N.C. Media Yanks Story Suggesting Sen. Hagan's Family Cashed In on Stimulus (UPDATED)
We've noted previously that Democratic North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan has a tough race for re-election against a Republican challenger and a potential Libertarian Party spoiler named Sean Haugh. The National Journal has a lengthy look at how the race has played out so far.
She also has a bit of a scandal that didn't appear to be gaining much national traction, but some very unusual self-censorship by a top television station and a top newspaper in North Carolina may change the situation.
To summarize: Kay Hagan's family—her husband, son, and son-in-law—is accused of receiving more than $250,000 in stimulus funds from 2009 to renovate buildings owned by their companies. This would present a potential conflict of interest and could potentially be a violation of state and federal law. Carolina Journal has a story here stating that North Carolina's Department of Environment and Natural Resources has recommended that an auditor review the grant (solar company subsidies are the source of the grant, for anybody wondering why that particular agency is involved). The Carolina Journal has embedded PDFs of the reports for review.
Over the weekend it appeared the major media outlets were picking up on the controversy right before the election. Stories appeared on the websites for the Charlotte Observer and Charlotte-based CBS affiliate WBTV. WBTV apparently provided the story to both outlets. The story was just a reporting of the contents of the same documents the Carolina Journal got its hands on. It doesn't actually accuse Hagan or her family directly of wrong-doing; rather, the report calls for "further legal review" out of concern that there may have been wrong-doing.
But today both stories are gone, scrubbed from the sites, and some are calling foul. The Observer tweeted this morning that WBTV had provided the story and asked for it to be yanked and the Observer complied. WBTV has not tweeted any sort of explanation as to why it yanked the story as yet. And so the media in North Carolina is being accused of aiding and abetting Hagan in a tight race.
Nothing can be deleted from the Internet, so The Federalist pulled up the cache of the story and has it posted here. A read-through of it can confirm what I described a couple of paragraphs ago. The story is simply describing the contents of a report from the state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources. There could potentially be a logical reason for yanking the story if it turned out the documents themselves were counterfeit, but that itself would be extremely newsworthy. Instead, there's just silence so far.
In the absence of an official explanation, the disappearance of the stories is itself trending as news. Just doing a Google news search of Hagan (just her name with no other key words) brought up a collection of stories from political sites wondering why the Observer and WBTV deleted the coverage.
UPDATE: The Charlotte Observer has now posted their own version of the story. There's still no explanation why WBTV took their version down.