The State newspaper of South Carolina has used a public records request to obtain emails sent to and from Governor Mark Sanford's office during the hectic few days last month when he had gone missing. It's not surprising that the emails underline the utter confusion that beset the governor's hapless aides as they tried to ward off inquiries about their boss's whereabouts, without themselves having any idea where he was.
But they also show something even funnier: an effort by the right-wing media to curry favor with Sanford's office by dismissing the story as a storm in a teacup created by the liberal media. It's fair to say that, as news judgments go, it would be hard to find one that turned out worse than this -- given the subsequent revelations about Sanford's Argentinian liaison and his abandonment of his post.
Let's look at the details:
In an email to Sanford press secretary Joel Sawyer, Brendan Miniter, an editor of the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com, called out his own paper's first-day coverage (sub. req.) of the story, writing: "Someone at WSJ should be fired for today's story. Ridiculous."
On June 23rd -- by which time Sanford had been missing for five days and his staff had offered unconvincing explanations about his whereabouts -- a Fox News Channel correspondent wrote to Sawyer:
Having known the Governor for years and even worked with him when he would host radio shows for me -- I find this story and the media frenzy surrounding it to be absolutely ridiculous! Please give him my best.
And a Washington Times staffer at one point wrote in an email to the governor's office:
If you all want to speak on this publicly, you're welcome to Washington Times Radio. You know that you will be on friendly ground here!
In fact, it may have been a "conservative," rather than a conservative, who went furthest in dismissing the story to Sanford's office. Stephen Colbert, himself a native South Carolinian, wrote a friendly email to Sawyer on the 24th, in an effort to get Sanford to come on his show:
As you may know, I declared myself Governor of South Carolina last night. I went power mad for abut 40 seconds before learning that Gov. Sanford was returning today.
If the governor is looking for a friendly place to make light of what I think is a small story that got blown out of scale I would be happy to have him on. In person here, on the phone, or in South Carolina.
Stay strong, Stephen
Neither Miniter of the Wall Street Journal, nor Washington Times executive editor John Solomon immediately responded to a call from TPMmuckraker requesting comment.
But we hear that The State plans to publish more of the emails it has obtained later today or tomorrow, which may shed further light on the issue. So we'll keep you posted.
Late Update: Washington Times executive editor John Solomon responds, telling TPMmuckraker that the email was sent not by the paper's newsroom staff but by a marketing employee doing booking for the radio show.
Solomon admitted that describing the show as "friendly ground" for Sanford was a "poor choice of words," adding: "We don't view ourselves as friendly or unfriendly, we view ourselves as fair."
But he said that the employee was reminding Sanford's office that the governor had recently appeared on the show, rather than implying that he would receive favorable treatment.
And Solomon pointed out that the paper had subsequently broken the news that Sanford had admitted to other extra-marital liaisons. "I think our journalism stands on its own. That we not only treated the story fairly, but aggressively," he said.