#ProbeGate: Compromised Scribes?

Assessing investigation’s impact on South Carolina’s marketplace of ideas …

There’s been plenty of focus during the ongoing #ProbeGate investigation as to its legal and political repercussions on certain South Carolina politicians.

Criminal and electoral consequences abound … and these should rightfully dominate our discussion.

#ProbeGate has the potential to fundamentally reshape the balance of power in state government, particularly if prosecutors led by S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe follow through on their latest plea deals.

But there are other consequences to consider … including consequences for the journalists and opinion leaders who have been covering (or in some cases, not covering) this story.

This week, a former top staffer with the S.C. House of Representatives singled out a pair of these scribes – Ashley Landess and Cindi Ross Scoppe – for some particularly pointed criticism.

“What does the relative silence of Ashley Landess … Cindi Ross Scoppe and so many others on current events say?” former House staffer Patrick Dennis wondered aloud on his Facebook page early Monday.

According to Dennis – who recently left his post as chief of staff to S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas – Landess and Scoppe assailed former S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell for his ethical shortcomings when the heat of this investigation was focused on him.

“These same people pounded Harrell on a daily, if not hourly basis,” he wrote.

That’s true.  We pounded Harrell too … repeatedly.

Ironically, it was Landess’ formal complaint to S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson that launched #ProbeGate – although the investigation has since boomeranged back on many of the politicians who instigated it.

Almost all of these politicians are part of the “Quinndom” – the consulting empire of veteran “Republican” strategist Richard Quinn.

Quinn’s empire – which has been implicated in all manner of corrupt pay-to-play activity – is slowly unraveling.  And his testimony before a statewide grand jury next month threatens to unspool things further – with dozens of influential elected officials, corporate chieftains and top government bureaucrats sweating over the Christmas holidays (with good reason).

Landess has commented on virtually none of this, choosing instead to go after Quinn’s longtime consulting associate Bob McAlister.

Does he deserve it?  Absolutely … but it’s not hard to see this as a diversionary tactic.

Meanwhile Scoppe has found herself compelled to defend her reflexive loyalty to Quinn and his client roster – which was badly exposed in open court earlier this month.

“Anytime they needed a favorable article, she was called in. ALWAYS,” a former employee of Quinn’s consulting firm told us this week.  “And she always came through for them.”

The more things change …

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(Via: iStock)

Dennis believes recent commentary provided by Scoppe (and omitted by Landess) speaks volumes.

“It says they’re deceitful, it says the next time they seek to tell you how to think about government you ought to ask why they have that position, it says they value political and perhaps financial ties above truth, it says they are tainted, it says they are the very definition of ‘fake news,'” he wrote.

Wow …

Are we ready to go that far?  Hmmm …

Obviously, it would be in the interest of this news site to join (lead?) the chorus of criticism against Landess and Scoppe.  These two talented authors represent our competition, to some extent, and if we can erode their credibility (so the argument goes) we can conceivably enhance our own.

But we’re not going to throw those punches … nor do we believe this business to be a zero sum game.

For starters, such barbs are unnecessary.  As a news source, Landess’ publication – The Nerve – has essentially disappeared.  As of this morning, the outlet has published precisely five stories over the past two months – one of which was a reprint of a 2012 article previewing the #NukeGate debacle.

That’s hardly the sort of consistency required to make a go of it in the new media marketplace.

In other words, pulling a punch against them in this case isn’t the equivalent of the blow Muhammed Ali never delivered to George Foreman, because Foreman isn’t there anymore.

Rather than being gleeful at The Nerve‘s vanishing act, we’re honestly a bit sad.  While we have sparred with the outlet upon occasion, we believe it has (or had) an important role to play in the Palmetto State’s marketplace of ideas.  Also, excepting its inexcusable silence in regards to the current corruption controversy, its authors have generally been on the side of right when it comes to their commentary on the prevailing issues of the day.

Accordingly, we hope it returns … in some form or fashion.

As for Scoppe, this scandal won’t ultimately be what defines her – although we think it’s funny lawmakers are now openly referring to her as “Quinndi Ross Scoppe” around the State House.

Instead, Scoppe’s years of subservience to South Carolina’s failed status quo – most notably its worst-in-the-nation government-run education system – will be the real black mark on her legacy.  She’s not so much “fake news” as she is a “faux reformer,” an advocate for rearranging deck chairs on a ship of state that continues sinking under the excessive taxingborrowing and spending she has reflexively endorsed for decades.

That’s what her legacy will be … perpetuating steadily worsening outcomes for South Carolina’s citizens and taxpayers while pretending to advocate for them.

As for this news site, we will continue to do what we’ve done from the day we uncovered the existence of this investigation back in September of 2014: Call it exactly as we see it.



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