The mudwashing of the Sorrell case

Hey, I invented a new word: it’s the opposite of “whitewashing” — the deliberate fouling of something previously spotless.

The legal troubles of Our Eternal General Bill Sorrell have two progenitors. Well, three if you count Clueless Bill himself. But the two I’m thinking of are (1) journalistic and (2) legal/political.

The former is good ol’ Paul Heintz, Seven Days’ political editor and columnist. He made public records requests for Sorrell’s emails and other materials, and ferreted out the unseemly details of the AG’s campaign finance carelessness and his overly cozy relations with the designated AG-handlers at some big national law firms. He posted his first story on April 1, and a follow-up with fresh details on May 11.

Heintz’ reporting, it must be said, was met with a very curious silence from the rest of our political media.

The other progenitor is Brady Toensing, vice chair of the VTGOP, who used Heintz’ reporting as the basis of a formal complaint against Sorrell, filed on May 20. That complaint somehow transmuted Heintz’ previously ignored reporting into a story that other media finally felt obliged to pick up. Toensing’s complaint, in turn, led to the appointment of independent investigator Tom Little.

But the media have reported it as a matter between Toensing and Sorrell, removing Heintz (and the journalistic underpinnings) from their narratives. I’d expect this sort of convenient reasoning from Sorrell himself:

“I enjoy the work. I can’t say that I enjoyed the Toensing assaults on my personal integrity and that I would abuse the integrity of the office. I’m not a masochistic person and that is not fun, whatsoever.”

Oh good, I can stop trying to imagine Bill Sorrell in leather restraints and a ball gag.

[Purell break.]

Sorry. The point is, it’s clearly in Sorrell’s political interest to depict this whole mess as a partisan attack. But why should our distinguished political media carry that water for him?

This isn’t just a matter of proper credit; it’s a subtle undermining of the very real case against Sorrell.

And here’s the cadre of water carriers — all of them solid journalists for whom I have great respect. First, the Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami:

Brady Toensing, an attorney and vice chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, filed a complaint against Sorrell alleging that he illegally coordinated with a political group.

Lest Neal should think I’m picking on him, here’s VTDigger’s Anne Galloway:

Brady Toensing, vice chair of the Vermont Republican Party, alleges that Sorrell violated campaign finance laws by coordinating with the Committee for Fairness and Justice on the media blitz that helped him edge out Donovan.

And VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld:

Sorrell is the subject of an ongoing ethics investigation into alleged campaign finance violations in 2012 and 2014. The investigation follows a formal complaint filed by the vice-chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, Brady Toensing.

The Burlington Free Press’ Elizabeth Murray gave the obscurest of hints at a journalistic foundation for the charges, but heaven forbid the Freeploid should give due credit to its alt-weekly bete noire:

Sorrell said he’s not yet thinking about the 2016 election, focusing instead on an investigation begun after campaign finance complaints surfaced against him. These allegations are the focus of a lawsuit brought against Sorrell by Brady Toensing, a lawyer and vice-chairman of the Vermont Republican Party.

This limited backgrounding frames the Sorrell case exactly as he wants it: as a matter of politics not ethics. By ignoring Heintz’ indispensable (and purely journalistic) role in uncovering the evidence that supports the Toensing complaint. they do a disservice to Vermont news consumers.


1 thought on “The mudwashing of the Sorrell case

  1. Dave Katz

    Once again, the press carries hod for the power elite, at the expense of their own credibility and relevance. Why, one could be forgiven for thinking that many in the press were actively working to dismantle the functional necessity of that press in a representative democracy….Just sayin’.


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