Media ‘watchdogs’ slumbering once again

As the Nikki Haley-Will Folks drama continues to play out, it’s been somewhat discouraging to once again note how deficient the mainstream media has been in its coverage of the story.

For example, on Thursday Folks, a noted South Carolina political blogger who did consulting work for Haley in the past, released nearly 1,000 pages of his personal cell phone records. They showed that he and Haley contacted each other more than 700 times between the beginning of 2007 and early this year.

Many calls came after 10 p.m. and some, both from Haley to Folks and vice versa, lasted an hour or more. There were at least four calls of two hours or more, including one that lasted nearly 3-1/2 hours, ending at around 3 a.m. Another lasted three hours exactly and ended around 2 a.m.

So how does The State, one of South Carolina’s largest newspapers, handle this? In a story with the inane title “Haley vs. Folks: Notes on how to handle a scandle,” the reporter does mention the volume of calls, but neglects to highlight the number of late-night calls or their length, which is perhaps the most telling aspect of this part of what’s been termed by some as “Haley-gate.”

Instead, The State goes with a statement from Haley’s campaign manager:

The lame thing here is the media. The public are accustomed to this notion that if there’s not a sex tape, or a dress with stains on, it’s not proof. Some sections of the public, that is. It took a lot to get Sanford to admit it, but most people must have had their suspicions for some time. Common sense dictates that a politician who has been accused of infidelity is probably guilty. The SMS messages, the email excerpts, these phone logs, the complete persistence of Folks… all make it very obvious that while he may be a bottom-feeder, something happened. It’s obvious to anyone who has ever read a newspaper. But he hasn’t presented hard proof. Journalists seem mostly unwilling to do anything themselves, but just sit and wait for others so they can report the news.

As I see it, the SMS messages should have been it, but a very weak media let it slide. Haley’s campaign couldn’t deny that the messages were real, because then Folks would immediately prove them liars by verifying them electronically and providing that evidence, and it would have been game over. Quite a dilemma for them. But instead of folding, they decided that the public, and the media, were very gullible. So they admitted the messages were real, but claimed – farcically! – that they represented standard operating procedures for a campaign trying to batten down a false rumour from being leaked. The media, instead of repeatedly and persistently attacking this ‘logic’ and showing it to be impossible, just reported their defence and they squeaked by. But a minute’s thinking it through shows it’s impossible:

The SMS messages include exchanges between Haley’s campaign and Folks. If the story was false, both sides of that exchange would know that. Asking how to ‘fuck up’ someone spreading a rumour that they both know is untrue makes no sense. If they knew it to be untrue, they could simply sue. If Folks sent Haley’s camp an SMS saying that he knew someone was about to run a story that he and she had once visited the Pope and gang-raped him, would they have been worried? No, because it’s untrue so nobody can prove it and will make a fool of themselves trying to smear her – poltically, an entirely unfounded smear is good for Haley, in fact. So if you still believe that Tim Pearson, Haley’s campaign manager, knew from discussing with Haley and Folks that the story was untrue, explain SMS messages like this one:

‘From: Tim Pearson
To: Will Folks
Sent: May 15, 2010 2:58 PM

I’m telling you man, we keep this under wraps and nh is going to win.’

That’s the question the media should be repeatedly and persistently asking the Haley camp to explain. They should also be laying out the logic of their massive contradictions very clearly, like I’m doing here, roughly, rather than hiding it all in a bunch of prevarications and ‘reporting’. The reporting here is about journalistic instincts. Anyone with any can see that Haley is lying – and that it can be very easily shown from what has already been produced. Stop waiting around for a sex tape or a dress. Do your jobs and nail a hypocrite running for public office with her very obvious and public lies.

It’s your job.

For a publication that was hellbent on bringing down Mark Sanford, The State sure has been going easy on Haley in terms of sizing up the evidence and asking the hard questions.

Is it because they don’t like Folks, who has repeatedly tweaked the paper’s nose with his irreverent swipes at the publication and occasional scoops, or is it simply that they can’t be bothered?

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