Has David Vitter been pressuring newspapers in Louisiana to take it easy on Brent Furer, a former aide who attacked his girlfriend with a knife, but got to keep his job for two years anyhow?
According to two editors in Louisiana, the answer is yes.
“Senator Vitter’s attorney sent us a letter taking issue with the way we worded one particular sentence…about Mr. Furer’s difficulty,” says Carl Redman, executive editor of The Advocate.
Vitter went to great pains to avoid commenting on the scandal, and has sought to publicly distance himself from Furer. But privately, he’s been trying to intimidate newspapers into giving Furer what he considers fair coverage.
In what Redman describes as a “somewhat hyperbolic” letter, Vitter’s attorneys attacked The Advocate for not dancing around Furer’s history.
“We said that Mr. Furer did something — that he slashed his girlfriend — and the police report alleges that and when he finally went to court, he ended up pleading down to lesser charges,” Redman said. “Furer was never actually convicted of slashing his girlfriend…. We missed an alleged or an accused of.”
The letter from Vitter’s counsel threatened no legal action, and The Advocate responded. According to Redman, The Advocate’s counsel informed Vitter “we’re exercising our First Amendment freedoms…we agree that the sentence that he pointed to was inartfully crafted, there was nothing untrue about it and that we would continue to report on Mr. Vitter and his campaign.”
The Monroe News Star had a similar experience several weeks ago.
“We had a local article that referenced it and did not have an updated thing on what the final disposition of the case was,” says Ken Stickney, the News Star’s managing editor. “They wanted us to send them copies of the article…anything we’d ever written about the fella.”
“Our facts were substantially correct, so we went ahead and ran a clarification,” Stickney says.
“I thought on first reading he didn’t want to be associated with Brent Furer,” Stickney recalls.
But in fact, he was attempting to minimize Furer’s bad press. “He was asking for a correction but the principle of the story never was. Brent Furer never contacted us,” Stickney said. “David Vitter did.”
Vitter’s attorney, James Garner, confirmed that he contacted the papers “to clarify and set the record straight.”
Louisiana’s largest newspaper is the Times Picayune. Their politics editor, Tim Morris, says he doesn’t believe Vitter’s counsel has sent a similar letter to his paper.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.