It was a shock to some in the media community when, one week ago, word came that Arkansas News Bureau columnist David Sanders would be going to work as campaign manager for Stanley Reed, the latest Republican challenger to Sen. Blanche Lincoln.
Perhaps it shouldn't have been such a surprise. Sanders had commented favorably on a possible Reed candidacy before and had spoken flatteringly of the former Farm Bureau president in print and on television. In a Nov. 22 column, Sanders spoke highly of Reed's experience on the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees, and said his supporters believed Reed could be “a transformative figure their party has lacked.”
But that's not the column that got everyone talking. On the day before he resigned, Sanders' final column was published by Arkansas News Bureau. In it, he talked about the recent GOP straw poll, how each candidate fared and what their futures may hold. Bloggers and other commentators picked up on one of the final paragraphs of that column, the one that said Stanley Reed would “make a huge splash” if he entered the race. It raised the question: When was Sanders offered the job with Reed and did he use his last column to bolster his candidate's reputation?
According to Sanders, he finished his final column on Sunday, Dec. 6, the day after a Republican straw poll was held in Hot Springs. Reed asked him to come work for the campaign on Monday, Dec. 7, and the column came out that Wednesday, Dec. 9.
“If you look at that column, it's not just about Reed; there was some pretty favorable stuff in there about Curtis Coleman as well,” Sanders said.
And he's right. But the big question isn't how glowingly he wrote about Reed but how he advanced a negative line on almost every other candidate. Sanders assessed each candidate, to “see who is sinking, swimming or treading water.”
Lincoln was, of course, sinking. Gilbert Baker, treading water, as was Conrad Reynolds. Running with the old Kim-Hendren-is-a-doddering-old-guy meme, Sanders asked, “Who knows what he's doing?” Jim Holt's time had come and gone, Tom Cox, Fred Ramey and Buddy Rogers should “think about getting into a different pool,” etc.
Stephens Media columnist John Brummett called Sanders' decision to go ahead with the column “bad judgment.” Conservative blogger David Kinkade pondered on his blog whether Reed should consider Sanders' final column an in-kind contribution.
But the folks over at Arkansas News Bureau don't see any conflict. Bureau chief Dennis Byrd said the column didn't cross any line.
“David has always been a person of integrity in his dealings with me and I just have to assume he was in that situation, too,” Byrd said.
Sanders said he was shocked when Reed offered him the post. He'll be putting his column and his AETN show “Unconventional Wisdom” on hold. He officially started work with the campaign on Monday, Dec.14.
Guest columnists Steve Brawner, a free-lance journalist and former aide to Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Jason Tolbert, the tireless blogger who spends his spare time filing posts for the Tolbert Report, will fill Sanders' shoes temporarily.
There has been talk that Kinkade would be a good permanent replacement. I agree with that, but Byrd said there has been “zero” talk of hiring the creator of the irreverent but insightful blog, The Arkansas Project.
Sanders wasn't the only local media personality to mosey along this week. KATV reporter Amanda Manatt was hired as the communications officer for the House of Representatives. Manatt called us to confirm that she had not done any reporting on the legislature since applying for the House job.
Also, Associated Press reporter John Gambrell will be moving to Nigeria. Gambrell will be the chief correspondent in Lagos, the capital city.
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