Demonstrators participate in the #MeToo Survivors’ March in response to several high-profile sexual harassment scandals on November 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. The protest was organized by Tarana Burke, who created the viral hashtag #MeToo after reports of alleged sexual abuse and sexual harassment by the now disgraced former movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

A prominent Alabama newspaper executive has admitted he “spanked” a former employee in the 1970s. He has refused to step down. In a report in the Anniston Star, at least two former employees allege that H. Brandt Ayers, the Star’s former publisher and current chairman of Consolidated Publishing (which owns the Star), “spanked women against their will, with sexual overtones.”

When contacted by the Star, Ayers admitted to spanking former police reporter Wendy Sigal, who worked at the paper in 1973 and 1974. Former Star editor Trisha O’Connor recalled receiving a phone call about the incident, describing Sigal as “very, very upset,” and said Brandt had stopped by her home and “told her she had been a bad girl and she needed to be spanked—and he spanked her.”

Ayers admitted the alleged sexual misconduct to the Star, but justified his behavior:

Ayers on Tuesday said he did indeed spank Sigal—on doctor’s orders, he claimed.

Ayers claimed Sigal had been out of work because of a psychological ailment.

“I called the doctor and asked what should do, and he said ‘calm her down,’” Ayers said. He said he asked the doctor if spanking would work, and the doctor said yes.

Advertisement

Sigal left The Star shortly after the alleged incident. Sigal, later Wendy Beasely, died in 2006, and the Star was unable to reach her family for comment.

Ayers also “seemed to admit,” in the words of the Star, to an assault of another reporter, Veronica Pike Kennedy, who claims he spanked her in the newsroom in 1975. Former Star reporter Mike Stamler confirmed witnessing the assault. “Let the accusation stand,” said Ayers.

According to current publisher Bob Davis, the Anniston Star is currently developing a policy for reporting and responding to sexual harassment. But Ayers, who remained publisher until 2016, has no plans to step down as chairman of the publishing board in wake of the allegations. “I am the third generation of a family that has served honorably, even courageously, in the public interest,” he said.