RALEIGH – Two newspapers owned by The McClatchy Company are involved in a dispute with Gov. Pat McCrory and the N.C. Republican Party about a Saturday article on prison maintenance contracts. The Raleigh News and Observer and The Charlotte Observer both ran multi-page stories that sharply imply that McCrory improperly pressured officials to extend a prison maintenance contract for Charlotte friend and donor Graeme Keith Sr.
Citing emails and meeting notes garnered through former employees, public records requests and interviews, the article claims that McCrory organized a meeting with prison officials in order to pressure them to sign off on the contract’s one year extension over the officials’ concerns regarding its cost and potential security risks.
McCrory shot back late Sunday, accusing the article’s reporters and editors of intentionally misleading readers through omission of information, loaded word choice and cropped photos.
McCrory asserted that the headlines “McCrory held meeting to extend donor’s contracts” and “McCrory brokered meeting to extend donor’s contracts” falsely implied that the purpose of the meeting was to extend the contracts.
“The meeting was not held to make a decision about extending the donor’s contract,” McCrory’s press release stated. “The final decision was made by the Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) after extensive further review.”
A McClatchy response article (“McCrory complains about N&O prison story”), published Monday, addressed the governor’s criticism.
“The contract was not extended at the meeting, and the story didn’t say that it was,” read the article, written by Joseph Neff and Ames Alexander. Neff and Alexander also wrote the Saturday article, along with reporter Craig Jarvis.
The Monday newspaper article did not address the accuracy of the Saturday headlines. The original article now carries the headline “McCrory brokered meeting on contract for friend and campaign donor,” a wording that would seem to align better with the facts included in the body of the story as outlined in the McClatchy response article.
McCrory’s release email, which was sent to members of the news media generally, not just to the McClatchy papers, also took issue with labeling laudatory comments McCrory made about the Keiths as “A governor’s testimonial” when the comments were made years before McCrory was elected governor. The body of the story originally claimed that McCrory made the comments when he was mayor of Charlotte, an error that the papers corrected Monday.
Overall, the papers stood by their stories and McCrory stood by his administration’s actions.
“The McCrory administration identified a broken system that led to bad data as a result of contracts signed by the Perdue administration. The McCrory administration thoroughly reviewed the data through an ethical process and made a sound, business-like decision that was in the best interest of public safety as well as the taxpayers of North Carolina,” the executive office statement read. “Governor McCrory and the top leadership on his team fully cooperated with the McClatchy reporters to promptly provide all of the requested documents and conveyed this information. However, the newspaper clearly edited selected facts for a pre-determined false theme – especially through the use of inaccurate headlines and cropped photographs.”
The Charlotte Observer ran a response from Graeme Keith Sr. over the weekend. Keith’s company is the one highlighted in the article and he is pictured next to the governor in the photo. The Keith Corp’s prison maintenance division services three of the state’s 57 prisons and employs 100 people.
“TKC Management Services has a nearly 20 year track record of successfully providing maintenance services for state and county correctional facilities in North Carolina and elsewhere, and has always conducted its business according to the highest ethical standards,” said Keith in his letter to the editor. “Any implication or inference that we have requested or been awarded contracts based on anything other than our qualifications, excellent performance and the value we provide is unfounded and offensive.”
N.C. GOP director and former reporter Dallas Woodhouse also weighed in accusing the paper of shoddy journalism and sharing the media company’s plunging stock prices.
“Using classic Rolling Stone journalistic standards and deceiving practices including using false headlines, dated and cropped pictures, and selective and biased information leaked by disgruntled former and current employees, [the reporters] took pieces and parts to create a Frankenstein monster to carry pre-determined and false narrative smearing and attacking the governor” said Woodhouse. “It is yet another malicious attack piece by McClatchy, which has already endorsed one of the Democratic candidates for governor.”
Conflict between Raleigh’s News and Observer, owned since 1995 by California-based McClatchy, and the GOP has been a defining undercurrent of Republicans’ public relations battle since winning a super-majority in the 2012 statewide elections. Republicans often cried foul, claiming that the paper featured colorful and carefully orchestrated “Moral Monday” demonstrations on their front pages while news of the state’s rising economic numbers was buried in a secondary article.
The N&O’s editorial board also ran a glowing editorial praising one Democratic candidate for governor, N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, within hours of his filing to run. The editorial page features almost daily opinion columns disapproving of the GOP agenda, particularly the emphasis on budget, regulatory changes, school choice and election reforms.
Still, the 100-year-old paper counts some journalistic heavyweights among its leadership. The paper’s publisher, Orage Quarles III, took the helm in 2000 and was named national Publisher of the Year in 2002 by Editor and Publisher Magazine. He has served as a director of the Associated Press since 2003, and currently sits on the board of the UNC School of Journalism and formerly served as chair of the Newspaper Association of America and as a board member of the left-leaning N.C. Justice Center.