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Don’t Get Yellowhammered (A Cliff Sims Story)

  |   By: West Honeycutt     |   Opinion

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge.” The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t.

The second act is called “The Turn.” The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back.

That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.

- The Prestige (2006)

The preceding passage from the Academy Award nominated The Prestige tells us a lot about showmanship. In order to survive in their chosen field, magicians must be talented. They must woo and wow us with their right hand so that we cannot see the “trick” being performed with their left.

For the past several years, Alabamians have been wooed, wowed, tricked and duped.

In 2011, a classmate of mine at The University of Alabama, Cliff Sims, started a political commentary blog called Yellowhammer. That was Act One, or “The Pledge.”

Sims showed us something common. Something ordinary. A college student created a blog. He billed it as commentary at the time and never as “news.” It was his opinion, and a narrow conservative one at that.

In March 2013, Sims gave his blog a facelift and a name change. This was the Second Act, or “The Turn.” From this point on, what Sims wrote would be called “news” – Yellowhammer News, to be precise.

Political insiders in Montgomery have long questioned Sims’ rise to success, his source of funding, his uncanny ability to receive news before it actually breaks and his political motive.

“It has been known for sometime and is beyond speculation that the Yellowhammer blog run by Cliff Sims is nothing more than a mouthpiece for the Speaker and those in his inner circle. And I don’t know anyone who would claim otherwise…,” said a Montgomery insider and lobbyist.

Eddie Curran, former reporter for the Mobile Press-Register, recently uncovered evidence linking Montgomery juggernaut Swatek, Azbell, Howe and Ross (SAHR) as a financial backer to some of Yellowhammer’s work. SAHR is, perhaps, best known for one of its partners (David Azbell) receiving a $96,000 taxpayer-funded consulting contract each year from Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and the Alabama House Republican Caucus. SAHR partner David Azbell also co-authored Rep. Hubbard’s book, Storming the State House.

Confused yet? “The Turn” is designed to be tricky.

Yellowhammer is notoriously fawning in its coverage of Hubbard and of those loyal and associated with the speaker,” writes Curran. Speaking on the subject of a cameraman hired by Sims to do video work, Curran states, “it was the Swatek firm, not Yellowhammer, that paid him $2,500 for his work … and a related video on Yellowhammer.”

But none of this is the finale to Sims’ trick… “The Prestige,” or the third act, goes beyond any bias-funded political news blog. The third act involved taxpayers’ money.

Last week, Rep. Barry Moore (R – Enterprise) was indicted and arrested on four felony charges. It was recently reported by The Alabama Political Reporter and Sweet Home Politics that Moore has been involved in more than a few shady deals

Moore relayed threats from Speaker Hubbard to kill 100 jobs for the town of Enterprise if Moore’s opponent did not drop out of the race. Moore falsified a document in an attempt to receive a special rate at his country club. Moore sold his house to an Enterprise company for $650,000 … the same company that was to receive $2 million from the State of Alabama for economic development. After being elected, Moore received $60,000 in state contracts.

Several weeks ago former Rep. Greg Wren (R – Montgomery) resigned from office and was arrested on ethics charges. He took a plea bargain to avoid prison… his plea bargain mentions Speaker Hubbard three times.

Hubbard is mentioned in Moore’s indictment, also.

And what has Sims, who has obvious connections to Moore and Speaker Hubbard, had to say about Moore?

He praised and championed him as “the most conservative legislator” in Alabama. The two purchased property together. Moore even got Sims his first job, and Sims served as Moore’s campaign manager. Moore was in Sims’ wedding. The sort of information that a “journalist” should disclose when covering something as important as an politician’s arrest under charges of fraud. But no…

There’s nothing to see here, folks! In an article today on Moore’s indictment, Sims even attempts to convince us that Moore was the latest casualty of a “coordinated political attack.” The right hand may have attempted to dupe Alabamians … it may have even been caught today… but the left hand (probably the only time Cliff has been “Left” in his life) is somewhere in the back reminding everyone that Moore is the good guy.

“The proof is in the pudding, and Cliff’s pudding has barely ever even acknowledged the Lee County investigation and subsequent indictments and pleas,” the Montgomery insider said. “His website is about as fair and balanced as MSNBC.”

When Moore was arrested last week, everyone was watching the right hand … while Sims attempted “The Prestige” with the left.

Follow West on Twitter at @WestHoneycutt

West Honeycutt is a small business owner in Birmingham, Alabama. He has formerly worked for political consulting firms in Washington, D.C. and Montgomery, AL.