A “pica stick” is a newspaper tool that is part-ruler and part-measure, its biggest use back in the days when type would be cast into lead strips. Before modern technology came along, actual newspaper pages were made up totally in a lead alloy. Hundreds of lead strips were combined in a vise-like case the size of a newspaper page and I used a pica stick all the time.
Never in my life, or wildest dreams, would I ever consider spanking anyone with a pica stick but then again back in the 1970s when I was a budding sports editor, I wasn’t some pathological sex creep like Brady Ayers, who got his job the same way I got mine. Both Ayers and I were third-generation family owners of Southern newspapers, and, while the Chattanooga News-Free Press was very conservative, The Anniston Star is still quite liberal.
I was totally shocked last week when the news came out that Ayers used his pica stick to sometimes spank young female reporters back in the 1970s. I don’t care how long it has been or what the statute of limitations is for sexual abuse in Alabama -- why Ayers, now 82, hasn’t been arrested, charged and jailed is beyond my wildest imagination.
This jerk has admitted he spanked several young female reporters he had hired. He even went to one reporter’s apartment and has the audacity to recall he spanked her on the advice of her physician. No, he can’t remember the doctor’s name but does recall it “helped her calm down” after she stayed at home with a so-called psychological ailment.
About the time H. Brant Ayers was administering serious spankings as a sex predator – they resulted in each victim sobbing in pain – my family insisted that I attend the Southern Newspaper Association’s annual meetings and I got to meet a lot of newspaper people from around the region. There were lectures but mostly it was golf, afternoon cocktails and sharing information. (After several of my grandfather’s “close friends” tried to hire me, I was no longer required to attend!)
I have no idea if I ever met Anniston’s Ayers but I knew he had good newspapers and down through the years I rubbed shoulders with a number of Anniston’s sports folks, who I remember as being really good guys. For a lot of years they had a sports editor who would introduce himself with the words, “Star reporter,” in a way more than one coach or athlete would ask me later, “What's that guy’s problem … tell your buddy to leave his ego in his closet.”
Jokes aside, the dark side of Brandy Ayers was finally brought to light when one of his victims – right after Thanksgiving – finally told on him after years of “hating Brandy Ayers will every cell in my body.” Several other females, all in their 20s back then, quickly came forward.
When Ayers was confronted last Friday, he quickly emailed a reply: “I have no memory of the alleged incidents.”
But by Monday – as the story swept across the South like a frigid weather front -- The Anniston Star had a page-one story on New Year’s Day where the former publisher had an updated statement: “As a very young man with more authority than judgment, I did some things I regret,” the statement read. “At my advanced age I wish I could relive those days again, knowing the seriousness of my position and with the accumulated judgment that goes with age.”
Eddie Burkhalter, who resigned from the Anniston newspaper in late November, broke the story in Alabama Political Reporter after the Star’s editors allegedly refused to run the story. Ayers is now the chairman of Consolidated Publishing, which owns the Star and five smaller newspapers in the state. Minutes after Burkhalter’s story appeared, the national media went frenzy. The Birmingham News has had four different stories on Ayers and his penchant for spanking single young women.
Here’s Burkhalter’s account of one attack:
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NOTE: This excerpt appeared in the Alabama Political Reporter as an updated story on Wednesday Jan. 3, 2018)
Veronica Pike Kennedy, one of those former Star reporters, said that in February 1975, she was forcefully spanked by Ayers in the newsroom.
Ayers, in a reply Sunday afternoon to questions emailed to him Friday about the incidents, wrote, “I have no memory of the alleged incidents.”
Ayers, the son of The Star’s founder, Harry Ayers, took over as publisher of the company’s flagship daily newspaper in 1969, remaining in that position until 2016. Also, Consolidated Publishing has a relationship with the University of Alabama’s Graduate school of Journalism, which sends between five and seven young interns to The Star newsroom each summer to work alongside staff writers and editors.
Speaking of her own incident, Kennedy said it happened early on a Saturday, “so I was usually completely alone in the mornings.”
Kennedy said Ayers came into the newsroom, handed her a piece of writing and said, “I want you to read this. This is a fine piece of writing. I’ll come back in a little while, and you can tell me what you think.”
“When he came back, I said, ‘This is really very well written. Who did it?’” Kennedy said, adding that she knew Ayers had written it, and it was to be his Sunday editorial. “He said ‘Oh, you’re being a bad girl. I’m going to have to spank you,’” Kennedy recalled.
“I just thought he was kidding, but he started coming around the desk, and I grabbed onto the seat of my desk chair with both hands as tight as I could.”
Kennedy said Ayers picked up the chair with her in it, wrested it out from under her, bent her over the desk behind and spanked her hard 18 times with a metal pica pole, leaving marks. Prior to digital publishing, pica poles were used as rulers extensively by newspaper designers and editors.
“I was fighting him the whole time. Trying to kick him. Bite him. Scratch him. Whatever I could do,” Kennedy said.
Then, Kennedy said Ayers told her, “Well, that ought to teach you to not be a bad girl.”
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Ayers says he has “no intention” of relinquishing his role as chairman of Consolidated Publishing but why doesn’t law enforcement in Alabama press changes on behalf of the victims? If there is a statute of limitations, he’s still a sex offender.
Regardless, in the state who in 2017 gave us a shamed ex-governor, Robert Bentley, and a terribly maligned Senate candidate, Roy Moore, the “court of public opinion” is now roasting Ayers and, if any of over 300 comments on AL.com are any measure, the Anniston creep is finished, even at the age of 82.