Donald V. Watkins
John Hammontree is Stained by Archibald’s Racist Comment
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on January 17, 2019
On January 6, 2019, Dr. Frank Franklin emailed John Hammontree, the Managing Producer of Reckon at the Alabama Media Group, because recent published editorial columns written by John Archibald raised serious concerns that Franklin, Joseph Cole, and Georgia Smith Slade wanted to share with Al.com readers. Dr. Franklin submitted an op-ed article they wrote for publication titled, “Prejudicial reporting by Pulitzer Prize winning John Archibald.”
Dr. Frank Franklin, MD MPH PhD, is a retired pediatrician and Professor Emeritus of Public Health at The University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is an active researcher in community health and strong advocate for health equity throughout the Birmingham metro area. Ms. Slade is a retired Birmingham-area educator and Mr. Cole is a longtime Gadsden civic leader and community organizer. All of them are highly respected members of their respective professions and communities.
John Hammontree is Now Tainted
On January 11, 2019, John Hammontree emailed Dr. Franklin to say, “We’ll plan to publish this [op-ed] next week.” Dr. Franklin and his co-authors were pleased with this response.
Between this date and January 16, 2019, AL.com reversed course and circled the wagon around John Archibald, its highly-touted Pulitzer Prize winning columnist.
On January 16, 2019, Hammontree sent Dr. Franklin an email informing him that AL.com had decided to renege on its commit to publish the op-ed article. The email stated:
“As I mentioned when we spoke on the phone on Monday, I needed to speak with our VP, Kelly Scott, who is copied here ….. After additional review, we are declining to run this column because the issue you write about was resolved with our apology. But, if there is another angle that you’d like to take, we would evaluate that submission for publication.”
As the public knows, no “apology” was issued regarding the false racist statement John Archibald fabricated and attributed to me in his November 29, 2018 editorial column. Furthermore, Hammontree, himself, repeated Archibald’s false racist statement in a news article he published on December 31, 2018.
Hammontree was referring to this statement, which was buried at the bottom of the Opinion section in The Birmingham Newson January 13, 2019. The statement was also published as an “update” (not a “retraction”) at the beginning of John Archibald’s original November 29, 2018 online article:
“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.”
Dr. Franklin promptly emailed this response to Hammontree:
“I understand and respect your and Kelly Scott’s view and am happy to update and revise the op-ed. Essentially, the theme of the op-ed would shift from determining the truth of the quotation as you all accepted Archibald’s recollection was faulty and have apologized for that error. With that apology as a given, there are three more serious concerns to discuss in a revised op-ed beyond the issue of a simple error: 1) the prejudicial motivation behind John Archibald’s faulty memory; 2) the impact of John Archibald’s erroneous quotation on the chance of an accused individual receiving a fair trial; and 3) the impact of John Archibald’s race baiting in our community. A conclusion would be that John Archibald violated standards of journalism ethics and deserves censure by AL.COM. I would appreciate if you would communicate with me and my co-authors (copied on this email) the chances of publication in AL.COM of a revision of the op-ed around the themes above. Below is the op-ed. The highlighted areas would be removed and text developed around the three serious issues cited.”
Dr. Franklin’s email and suggested revision to the op-ed article were met with deafening silence from Hammontree and Scott Kelly.
The Stench from AL.com’s Lies and Conflicts of Interest is Unbearable
The stench from AL.com’s steady stream of lies and undisclosed conflicts of interest is unbearable. If AL.com practices ethics in journalism, it must be doing so in a stealth fashion that is completely undetectable. Several examples of AL.com’s ethical lapses accentuate this point.
First, John Hammontree is part of the two-person AL.com management team that made the decision to reject the op-ed article criticizing the fabricated racist statement published by John Archibald and Hammontree in separate articles within a 30-day period.
Second, Archibald’s and Hammontree’s fabricated racist statement was attributed to me, one of the three arbitrators who ruled against The Birmingham News in a fraud lawsuit that resulted in the media organization paying $16 million in compensatory and punitive damages to six former distributors (all of whom were white) after the News lost its appeal from the arbitration panel’s ruling in the Alabama Supreme Court. I wrote the 49-page arbitration opinion that was upheld on appeal by the Supreme Court.
The News’ payment of the $16 million arbitration judgment was not covered by insurance because the conduct at issue was fraudulent. Furthermore, theNews never publicly disclosed its conflict of interest with me in subsequently published articles about me.
Third, on May 5, 2018, I exposed an AL.com undisclosed conflict of interest involving former reporter Joey Kennedy and his close personal ties to a group of Birmingham, Alabama women who engaged in questionable financial activities during the “rescue” of Cavalier dogs in Wheaton, Missouri in 2014. Kennedy’s powder-puff articles for AL.com glorified these women and their “rescue” work. To the shock of many, Kennedy privately alerted the women that Cavalier lovers outside of Alabama were raising accountability and transparency questions regarding the expenditure of donor money for the Wheaton “rescue” and the placement of the highest-priced “rescued” dogs among the ranks of their close personal friends and themselves. Kennedy made it clear that he was on their side in this dispute.
Fourth, on yesterday, I exposed AL.com columnist Kyle Whitmire’s conflict of interest in covering the 2018 trial of Balch & Bingham partner Joel Gilbert and Drummond VP David Roberson, who were convicted on all six criminal charges (i.e., conspiracy, bribery, three counts of honest services wire fraud, and money laundering). While the trial proceedings were in progress, Whitmire served as an undisclosed advocate for Gilbert’s and Roberson’s nemesis -- G.A.S.P. (the Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution). G.A.S.P. was formed in 2009 (under the name “Alabama First”) as an advocacy group for promoting clean air policies and environmental protection initiatives in and around Birmingham, including the neighborhood at issue in the Gilbert/Roberson trial.
Fifth, in March of 2011, John Archibald published an article criticizing Jefferson County, Alabama’s bankruptcy filing without disclosing his own bankruptcy experience. When Archibald was outed in this faux pas, he immediately blamed his personal bankruptcy filing on his wife. Archibald explained the situation this way: “My wife handled my finances and I trusted her. I don’t want to throw her under the bus… There’s no excuse for it. I’m not trying to duck responsibility. I’m completely responsible for not being attentive enough.”
What Archibald omitted in this public confession were these material facts: (a) he had to sign the bankruptcy petition in several places and (b) he had to attend several court-ordered meetings and hearings. If Archibald was not aware of the couple’s bankruptcy petition and did not sign this court document, then his wife may have violated several federal laws by affixing his signature to the sworn petition. Furthermore, if Archibald did not know about his wife's filing of the bankruptcy petition, then who showed up at the court hearings pretending to be him?
Sixth, Kyle Whitmire, Archibald’s trusted friend and comrade in AL.com’s proud tradition of journalistic hypocrisy and non-stop parade of conflicts of interest, rushed to Archibald’s defense with this lame attempt at character witnessing: “Readers now have sympathy for John and respect. Because there’s one weapon he’s got that his enemies don’t: Courage.”
Seventh, John Archibald did not get fired for lying about his bankruptcy. Instead, Archibald became emboldened enough to fabricate more lies like the November 29, 2018 false racist statement he attributed to me. Archibald’s lying paid off because he won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. Archibald’s lying has apparently inspired John Hammontree to emulate and practice his ability to fabricate false statements and pass them off as “news.”
Fumigation is an Exercise in Futility
The prestige of John Archibald’s Pulitzer Prize is not strong enough to fumigate the nauseating stench from AL.com’s steady stream of lies and undisclosed conflicts of interest. In truth, AL.com sold what was left of its journalistic integrity years ago when it switched from a modicum of actual news reporting to purveyors of cheap “click-bait” voyeurism.
Today, AL.com is nothing more than a closet advocate for special interest groups and advertisers, a smear-sheet aimed at targeted opponents, a rag-sheet for sports junkies, a den of conflicted “reporters,” and a social media platform for “click-bait” readers who love throwing anonymous spitballs and wallowing in negative racial stereotypes.
No amount of fumigation can remediate this foul smell.
PHOTO: Dr. Frank Franklin (below) is a retired pediatrician and distinguished Professor Emeritus of Public Health at The University of Alabama at Birmingham. Dr. Franklin, along with Georgia Smith Slade and Joseph Cole, co-authored an op-ed article criticizing John Archibald's fabricated racist statement that was recently attributed to me. AL.com refused to publish their op-ed article.
PHOTO: John Hammontree (below), Managing Producer of Reckon at the Alabama Media Group.