Local Politics

UNC Student Reporter Upsets Edwards Campaign

Posted October 26, 2007 4:38 p.m. EDT
Updated October 27, 2007 9:38 a.m. EDT

— A University of North Carolina professor said Friday that John Edwards' campaign demanded that he pull a student reporter's television story that focused on the upscale location of the Democratic candidate's campaign's headquarters.

C.A. "Charlie" Tuggle, an associate professor at the school and news director of a student-produced news program, said the Edwards campaign contacted the reporter, second-year master's degree student Carla Babb, asking that a video of her report be removed from an Internet posting. When that failed, the campaign demanded in three calls to Tuggle that the TV story be killed from the student show, he said.

Tuggle said the campaign had complained that Babb misrepresented what story she planned to do. He also said the Edwards campaign warned that relations with the school could be jeopardized.

The Edwards campaign had no comment on the professor's specific contentions. More generally, spokeswoman Colleen Murray said: "This is silly. We love all reporters. The problem is, the feeling isn't always mutual."

The TV story is to air Monday on the program "Carolina Week" in Chapel Hill. It was first posted on YouTube for an MTV contest and drew only a couple of hundred hits during the first days on the site.

Carolina Week airs on Time Warner Cable's community channel in Chapel Hill and on the university's on-campus cable system.

"[The Edwards campaign] didn't want us to put it out there," Tuggle told WRAL Friday. "Now, because of you and other broadcast and print reporters, it's everywhere."

The school has been fielding calls from The Associated Press and The New York Times, to name a few.

The Edwards campaign complained to Tuggle, he said, that the student had not disclosed the angle of the story and had asked for access to do a feature on a student who was interning for the campaign.

"Stories change, and this one did not change in a significant way, in my opinion. It just didn't meet what they were hoping for," Tuggle said. "The intimation is we went in with an ax to grind, and nothing could be further from the truth."

In the report, Babb interviews students, one on the campaign, one not. She asks whether it is appropriate for Edwards to base his operations in his affluent hometown of Chapel Hill, home of the university, as opposed to a location that would better reflect his campaign platform of fighting poverty.

After quoting the students, Babb concludes her report by saying, "It's ultimately up to the voters to decide if running a presidential campaign here was a smart move politically. But it's safe to say, in Chapel Hill, opinions are split. "

In an interview Friday with the AP, Babb said: "I was completely shocked to get a phone call from the Edwards campaign saying that the story was straight from the Republican Party and that we needed to take it down."

She said she wanted to do a story about student opinions about Edwards' headquarters near campus in Chapel Hill's Southern Village.

WRAL tried to contact Babb, but Tuggle said she was in Washington accepting a national award for best student newscast.

Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, graduated with a law degree from the university and helped develop and operate a poverty center there after the 2004 election, when he ran as John Kerry's vice-presidential candidate and the ticket lost to President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.