Station management at WACH Fox News in Columbia, a sister station of WPDE NewsChannel 15 - both owned by Barrington Broadcasting, is calling for a retraction and public apology from S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley after she issued an attack on the station's journalistic integrity and credibility via her Facebook page.
Early Monday, the governor posted to her profile "WACH FOX 57 is a tabloid news station and has no concept of journalism."
Haley's statement came several hours after WACH Fox News accurately reported new claims made by Will Folks, a political blogger and former press secretary to Gov. Mark Sanford, who claims he had an "inappropriate physical relationship" with the married then-Representative Haley in early 2007.
Folks launched a media firestorm during last summer's gubernatorial campaign with his allegations against Haley. She has repeatedly denied the claim and said she has been "100 percent faithful" to her husband. Gov. Haley has also pledged to resign from office if Folks' claims are proven true.
Haley's attack on WACH Fox followed the reporting of Folks' release of excerpts from a new tell-all book about his alleged relationship with the governor. While publishing the excerpts Folks dared the governor to sue him; writing on his blog: "anytime Haley wants to sue us for libel, we're waiting."
According to WACH Fox News Director Bryan Cox, the station fairly and accurately covered the story and made the decision to cover it because doing so serves a clear public interest.
"Mr. Folks published a statement that essentially calls the sitting governor of our state a liar; and he then dared her to sue him for it. From my perspective that is absolutely a newsworthy event," said Cox.
WACH Fox President/CEO David Olmsted stated Tuesday the governor's published comments are patently false and appear to be a willful attempt to inflict harm on WACH Fox in response to the station's fair coverage of a relevant news story the governor apparently wants ignored.
"The WACH Fox news department has published or broadcast more than 100 stories pertaining to Gov. Haley during the past year. Despite that voluminous amount of reporting, there is not a single documented instance of the governor challenging the accuracy of any fact in any of those reports," said Olmsted. "The governor's own actions concede the station's coverage has been consistently fair, credible and accurate."
WACH Fox News continues to cover the allegations against Haley based solely on their continued newsworthiness, said Cox, citing what he said are multiple unanswered questions pertaining to a topic of public interest.
Gov. Haley has released a portion of her legislative email, but withheld sections of her state-issued account that Folks says support his claims. The governor also claimed in early 2010 she "barely knew" Folks. He subsequently released phone records documenting more than 700 phone calls between their two numbers. Then there are text messages the governor has yet to satisfactorily explain, including one reportedly from then-Haley campaign manager Tim Pearson stating "if we keep this thing under wraps, (Haley) is gonna win."
Pearson has since been hired as Haley's chief of staff at a salary more than $20,000 above that of his predecessor.
In what appears to be a strategic decision by the Haley administration, the governor and her staff have largely deflected questions on these issues by dismissing them based on what they say is Folks' lack of credibility. Folks resigned from then-Gov. Sanford's staff and ultimately pled guilty to a criminal domestic violence charge in 2005 after he was accused of shoving his then-fiance into furniture during an argument.
Cox acknowledges that station management takes Folks' past into consideration, but says the lack of clear answers from Gov. Haley provides good reason to stay on the story.
"It's entirely possible that Will Folks is lying," said Cox. "However, if he is, our society has a legal framework in place to recover damages for libel and defamation. The fact Folks is taunting the governor to do exactly that, along with these unanswered questions, forces us to accept at least the possibility he may be telling the truth. That's legitimate news."
So what do you think about Governor Haley's statement, WACH Fox's response, and the news coverage in general?