Trudy Wade’s ‘enemies’ are fighting back
By: Jim Longworth
Last week President Trump announced that the news media are America’s biggest enemy. Thus far, however, Trump has only attacked his enemies with words. Not so with former President Richard Nixon who actually compiled a written list of enemies, and planned to punish them with IRS audits and other forms of government harassment. Fortunately, his IRS commissioner refused to issue the vengeful audits, and Nixon had to settle for just cursing about his media enemies in private. The truth is there have always been thin-skinned politicians who complain about negative coverage from the Fourth Estate, but, so far, freedom of the press has prevailed as a pillar of our society.
After all, this is America, and no elected official is supposed to use his influence to ruin the lives of those who disagree with him. No elected official is supposed to disrupt commerce or threaten the financial health of a news outlet just because it didn’t endorse her candidacy. Apparently, Sen. Trudy Wade didn’t get that memo.
Last year she went on a crusade to extract her pound of flesh from the Greensboro News & Record, High Point Enterprise, Jamestown News and Carolina Peacemaker, by introducing legislation that would allow Guilford County to publish legal notices on its own website, rather than having to do so in actual newspapers. Wade maintains that she is only trying to save the county money and that she wasn’t trying to single out local newspapers who have been critical of her. Yet, strangely enough, her bill didn’t pertain to the other 99 counties in our state. It only focused on the county that was home to news outlets who hadn’t endorsed her candidacies. She has also suggested that her bill is just a pilot program, but North Carolina is a diverse state, and any legitimate pilot program should include data collected from several carefully selected localities based upon population, geography, income levels, and a number of media outlets.
Sen. Wade can try and justify targeting Guilford County but try as she will, it is painfully obvious to the rest of us that she used her power and influence for payback. And this isn’t the first time she has thrown her political weight around. In 2015, she introduced a bill in the General Assembly that would have eliminated at-large representatives in Greensboro. Why? We can only assume it was because she wanted to weed out some of the Democrats on the council. It was an unprecedented move, and one that former Gov. Pat McCrory called “legislative overreach.” In the end, Greensboro City Council survived Wade’s power play, but she was emboldened enough by the exercise to try her hand again two years later when she successfully engineered passage of the newspaper revenge bill.
For a while, it looked as though Wade’s so-called pilot program would go unchallenged, but last week, the four aforementioned Guilford-based newspapers announced they were filing a lawsuit against the General Assembly and Guilford County on the basis that the discriminatory bill violates a general statute of the state Constitution. The statute requires that legal notices be published in newspapers circulating generally within the community affected by whatever action is being advertised. Former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr is one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, and in his complaint said that his clients, “as members of the press, were specifically singled out for prior press coverage and editorials published by some or all of the plaintiffs involving certain acts by elected officials from Guilford County.”
Translation, “certain elected officials” means Trudy Wade.
The legal battle will be costly and lengthy. Orr said, the state has 30 days to answer the complaint, and can then ask for an extension. The state will also probably move to dismiss, then the case has to make its way onto the busy Wake County trial docket. “Realistically, we could be looking at October before the first round of motions are heard,” Orr told me. That means a verdict won’t be reached until next summer, and then the losing party would most likely file an appeal. Meanwhile, everyone loses. The newspapers stand to lose substantial ad revenues until they can prevail in court, and taxpayers lose because we are footing the bill (directly or indirectly) for the Attorney General or General Assembly appointed attorneys to try the case.
Only Trudy Wade escapes unscathed, even though she’s the one who opened this can of revenge-oriented worms in the first place.
There is only one way to send Wade the message that it is wrong to use her office to punish those with whom she disagrees, and that is to turn her out of office this November. When that happens, I look forward to a free local press giving her defeat the full coverage it deserves.
Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).