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Gov. Reeves calls out Mississippi...

Gov. Reeves calls out Mississippi Today, labeling outlet ‘Democratic SuperPAC’

By: Russ Latino - June 4, 2023
Governor Tate Reeves

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis - Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

In a terse exchange this week, Gov. Tate Reeves declined to answer questions posed by reporter Taylor Vance of Mississippi Today. Borrowing from his campaign’s recent framing of the outlet, Reeves accused Mississippi Today of operating as a “Democrat SuperPAC.”

Taylor, this is not personal. I like you. But when you went to work for a Democrat SuperPAC (MSToday) you don’t get to follow around and ask the governor questions. We don’t answer questions from the Presley campaign…Whenever you stop acting like a Democrat SuperPAC, whenever you actually take a quote from our campaign and print it in its entirety…whenever you decide to be actual journalists we’ll be happy to answer your questions.

The interaction came after an Associated Press report this week found that Reeves had not yet given away to charity $8,500 in campaign contributions received from Nancy New, and her son, Zach.

The News are central figures in Mississippi’s welfare scandal. Their donations to Reeves occurred prior to a State Auditor’s investigation that exposed the fraudulent use of TANF dollars.

Reeves told reporters he would give the funds to charity once the ongoing criminal and civil cases were complete. “Some of the people we now believe were involved in the former director’s apparent criminal schemes gave money to our campaign,” Reeves said at a news conference. “I can tell you right now–anything they gave to the campaign is going to be moved to a separate, untouched bank account. Anything they gave the campaign will be there waiting to return to the taxpayers and help the people it was intended for. If that doesn’t happen, that money will go to a deserving charity.”

Vance wanted to essentially know “why wait?”

The answer to the question is pretty obvious. The News are defendants in the civil lawsuit brought by the State of Mississippi to recoup TANF dollars. Money they spent could ultimately be clawed back by order of the court. The smart move is to hang onto the contribution until there is resolution of the case.

That people are dumbfounded by the retention of the funds pending the outcome of litigation either shows a lack of thought, or a degree of disingenuity. This is particularly true in light of the fact that Reeves has raised almost $10 million for his gubernatorial campaign. It strains credulity to think the Governor’s hanging onto $8,500 from the News because of some greedy intent to spend it.

Benign Question or Something More Insidious?

The answer to Vance’s question seems quite clear. The question, in a vacuum at least, was benign. And if the question is benign and the answer is clear, why not simply respond instead of targeting Vance’s employer?

It would be easy to write off the Governor’s criticism of Mississippi Today as a tactic meant to evade accountability. Sometimes conservatives do use “the liberal media” as a foil. But sometimes, the media really is decidedly biased against conservatives.

We do not live in a vacuum. In the real world, coverage of Reeves by Mississippi Today has been pervasively negative for years, and the coverage of his opponent, Brandon Presley, effusively glowing. It’s not hard to imagine that this steady drip would create questions of fairness. These concerns are likely compounded when both the outlet and Presley’s campaign share central supporters.

In the real world, blame for the Mississippi welfare scandal seems to be affixed, not based on actual evidence, but on politics, clicks, and “trap doors.” The TANF ‘wheel of blame’ stops on the highest profile. The spotlight which once fingered former-Gov. Phil Bryant as mastermind, now targets Reeves.

RELATED: In TANF Welfare Scandal, Media Pushes Guilt by Innuendo

As Reeves was quick to point out in his exchange with Vance, Mississippi Today has already been forced to issue one public apology to Bryant for making baseless accusations against him related to the welfare scandal.

RELATED: Phil Bryant Sends Notice of Intent to Sue Mississippi Today

In the real world, selective outrage raises eyebrows. Other than Magnolia Tribune, no one has reported on the fact that Dickie and Zach Scruggs are major contributors to the Presley campaign. The Scruggs were both convicted for their roles in a judicial bribery scandal.

People are capable of change and redemption, but if the media is to scrutinize donors, it should work both ways. This is particularly true when a politician builds a campaign around a “war on corruption,” as Presley has. His associations and his practices become fair game.

Other than Magnolia Tribune, no one has reported that a $250,000 contribution from the Mississippi Hospital Association’s PAC to Presley was originally filed as a “small dollar donation” instead of an itemized donation. “Mistaking” a $250,000 contribution for one under $200 led to early reporting of grassroots support that was dramatically overstated.

Other than Magnolia Tribune, no one has raised questions about a firm, funded by a regulated energy company, making political contributions to Presley and his Republican counterpart on the Public Service Commission Brent Bailey. There are legitimate questions under Mississippi law on the permissibility of these donations.

Other than Magnolia Tribune, no one has reported the fact that the Mississippi Democratic Party missed the deadline to file their candidates’ statements of intent, or that it simply chose not to file a campaign finance report when it was due.

Against this backdrop of selective scrutiny, perhaps it is understandable that a Republican politician might begin to believe that it does not matter how reasonable their answer, they are better off not trusting media to be fair.

About the Author(s)
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Russ Latino

Russ is a proud Mississippian and the founder of Magnolia Tribune Institute. His research and writing have been published across the country in newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, National Review, USA Today, The Hill, and The Washington Examiner, among other prominent publications. Russ has served as a national spokesman with outlets like Politico and Bloomberg. He has frequently been called on by both the media and decisionmakers to provide public policy analysis and testimony. In founding Magnolia Tribune Institute, he seeks to build on more than a decade of organizational leadership and communications experience to ensure Mississippians have access to news they can trust and opinion that makes them think deeply. Prior to beginning his non-profit career, Russ practiced business and constitutional law for a decade. Email Russ: