Daily Archives: April 28, 2015

Sorrell caves (updated)

I can explain everything

I can explain everything

It’s rare when a journalist can draw a straight line from his/her news story to a significant event. Such is the case today for Seven Days’ Paul Heintz, whose reporting on Attorney General Bill Sorrell started the ball rolling — with ever-quickening speed — to today’s events. Because after several days of blithe assurances that there was no need for an independent investigation of Bill Sorrell because Bill Sorrell had looked into Bill Sorrell’s activities and determined that Bill Sorrell did nothing wrong, Bill Sorrell reversed course today.

It’s hard to imagine this would have ever come to pass without Heintz’ stories about sloppy campaign finance reporting by Sorrell, questions about a big out-of-state donation that helped him win the 2012 Democratic primary, and questionably cozy relationships between Sorrell and some big national law firms that do business with the state.

Throughout last week, Sorrell denied he’d done anything wrong and insisted an investigation would be a waste of money. Today, in a statement to the Senate Government Operations Committee, he acknowledged the need for an independent probe. Further, he heartily endorsed the creation of an independent commission to oversee election law, which would remove that authority from his own office.

When asked about his change of heart, he said:

What I realized was that this was a distraction here in the building and certainly a distraction in my office. I didn’t want the appearance that I had something to hide, so even though it will cost money, the integrity of the office of Attorney General and my personal integrity are too important. If we have to spend some taxpayer moneys to clear my name — or see that justice is done, either way — it’s worth it.

Nice stick save, General.

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If it didn’t happen in the Free Press, it didn’t happen

The Burlington Free Press takes tremendous pride in its scoops. Front-page placement, social media bragging. It’ll also follow up endlessly, whether fresh developments warrant it or not. And sometimes the “scoops” aren’t worth the paper they’re (at least for now) printed on.

Its pride in the Liquor Control Commission overtime affair is justified. Mike Donoghue discovered an abuse of the system and aired it out. One result: the amazingly well-timed retirement of Commissioner Michael Hogan.

Great. Good work. But I find it awfully curious that while the Free Press has devoted lots and lots of space to the LCC, it has published exactly one story — count it, one — about Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s refusal to investigate himself for possible campaign finance violations.

And that one story was an Associated Press production. No staff time whatsoever, as far as I can tell.

The only explanation I can think of: the story originated in Seven Days. The Free Press can’t claim credit; it’d just be playing catch-up.

If that’s not enough to get your Spidey Sense tingling, how about the fact that the Free Press has published not a word about State Police Corporal Jon Graham’s Facebook posts? The story first broke Friday night on WCAX, and has been widely re-reported elsewhere. But not in the Free Press (or on FreePressMedia).

Stories like these are usually catnip for the Free Press: allegations of official misconduct, of a kind that’s sure to generate pageviews and controversy.

Sorrell is supposedly testifying before a Senate committee this afternoon. I expect the Free Press will be there, and will report on the story — because now, it’ll have a fresh hook to hang the story on, and won’t have to credit Paul Heintz for the scoop.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. But the Free Press’ track record informs my cynicism. And for the life of me, I can think of no other explanation for Our Former Newspaper Of Record almost completely ignoring two significant stories in state government.