Daily Archives: December 20, 2009

Defending “amateur journalism”

Erick Erickson, Peach Pundit maestro

Erick Erickson is a Macon man who administers a popular and rather authoritative political blog called Peach Pundit. If you’re into Georgia politics, it’s a must-read.

Erickson is also a Republican political operative (he supports Karen Handel for Governor).  As he emphatically told the AJC in a feature story last Sunday, he is not a journalist.

Erickson was clearly buddy-buddy with House Speaker Glenn Richardson.  When Dale Russell torpedoed Richardson’s career with  ex-wife Susan Richardson’s tell-all, Erickson remarkably dismissed the story saying it “sounds like somebody wants attention and it ain’t the speaker.”

His post went on to describe an absence of “conjugal relations” between the Speaker and the ex-, hinting that this was Susan Richardson’s fault because, of course, who wouldn’t find Glenn Richardson to be a desirable guy?    Erickson has written many worthy and insightful posts on Peach Pundit.  This was not his finest hour.

So when Erickson wrote a post describing my story Wednesday on WXIA as “a bit of dirty pool or amateur journalism,” I didn’t take it personally.  (And while it’s offensive to describe a reporter’s work as “amateur journalism,” Erickson seemed to use the phrase casually and made no effort to critique the reporting.  Bloggers take liberties sometimes.)

The story explored state Rep. Larry O’Neal’s (R-Bonaire) relationship with MMV Consulting, a registered lobbying firm founded by Richardson’s former chief of staff.

O’Neal  was a frontrunner to succeed Richardson as Speaker.  A friend of Gov. Sonny Perdue, he was considered the “establishment” candidate.  Peach Pundit published many posts touting his candidacy.  In Thursday’s Republican caucus election, O’Neal finished second to Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.

Rep. Larry O'Neal, R-Bonaire

My story was pretty simple:  Online paperwork showed that O’Neil had filed incorporation papers on behalf of MMV Consulting.  The story was relevant because the relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists had become a forefront issue in the chatter about replacing Richardson.

I phoned a Republican lawmaker.  An attorney, he said that yes, his firm does the same thing.  But he said he never personally touches any business involving lobbyists.  He leaves that for his partners.

I asked the acting director of the Ethics Commission about it.  He said there was nothing illegal about it (which I included in my report).  He said he’d heard rumors of such relationships, but this was the first time he’d seen it documented.

I phoned a state Representative with clout in the Republican leadership.  He said this wasn’t a huge story, but he also said this is the kind of thing that needs to get cleaned up at the Capitol.

It smelled like news to us.  The story was solid.  I called Larry O’Neal’s office a half dozen times to ask him about it.  I couldn’t get him on the phone and didn’t hear back from him.  (I saw him a day later at the Capitol following the Speaker election.  I identified myself and asked if he’d stop for a question.  He said “no,” walked into an office, and shut the door).

One more point:  The story more or less fell into my lap.  My tipster was a politically connected friend who didn’t give a flying flip about Larry O’Neal or the Speaker race, except as a spectator.

I agreed with the guy from the Republican leadership:  This story wasn’t huge (though WXIA led with it at 7pm).  It was inside baseball, somewhat.  It wasn’t “great TV,” either.  I had no sound.  It was basically an extended reader.

But it raised an issue that was easily understood by anybody watching TV news:  How much hand-holding should there be between lawmakers and those lobbying for special interests?

Erick Erickson’s position, apparently, is that this stuff happens all the time and there’s nothing fishy about it.  It’s a valid viewpoint; even members of the legislature have to make a living.

But so is this: If a lawmaker is incorporating a lobbying firm, then the lobbyist is probably putting money into the lawmaker’s pocket.  That money isn’t disclosed, except to the IRS.  Maybe the lobbyist is happily paying the “premium” rate for the lawmaker’s services, which endears the lawmaker to the lobbyist.  Maybe it’s a way for the lobbyist to buy a little clout.

For all its excesses, I still love Peach Pundit.  Thanks for the shout-out, Erick.  I’m looking forward to seeing you on Colbert in January.  Don’t let him do to you what he did to your buddy Lynn Westmoreland.

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