AL.com Poisoned The Well
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on March 16, 2019
My federal court trial on ten counts of conspiracy, bank fraud, and wire fraud charges commenced on February 13, 2019 and ended on March 8, 2019 when a jury convicted me on all counts. The same jury also convicted my son, Donald, Jr., of conspiracy and one count of wire fraud. Our sentencing is scheduled for July 16, 2019.
While I was on trial, I did not write or publish any articles about the developments in the courtroom. The media organization that provided the principal coverage of my trial on a daily basis was AL.com, my media competitor in Birmingham and real-world nemesis.
In the months leading up to my trial, AL.com columnists and reporters did everything within their power to poison the well of public opinion against me. For example, columnist John Archibald and Reckon at AL.com Managing Editor John Hammontree fabricated a racist quotation and attributed it to me in two AL.com articles that were published after my indictment. This fake racist quotation was retracted only after I launched a six-week, unrelenting media campaign against AL.com to correct this blatant abuse of journalistic power.
AL.com columnist Kyle Whitmire tweeted his spin on the trial testimony each day. Whitmire's coverage of my trial started a month after I published a January 16, 2019 article that was highly critical of his undisclosed conflict of interest in covering the trial of Joel Gilbert, a Balch & Bingham attorney, and David Roberson, a Drummond Company Vice President of Government Affairs, who were found guilty in Birmingham federal court last July on all charges involving the bribery of former Alabama State Representative Oliver Robinson.
As a member of the Society of Professional Journalists (“SPJ”), I am well aware of the SPJ’s Code of Ethics for journalists. AL.com repeatedly failed to adhere to these ethical principles during its coverage of my trial. For all practical purposes, AL.com functions much like the state-run media organizations found in authoritarian countries. It is easy to understand how and why AL.com’s three newspapers in Alabama continue to fulfill the historical role they played during the infamous COINTELPRO era of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.
AL.com’s biggest problem with me grows out of my role as one of three arbitrators who awarded a $20 million judgment against The Birmingham News on December 30, 2002 for defrauding Sherry Horn, Hugh Stewart, Kameron Hyde, Jesse Glass, and James and Teresa McLendon, all of whom were distributors of its newspapers under long-standing “dealer agreements.” The News appealed this judgment to the Alabama Supreme Court, which reduced the amount to $16 million on June 11, 2004 but otherwise affirmed the arbitration panel’s finding that the News committed serial acts of fraud against these six distributors.
The Birmingham News has privately, repeatedly, and often blamed me for this costly loss because I was the principal author of the 49-page arbitration panel ruling that was upheld by the Supreme Court. After losing in the Supreme Court, the News paid the $16 million court judgment won by the plaintiffs.
The Birmingham News has never publicly acknowledged its fraudulent conduct, or its payment of the $16 million court judgment. Instead, the News publicly and maliciously trashed me every chance it got.
Fast-forward to my criminal trial. While dripping with conflicts of interest that directly involved me, AL.com took the lead in covering my trial for Alabama’s mainstream media. Was this coverage fair, objective, and unbiased?
Of course not. AL.com made an extraordinary effort to poison the well of public opinion against me. However, the lingering stench from the Birmingham News’ documented fraudulent conduct kept it from achieving complete success in this regard.
My devoted and loyal block of 20,000 readers stayed the course with me throughout the trial, and remains intact today. They know who I am and fully understand my ordeal. Additionally, my ability to tell the full story of what really happened in this case is gradually emerging.
For sure, my case has established two truisms: First, AL.com is too compromised by a lack of journalist integrity and too obligated to corporate advertisers to investigate, write, and publish hard news stories in a fair, objective, and balanced way. Second, AL.com is incapable of being anything other than a “media whore” for special interest groups and anonymous commenters who use this dying media platform to hurl venomous spitballs and mindless insults at the subjects of AL.com's tabloid-like “click-bait” articles.
PHOTO: AL.com columnist Kyle Whitmire, a case study in undisclosed conflicts of interest.