H. Brandt Ayers, former publisher and current chairman of the company that owns the Alabama newspaper The Anniston Star, has admitted to allegations that he assaulted female reporters in the 1970s. Four women have accused Ayers of spanking women against their will.
Veronica Pike Kennedy was a Star employee in 1975 when she claims Ayers assaulted her in the newsroom. She told the Alabama Political Reporter that one Saturday morning in the office, Ayers asked her to read a draft of an article he wrote, then walked away. When he returned, Kennedy said she complimented the article. Ayers allegedly responded, “Oh, you’re being a bad girl. I’m going to have to spank you.” The publisher forcibly bent her over a desk and spanked her 18 times with a metal pica pole used to design newspaper pages, Kennedy said. Mike Stamler, a former Star reporter, said he witnessed the altercation.
Colleagues of Wendy Sigal, a reporter for the Anniston newspaper from 1973–1974, alleged that Ayers assaulted Signal inside her apartment. Former Star editor Trisha O’Connor said Sigal called her after missing several days of work. “She was very, very upset,” O’Connor told the Star. “She said Brandy had been to her apartment. He told her she had been a bad girl and she needed to be spanked — and he spanked her.” Former staffers said Sigal resigned soon after. She died in 2006.
Ayers admitted to assaulting Sigal and claimed he did so on doctor’s orders. “I called the doctor and asked what should do,” Ayers said. “He said ‘calm her down.'” Ayers claims the unnamed doctor said spanking would help Sigal’s mental well-being. Former staffers said they never heard of management contacting employees’ doctors in the ’70s.
Regarding Kennedy’s allegation, Ayers said, “Let the accusation stand.” Asked whether he plans to resign as chairman of Consolidated Publishing, Ayers said, “Of course not. I am the third generation of a family that has served honorably, even courageously, in the public interest.”
Consolidated also publishes The Daily Home in Talladega County, as well as four weekly newspapers in Alabama and Florida. Ayers replaced his father as the Star’s publisher in 1965. He stepped down in 2016 but remains the publishing company’s chairman.