Senator Tillis, I’d Like to Have a Word with You, Please | News

Senator Tillis, I’d Like to Have a Word with You, Please

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This post is excerpted from the INDY’s morning newsletter, Primer. To read this morning’s edition in full, click here. To get all the day’s local and national headlines and insights delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here.

Pressure is continuing to mount for the Senate Judiciary Committee to take another look at Raleigh attorney Thomas Farr’s appointment to the federal bench. As you’ll recall, late last month the INDY’s Thomas Goldsmith reported that, while Farr told the committee that he had no prior knowledge of a racist voter-suppression effort while working on Jesse Helms’s 1990 campaign, a former Department of Justice attorney who worked the case says Farr was actually involved in planning the postcard campaign. This revelation has led to demands from civil rights groups—already opposed to Farr because of his relationship with Helms, his ties (according to the Southern Poverty Law Center) to the white supremacist Pioneer Fund, and his defense of the legislature’s racist voter ID and gerrymandering schemes—as well as Senator Cory Booker [INDY] and others to call for a reexamination of Farr’s record before his lifetime appointment is confirmed.
  • On Sunday, The Washington Post editorialized for the second time against Farr’s nomination.
  • Then, yesterday, Vanita Gupta, the former acting director of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, called on Trump to withdraw Farr and two other judicial nominations, saying they were “unfit to serve on our federal courts.” [INDY]
  • This all prompted WRAL reporter Travis Fain to ask Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, both champions of Farr’s nomination, what they make of this developments. A spokesperson for Tillis responded that “Farr was the victim of ‘baseless claim posted on a left-wing blog.’”
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A WORD, SENATOR:
It’s pretty common for Republican politicians to dismiss media outlets as “left-wing.” I get a fair amount of criticism that I’m not left-wing enough—you should have seen the hate mail when we endorsed Hillary over Bernie—but, even so, the INDY has never hidden its progressive inclinations. So, fine, left-wing, whatever. But beyond that, the Tillis statement is simply factually wrong.
  • The claim is hardly “baseless.” It comes, on the record, from a former DOJ attorney who used notes he made during the investigation. And, for what it’s worth, that attorney told The News & Observer the same damn thing back in 2009. In addition, Carter Wrenn’s letter is only exculpatory if you take his word for it. Wrenn, a GOP operative tied to both Helms and Farr, told us last month that he was behind the postcard campaign. However, when we asked, he couldn’t provide an explanation for why the DOJ lawyer supposedly made this up. And the chronology of events back then, as the INDY has detailed, it’s rather unlikely that Farr first heard about the postcards from the DOJ’s investigation, as he claimed. So, definitionally, it ain’t “baseless,” senator.
  • A minor quibble: we are not a “blog.” Not that there’s anything wrong with being a blog, but one, it’s inaccurate (we are a newspaper, with printed copies and everything!), and two, used in this context, it means to diminish our journalism, which I take some offense to. (Indeed, as I’m often heard around the office haranguing our staff, we don’t blog enough.) If Tillis thinks he has something we got wrong, my email is jbillman@indyweek.com. He’s welcome to hip me to what we missed. (He won’t do that.)

WHAT IT MEANS: It’s been easy for the internet to get riled up about demonstrably awful choices like Brett Talley, the former ghost hunter who’d never tried a case, Jeff Mateer, who believes transgender children are part of “Satan’s plan”—both of those nominations were withdrawn last week [Politico]—and Michael Peterson, who bailed yesterday after a video of him failing to answer even basic legal questions went viral [CNN]. They are patently unqualified, almost comically so, were the stakes not so serious. But Farr is another matter. His alleged misdirection about his role in that racist Helms campaign is somewhat more opaque and complicated, and so it hasn’t generated as much heat, though it really should.
  • Another quibble: it’s one thing for Tillis to dismiss us, thinking (perhaps correctly) that our reach isn’t big enough to topple a nominee. But it would be harder to do so if The News & Observer joined the fray. But the N&O hasn’t. As best I and a search of the paper’s website can tell—despite the Huffington Post and Washington Post picking the story up, despite several Democratic senators demanding answers, despite prominent civil rights figures using our story to call for the withdrawal of Farr’s nomination, and despite the fact that Goldsmith used to be a freaking N&O reporter and editor—the paper of record has not said one goddamn word about it. In fact, they appear not to have mentioned Farr since November 18.
  • Please correct if I’m wrong, N&O, but I don’t think I am. I’m sorry you guys got beat on this thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not news. Just remember to credit us.



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