquiries seeking comment. Caleb Moore said “there’s no bad blood” between the Moore camp and Merrill and no truth to McPherson’s assertion.

But he did make the introductions.

“I connected her with a friend that does things. This was last year,” Caleb Moore told “She came to me. She wanted to talk to somebody in the media about a story and I didn’t know any of these details. So I put her in touch with Noel.”

And who is Noel?

A former Spanish teacher in North Carolina, Noel Fritsch has in recent years built a career as a conservative operative with a history of involvement in Republican campaigns and far-right causes across the country.

Described by a political news site in Mississippi in 2015 as a political consultant who provides “local help” rather than trying to be a kingmaker, he served as spokesman for Chris McDaniel, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in 2014. A columnist for the state’s Clarion-Ledger compared Fritsch to Darth Vader and suggested he was “responsible for McDaniel snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Little-known in Alabama politics, Fritsch does have at least one connection. In 2017, he consulted for the Roy Moore campaign. The Moore campaign paid a North Carolina company owned by Fritsch more than $60,000. . . . 

Today, Fritsch is part of a burgeoning far-right media that has broken some stories, but is also known for conspiracy theories. Yet when stories do land, they spill over into mainstream outlets, forcing responses from targeted politicians, as the revelations about Merrill’s affair did last week in Alabama.

Fritsch made his views about Merrill clear in text messages that he sent to McPherson.

On April 2, he told her, “[t]his is and has always been about the bad person you said Merrill is,” adding in another message that day that “[h]e’s a s**t person. Clearly.”

Fritsch expanded on his concerns about Merrill during a phone interview with last week in which he accused the secretary of state of election meddling, a popular topic among Trump supporters who claim that Democrats rigged the November presidential election.

“The reasons for this might be many, but at the very moment that the affair between Cesaire and John Merrill began, John Merrill was deep in the process of trying to cover up massive Russian-style voter fraud in the state of Alabama during the 2017 election,” Fritsch said.

There is no evidence that Merrill engaged in such a cover-up or that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2017 special U.S. Senate race pitting Roy Moore against various Republican rivals and then against Democrat Doug Jones.

Fritsch told that he is “self-employed” and is not being paid by any politicians, companies or organizations in Alabama.

He denied any involvement in the process that led to releasing the recording of McPherson discussing the affair.

“I heard about it when it broke in the news,” Fritsch said.

Yet communications between McPherson and Fritsch and between McPherson and Caleb Moore suggest that both men knew of her and Merrill’s relationship before it was made public.

 Caleb Moore, reports, was a key driver of the Merrill story:

McPherson provided with text messages that she exchanged with Caleb Moore late last year, which included screenshots of sexually explicit texts between her and Merrill.

“I believe you or I wouldn’t be wasting my time,” Caleb Moore wrote in a text to McPherson, responding to a message she sent stating that she had been “[l]oyal and trustworthy for almost 3 years” to Merrill.

Moore told that though he “played no part in the affair” and “had no part in reporting the story,” he introduced Fritsch and McPherson “just through, like, a chain of friends type thing” last year.

 That's where another right-leaning media type enters the picture:

McPherson and Moore texted occasionally, but she said she didn’t have contact with Fritsch again until April 2, when McPherson and Fritsch talked on the phone. She said Fritsch looped in a third person, writer Patrick Howley.

“[Fritsch] just said do you mind talking to my friend? He said we’re not going to put anything out, we’re just discussing, we’re just discussing. And that’s what Patrick even said – we’re just discussing it, we’re just having a discussion,” McPherson said.

Asked by repeatedly whether he was on the April 2 call, Fritsch would not answer yes or no, instead saying three times, “Patrick Howley had a 90-minute phone conversation with this woman.”

Beyond consulting work, according to The Daily Beast, Fritsch is involved in Big League Politics, a far-right news website launched in 2017 by former Breitbart employees including Howley.

Until 2019, Howley – who recently guest-hosted for Alex Jones on Infowars – was editor-in-chief of Big League Politics, where he broke the news earlier that year that old yearbook photos showed Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in blackface.

Two weeks ago, on National File, Howley published the audio recording of McPherson discussing her sexual history with Merrill, a move that she said violated her understanding of the terms of her interview.

Howley did not respond to requests for comment. But less than three hours after sent him an email on Monday, he tweeted that “[a] mainstream media reporter is doing what he thinks is a hit piece on me following one of my recent journalistic grand slams.”

Spencer Sunshine, a New York-based researcher, activist and political consultant who specializes in American extremism and has published guidebooks on the right and the proliferation of “soft far-right websites that are, you know, the temperature of Trumpism, not openly white nationalism.”

He said it’s unusual, but not unheard of, for sites like these to break news. “If someone, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to go to the regular press,” he said, “they’ll go to one of these places.”


Bottom line: John Merrill's fall, which is incomplete at the moment, was precipitated by his own kind  -- a combination of Caleb Moore, Noel Fritsch, Patrick Howley (and perhaps unknown others). Did Merrill become a target because he ticked off Trumpers? That's not clear. But if Merrill's fall becomes complete, everyone who cares about Alabama should thank the media guys on the right -- and Cesaire McPherson. They have done a public service.


Anonymous said...

The Republicans are eating their young. Great.

legalschnauzer said...

If Roy Moore had a mad-on for somebody, you'd think it would be Doug Jones.

Anonymous said...

You can bet Merrill has a rehab plan in place, where he's back in the political game.

legalschnauzer said...

I want to see if Alabama Leg has the guts to investigate possible use of public resources. If so, Johnny M could be in deep doo-doo.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like this Noel guy gets things done.

Anonymous said...

Caleb Moore is a Street Fightin' Man.

Anonymous said...

These two aren't the only sex scandals involving John Merrill. There are others that could e4upt at any moment. It's just a matter of the right person coming forward.

legalschnauzer said...

If that's the case -- and my understanding is that a lot of folks on the inside of Alabama politics can attach a name to at least one of the other episodes -- Merrill should step down as SOS. He's becoming an embarrassment to the state.

Anonymous said...

A guy like Merrill thinks he can charm his way out of anything. I don't think he will ever change.

Anonymous said...

Friends tell me there was an incident between him and a teacher at Northside when he was still involved with the school system in Tuscaloosa. It involved a broom closet and it was swept under the rug.

The problem with Merrill is he seems to get away with his philandering somehow. Even after he gets caught!

And it looks like so far he is getting away with this affair, too. The question I would like the reporters to look into is who in the world is covering for Merrill? It seems like he has somebody powerful "protecting" him even in college town Tuscaloosa.

Anonymous said...

Nicole Jones of Huntsville used to gushinglyand openly bragg about her affair with John Merrill. Prospective clints of her repirted that she would tell them she could 'get things done' because she was having an affair with John Merrill. Tuscaloosans have known for years of Merrill's dalliances with married school teachers when he was working for the School Board.

Anonymous said...

Acquaintances in Montgomery tell me Merrill is rumored to have affairs with everything that comes his way - women, men, and boys.

Anonymous said...

It looks like one of his paramours will be speaking at the North Jefferson County Republican Club:

legalschnauzer said...

Hmmmmm . . .

Someone should be there to ask questions about JM.