Well, N&O, you got played. You wandered into an ideological budget debate and did a hatchet job on the N.C. Rural Center. To call it poor journalism would be an insult to journalism. It’s quite clearly an opinion piece that started out with a point of view and used selective data to back it up.

There are so many problems in this series, it’s hard to know where to start. Let’s start with the idea for the story in the first place.

Tell the truth. Bob Luddy pitched this story, didn’t he? It sure seems that way. Whether he did or didn’t, why didn’t you identify Luddy other than to say he’s a “Raleigh businessman appointed to the board of directors two years ago by Republican Senate leader Phil Berger?” You should know, and the public should too, that Luddy is a right-wing ideologue and big Republican donor who believes the free market is a panacea for all our problems, including public education.

The story you didn’t write is the one about why he was appointed to the board in the first place. Now we know. Berger’s budget defunds the Rural Center. It sure appears like you just did his bidding.

Why didn’t you talk to other board members? By my count, there are over 45 board members, many from rural areas that have been hit hard by the loss of manufacturing and the economic crisis. Sure would have been nice to hear what they thought. Instead, you focused on Luddy, a guy with a clear agenda who lives in Raleigh, the most economically successful city in the state.

And then what about the accusations themselves? You made serious accusations, laid out as fact, but I don’t see a response to the specific allegations. I’ll be kind and call that poor reporting.

How many grants has the Rural Center made in the past 25 years? Of those, how many of them achieved their goals? I want percentages and accountability. You gave me  cherry-picked anecdotes. For that matter, define success. Are there programs in other states that deal with economic devastation similar to rural North Carolina? What percentage of those programs bring the benefits they seek? Also, what about collateral benefits? Many grants provide infrastructure like water, sewer and roads for specific projects. Are there any instances where additional businesses use those resources even if the original recipient failed?

After reading and rereading, I couldn’t figure out your point about the Rocky Mount Variety Wholesalers deal. Seems the whole story was a set up for a an Art Pope punchline: “I’d say it was Variety Wholesalers who creates the jobs…Not a grant.”

I could go on and on but I’ll stop for now. This piece is irresponsible to say the least. If you had written it six months ago with more research, data and interviews, that would be fair game. Or if it had been a column or opinion piece, so be it. But to write an anecdotal “two-part series” from the viewpoint of biased players in the midst of a budget fight is out of bounds. You should be ashamed.


  1. E.L. Flake

    I’m sorry Thomas, but I don’t think we should be spending tax dollars to build Walmarts and Wendys and country clubs. This secretive organization’s budget should be part of state government, not a good ol’ boy grant network. The facts in the article seem quite clear to me,( $6 million to Walmart ? ).

    • K.A.G.

      Flake, you should do more research. The Rural Center is not a ‘ secretive’ organization. The 85 Rural Counties in NC know if very well. The fact that urban residents or the newly elected from urban NC do not know it simply highlights the fact that the Rural Center is doing its job; focusing on rural NC and its people. It has done over 5,000 projects in its history. The fact that this reporter chose only a few to complain about shows that he went into the story with an agenda, Who is paying his ‘other salary’ to get him to compromise his journalistic ethics in this way?

  2. nancy g. rorie


  3. James Protzman

    Well done.

    If you ever decide to run for office, though, this will come back to haunt you. The 4th Estate doesn’t much like being taken to task.

    • Thomas Mills

      Thanks, James. I’ll only run from office. I did break that old rule about picking fights with people who buy ink by the barrel, though.

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