An Alabama newspaper executive recently admitted he spanked at least one of his female employees with a metal ruler during the 1970s -- but he said he was only following a doctor's orders.
In reports published in Alabama news outlets, at least three women said H. Brandt Ayers, who became a nationally known voice of Southern liberalism during his tenure as editor and publisher at The Anniston Star, assaulted them in the mid-1970s, once using a metal ruler. The women and other former newsroom employees said Ayers had a reputation for spanking other women.
Ayers, 82, issued a statement stating he “did some things I regret” when he was “a very young man with more authority than judgment.”
He also admitted he spanked “at least one female reporter decades ago,” but claimed it was per doctor’s orders, the Anniston Star reported.
Ayers told the publication he spanked a woman, who was believed to be deceased now, while she worked at the Anniston Star from 1973 to 1974. Ayers claimed the woman was psychologically ill and a doctor recommended he spank the woman to “calm her down.”
An online publication, Alabama Political Reporter, first reported the allegations of former Star employee Veronica Pike Kennedy. The Star later published its own account quoting Kennedy and two other women who declined to have their names published; the Montgomery Advertiser also interviewed Kennedy and cited one woman who asked to remain anonymous.
Kennedy told the Advertiser she was working as a part-time clerk in the nearly deserted newsroom on a Saturday morning in 1975 when Ayers asked her to read one of his columns and she jokingly asked who had written it.
"And he said, 'Oh, you are being a bad girl,'" Kennedy said. "'You know what I do to bad girls? I spank them."
Ayers forcibly pulled her out of a chair and whipped her with a metal ruler, Kennedy said. She said she was hit 18 times by the ruler.
“I was fighting him the whole time. Trying to kick him. Bite him. Scratch him. Whatever I could do,” Kennedy said.
She said Ayers told her, “Well, that ought to teach you to not be a bad girl.”
Kennedy said the incident led her to seek counseling years later.
"It was hard to trust anybody in authority for a long time after that," she said. "I had anger I didn't realize I had."
Mike Stamler told the Advertiser he was in the newsroom that day, working on a story. He said he remembered seeing Ayers and Kennedy disagreeing about something and then saw the assault.
"I was stunned," he said.
Ayers responded to Kennedy’s accusations by stating: “Let the accusation stand."
Trisha O’Connor, a former employee of the Star, said she did not witness the assaults by Ayers but other female employees would warn new women at the company to stay away from Ayers unless accompanied by a supervisor.
The incidents described are too old for any criminal charges to be filed.
Ayers stepped down last year as publisher of the Anniston newspaper. He is a member of the Alabama Academy of Honor, which recognizes living Alabamians for their achievements. His syndicated column has been carried in papers statewide.
In one of his books, “In Love with Defeat: The Making of a Southern Liberal,” the newspaper exec wrote spanking “was as American and Southern as fried chicken on Sundays," The Washington Post reported.
In one encounter, Ayers recalled threatening to spank a woman, his future wife, Josephine, during a date after she made a comment that upset him.
Ben Cunningham, managing editor of the Star, said the allegations were “a difficult time for this extended family.”
“The airing of these allegations, in our pages and elsewhere, are a difficult time for this extended family,” Cunningham wrote in a column for the news outlet. “For the women who say Ayers attacked them, though, I hope it leads to peace and to a sense of justice.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.