The developing saga of racketeering, accounting fraud and "hush money" payments at Southern Company might prove to be one of the most important stories of corporate corruption in Deep South history, especially for residents of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi -- the states with the highest percentage of customers in the Southern Company service area. It even has national implications (see here and here), but the mainstream press has been largely somnolent.
Al.com, the largest news-gathering organization in Alabama, has written a handful of stories about the dueling lawsuits in Florida and Alabama involving Matrix LLC and the surveillance of Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning, but it otherwise has been mostly silent. We have seen a fair amount of coverage in Georgia, with relatively little in Mississippi. The press in Florida, which is not part of Southern Company's service area, reported heavily on the dueling-lawsuits story, mainly because the tentacles of Matrix LLC reach deep into the Sunshine State.
That has left the heavy lifting to independent online journalism -- and in Alabama, that means longtime attorney and entrepreneur Donald Watkins at DonaldWatkins.com and CDLU CEO K.B. Forbes at banbalch.com, with assistance from yours truly at Legal Schnauzer.
Watkins, who developed sharp investigative skills over five decades in the legal profession, says it is not an accident that a classic "big story" has come to be dominated by non-traditional, online reporters and publishers. In Watkins' case, the media landscape has evolved to allow someone with his background to develop a powerful journalism presence -- with no printing press, TV studio, advertisers, or traditional newsroom.
The digital age presented an opportunity, and Watkins was ready to grab it. He has responded by breaking a string of stories in recent months that exposed corruption tied to Southern Company, and he appears to have more such stories in development. In an op-ed piece today, under the headline "The News Media Business Has Changed, Radically," Watkins writes:
On April 24, 2023, Tucker Carlson was fired at Fox News and Don Lemon was fired at CNN. The audiences of both news media organizations were shocked, but I was not.
The news business has changed radically in the last ten years. Instantaneously delivered, free digital-news content is rapidly replacing the old-fashion news model that comes from a primetime show with a highly-paid host/anchor.
I would never pay any media organization for news, via a subscription purchase or a requested donation. Articles that appeal to my areas of interest now saturate the Internet.
On my news media platforms (i.e., www.donaldwatkins.com, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), I do not market products, or force readers to pay a subscription fee for my content, or beg my readers to support me with a donation. I don’t have “cookies” loaded into my articles. I don't get a fee or kickback from any sponsor if a reader clicks on one of my articles. In fact, I have NO sponsors.
My news media content is diverse, fresh, well-researched, educational, thought-provoking, and free. It is often backed up with court documents, photos, and tape-recorded evidence.
That is where Watkins' years of investigative experience as an attorney enter the picture -- to the benefit of readers. He writes:
My special investigations over the past five decades have caused the resignation or removal of a litany of corrupt public officials, including two Alabama governors (both of whom were convicted on ethics charges), one Chief U.S. District Court judge (in Montgomery, Alabama), two U.S. District Court judges (in Birmingham, Alabama), two U.S. Attorneys (in Birmingham), one mayor (in Montgomery), dozens of crooked police officers, and countless local government officials.
I hold the national record for exposing the largest number of coverups of wrongdoing by public officials, corporate thugs, and crooked law enforcement officials in America. I am proud of this accomplishment.
Even though I do not promote my news media sites in any way, the average daily readership across all of my social-media platforms exceeds 60,000 people. My brand of journalism is NOT a commercial enterprise. It is a public service.
Watkins understands that journalism, to a great extent, is about holding people accountable -- especially wrongdoers in positions that directly impact the public:
I report the cold, hard truth on topics that commercial news-media groups like Bloomberg News, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, AL.com, and others of a similar ilk will not devote the time, money, and resources to develop and report.
I am an unapologetic advocate for civil and human rights in the United States and abroad. My articles are often written in an effort to remove the yoke of oppression from the necks of the oppressed.
My readership is about 60% white and international in scope. The majority of my U.S.-based readers are political moderates who have been reading my articles for many years. I always learn from my readers and they often learn from me.
My media platforms are very interactive, but always respectful. I encourage spirited debate on the important public policy issues of the day. However, these debates must be carried on in a civil and respectful way on my news-media platforms.
Watkins, long outspoken, has been the target of numerous campaigns to silence his voice. Those efforts clearly have failed, over the long haul. Watkins writes:
Many of my adversaries, including city, state, and federal government officials, have tried for decades to shut down my investigative reporting, but none has succeeded. The campaign to shut down my investigations began in 1976, via an effort to weaponize the state's criminal justice system against me. Since that time, state and federal officials in Alabama have repeatedly tried to put me in jail.
In 1994, white Birmingham corporate icon Henry C. Goodrich demanded that I leave the city because I was was disturbing the business community’s “good relations with the colored community." At the time, I was investigating and reporting on unlawfully lender discrimination against African-Americans by Birmingham-area banks.
By 1999, the Birmingham business community's campaign against me had turned overtly racist. The Birmingham News (known today as AL.com) became the flag-bearer for the white community's racist campaign to quash me like a bug.
Watkins has proven that you don't have to graduate from "J-School" or attract a bevy of sponsors to make a major impact in journalism:
Despite it all, I strive every day to maintain a sense of journalistic integrity in a world that is gushing weaklings who walk around each day masquerading as journalists. Most of them don't even have the backbone of a jellyfish.
Unlike Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon, I own my digital news media platforms. Nobody can fire me.
I am "unbought" and "unbossed." What is more, I do not place myself in a situation where I have to kiss anybody's ass in order to write and publish my articles.
In fact, it is my natural instinct to kick the asses of bullies and demagogues who target women, children, disadvantaged minorities, poor people, and the elderly for abuse. Whenever I see vulnerable members of these targeted groups getting bullied or abused, the media ass kicking I administer to the bullies or demagogues who are abusing them is unrelenting.
It matters not whether I am liked or disliked by abusive bullies and demagogues. As my father, Dr. Levi Watkins, Sr., always told my siblings and me: "It is more important to be respected than liked." My brand of journalism commands respect. Just ask the CEO of the Southern Company in Atlanta.