On Sunday, The News & Observer published a front-page story about questionable spending by Dana Cope, head of the State Employees Association of North Carolina. On Tuesday, Cope resigned.
It’s a stunning and quick fall for Cope, who had led the labor organization for 15 years. His style was sometimes combative, especially after Republicans took control of the governor’s office and legislative branch in North Carolina in recent years.
As a former News & Observer journalist, I am sometimes asked: Why is the newspaper tough on Republicans and easy on Democrats? My answer: The newspaper is tough on anyone who may be engaging in wrongdoing and attempts to hide that. The more someone hides, the more the paper will dig to find answers. Party affiliation is irrelevant.
Here are, for example, three prominent Democrats in North Carolina who have faced the Raleigh newspaper’s scrutiny over the years:
- Meg Scott Phipps, commissioner of agriculture. Pleaded guilty to numerous charges related to awarding of a contract for the North Carolina State Fair and improper use of campaign funds.
- Jim Black, speaker of the N.C. House. Pleaded guilty to a corruption charge and admitted taking money from chiropractors while the General Assembly considered a bill that would affect them.
- Mike Easley, governor. Pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance law related to free air travel he received while in office. His attorney criticized the N&O’s coverage of several other questionable actions by Easley but never refuted it.
In each instance, the N&O’s investigative reporting played an important role in shining a light on corruption. It so happened that each of these people was a Democrat. I know that N&O editors could cite other examples, just as they could for Republican malfeasance.
The reporting on Dana Cope is the latest example of a newspaper doing its work as a watchdog. Even with a diminished staff, the N&O is holding powerful people and organizations accountable. I hope it continues to do so for many years to come.