AL.com Retracts John Archibald's Fake Racist Quotation But Violates Agreement
Updated: Sep 6
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on January 13, 2019; Updated at 2:30 p.m. EST
Today, AL.com retracted and apologized for a racist quotation columnist/reporter John Archibald fabricated and attributed to me in a November 29, 2018 editorial he wrote and published. In the editorial, Archibald stated that my job as Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, Jr.’s special counsel in 1991 was to "kick white people’s ass.”
I never made this racist statement, on or off the record. Archibald, the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner for Commentary, did not fact-check this statement before he published it.
The “kick white people’s ass” statement was repeated in a December 25, 2018 article written by Reckon Managing Editor John Hammontree titled, “25 people to watch in 2019.” Like Archibald, Hammontree did not fact-check this statement.
Archibald's fake racist quotation portrayed me in a false light to: (a) the white and biracial members of my family, (b) my business partners and associates around the world, (c) people of interracial goodwill in the United States and abroad who have contributed to my success in life, and (d) members of the general public. This quote also dishonored all that my family has worked for in America since the 1830s.
Here is the full text of AL.com’s statement of regret and retraction, as it appears in the Opinion section of today's print edition of The Birmingham News:
“In an opinion column published on Nov. 29, 2018, columnist John Archibald wrote about the upcoming trial of Donald Watkins. In that piece, Archibald quoted Watkins as saying in 1991 that his job was to 'kick white people’s ass.' Archibald based the quotation on his memory from interviewing Watkins for a story he wrote in 1991. That quotation was republished in a Dec. 25 Reckon article about 25 people to watch in 2019. Watkins contacted AL.com after the column and article were published and said he did not make the statement that was attributed to him. We have reviewed Archibald’s 1991 story and it does not contain this quote from Watkins. We regret our publication attributing this quotation to Watkins and retract it.”
In exchange for issuing the retraction in the News and on AL.com, I agreed to release all defamation claims I had against AL.com, The Birmingham News, and their affiliated entities relating to the two articles. The "retraction" on AL.com was posted as an "update"at the beginning of Archibald's November 29th article.
For me, this legal fight was never about money; it was all about honor, integrity in journalism, and protecting my family’s good name.
Archibald Defamed Me Twice in Two Years
The November article was the second time John Archibald has defamed me in two years. The first time occurred on December 9, 2016 when Archibald published an article reviving and recycling decades-old allegations that I engaged in public corruption activities while serving as Mayor Arrington’s special counsel in the early 1990s. Birmingham contractor Chris Woods supposedly made these baseless allegations while running against Arrington for mayor in 1995.
Archibald’s revived allegations of corruption sprinted across town like a “lie with legs” running in an Olympic track event. Even though Woods had publicly recanted and retracted these allegations, orally and in writing, on multiple occasions since 1995, Archibald resurrected them one more time in his article.
On December 11, 2016, I wrote and published a rebuttal article titled, “Archibald’s Drive-By Character Assassination.” After this article was published, Archibald came onto my Facebook page and apologized for defaming me. He did not apologize on his AL.com editorial page where the defamation occurred. I quickly accepted Archibald’s apology and moved on.
Archibald Has Gone Out of His Way to Paint Me as a “Crook” and “Racist”
For nearly three decades, John Archibald and some of his colleagues at The Birmingham News have gone out of their way to paint me as a “crook” and “racist” who does not like white people. These portrayals are patently false. They also feed the negative racial stereotypes held by many of the News’ anonymous commenters towards me.
Furthermore, The Birmingham News has never reported that, while serving as Mayor Arrington’s special counsel, I investigated and stopped: (a) the theft of drug informant money by Birmingham narcotics officers, (b) the theft of cash from the City’s Parole and Probation Office, (c) the theft of property from the police department’s property room, and (d) the theft of cash from various Boutwell Auditorium financial accounts. At the time, my aggressive anti-corruption activities targeted all wrongdoers, regardless of their race.
Likewise, The Birmingham News has never run a story about my voluntarily appearance before a Detroit federal grand jury in 2008 to report “pay-to-play” demands made to me by top public officials inside Detroit City Hall. I repeatedly rejected these demands and reported them to federal law enforcement officials. After my testimony was given, a special public corruption grand jury was convened in Detroit and more than 35 local public officials in the metro-Detroit area were charged, tried, convicted or pleaded guilty, and jailed. Included among this group was Ron Zajac, the former general counsel of the Detroit Pension Funds.
Additionally, The Birmingham News has never reported anything about my spotless 12-year record of compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) that governs the conduct of American companies operating in foreign countries. This is a remarkable feat for any American company that works in over 40 international markets. In contrast, Walmart has been under a six-year federal investigation concerning allegations that the global retailer bribed government officials in Mexico, India and China over the course of a decade to fast-track store openings. Last year, Walmart set aside $300 million to resolve the bribery claims in its FCPA case.
This morning, AL.com retracted the “racist” comment John Archibald attributed to me in November and apologized for its publication. This was the right thing to do, even though the retraction was not prominently placed in The Birmingham News (as required by our agreement).
I take extreme pride in the Watkins family’s good name. It has been unblemished for five generations. Additionally, the black, white, and biracial members of the Watkins family have been “Bridge Builders” in America since the 1830s. They did not deserve to be dishonored by John Archibald.
We are not “crooks” or “racists.” We give to society, not take from it. For example, more than 3 million people worldwide are walking around today with implantable defibrillators that were developed by the pioneering medical research of Drs. Michel Mirowski, Morton Mower, William Staewen, and Levi Watkins, Jr. The device, which detects arrhythmia in the heart and emits an electric charge to correct it, prevents sudden death from an irregular heartbeat. Levi, who is my deceased brother, implanted the first defibrillator in February 1980 at a time when many white Johns Hopkins University Hospital cardiac patients did not want a black heart surgeon, who had been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine, to perform life-saving surgery on them. Levi overlooked their bigotry, loved them as human beings, and saved their lives anyway.
Yet, Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr., is among the innocent Watkins family members John Archibald gratuitously disparaged with the publication of his fabricated "kick white people's ass" racist comment.
Finally, every member of the Watkins family has been taught that a man/woman who will NOT fight for himself/herself, will NOT fight for others. It is a longstanding family tradition that Watkins family members will always: (a) stand up for deserving men and women who are not able to stand up for themselves and do so without fear or favor, (b) serve the cause of justice without any expectation of reward or recognition, and (c) aggressively defend the Watkins name against all false accusations, without exception. Honor, integrity, and principled stands on public policy issues that promote interracial goodwill are core Watkins family values that we cherish and protect.
PHOTO: Olivia and William Carmichael with their children. Olivia, seated second from the left, was a “mulatto” or biracial woman. William, seated second from the right, was white. Olivia and William were married in Crawford Station, Mississippi, on March 25, 1865. My maternal grandmother is the little girl standing next to her mother Olivia. We have never allowed any person or entity to disparage the Carmichael/Varnado/Watkins family name or stain its five-generation legacy of bridge-building in America without one hell of a fight.