By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
RICHMOND, Va. — It’s customary for outgoing Virginia governors to transfer their media lists to their successors.
Watchdog.org regularly received Gov. Bob McDonnell’s news releases, which ranged from the significant to the routine. We’re still waiting to hear from Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe’s team.
McAuliffe has been busy making appointments and announcements since he was elected Nov. 5. We know several media releases have been issued, and we’ve seen them, because, well, we have our sources.
Press Secretary Brian Coy unfailingly fails to respond to our inquiries on stories we’re reporting — extending the code of silence McAuliffe staffers rigidly enforced throughout the gubernatorial campaign.
Asked about the news blackout since McAuliffe beat Republican Ken Cuccinelli in November, Coy told me last month he was “working on it.” There has been no communication from the governor-elect’s office since.
McAuliffe himself was gracious, or savvy, enough to answer one of Watchdog’s questions at the annual Associated Press Day earlier this month. Then again, he didn’t have much choice. WCVE-FM’s Craig Carper, incoming president of the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association, selected the questioners and acknowledged my upraised hand.
As a member of the VCCA and the Virginia Press Association, Watchdog’s Virginia Bureau is recognized by its journalistic peers as a legitimate news organization inRichmond and statewide.
Credentialed at the General Assembly, Watchdog — a national nonpartisan, nonprofit outlet that exposes waste, fraud and abuse in the public sector — is proud to be in such professional company. And we take that position seriously.
So where’s the professional courtesy from the governor-elect’s crew? One explanation is that McAuliffe’s electric car company, Virginia-based GreenTech Automotive, has an $85 million libel suit pending against Watchdog over coverage of the firm.
McAuliffe, who is called GreenTech’s chairman emeritus, is not named in theMississippi lawsuit. While he promises to divest or “liquidate” his GreenTech stock, Watchdog continues to report on GTA and the ongoing federal investigations into the financial and political dealings of the firm, of which McAuliffe is the largest shareholder.
Politics and journalism, like business, are not for the faint of heart. At times, things can get downright adversarial. However, honest public servants and the journalists who report on them work for the greater, public good.
McAuliffe told the AP Day gathering that he has a “vision for transparency, of working closely with the media to get Virginians the information they need.”
“I honor your duty,” the Democrat and first-time office holder told reporters as he pledged to run “an open and transparent administration.”
From this news organization’s experience, the promises of transparency seem a bit opaque.
Indeed, McAuliffe’s transition team also lags online — the ultimate democratic forum. The latest “news” on the governor-elect’s website could have been delivered by carrier pigeon. How about McAuliffe’s Twitter feed? Nine (9) tweets since Election Day.
(Fun fact, though: Terry’s campaign site is still up and accepting cash donations in real time.)
Greg Leslie, with the Arlington, Va.-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said freeze-outs of selected media are not unprecedented. He cited other states and jurisdictions where elected officials blatantly blacklist accredited news organizations.
“We don’t agree with or condone those decisions,” he said. “But we haven’t found courts to take the argument.”
With rare exceptions, Democrats in Virginia government have been equally nonresponsive to Watchdog reporters. To paraphrase the political axiom: “The smaller the office, the pettier it gets.”
Short of legal redress — which no one wants — Leslie says a “public shaming” is justified.
Consider yourself and your silent partners served, Mr. Governor-to-be.