What I cut from Will Folks’ op-ed

On the day that headlines proclaimed that he would plead guilty to criminal domestic violence charges — while, paradoxically, claiming that he’s innocent — Will Folks called to say he wanted to tell his side of the story. The result was the op-ed piece on today’s page.

It was an unusual request — or offer, depending on how you look at it. But then, Will Folks was an unusual gubernatorial press secretary. He had recently announced his second resignation from Gov. Mark Sanford’s staff. The first time was just before the governor took office, but he quickly returned. This time, after a series of gaffes that testified to his inexperience (by comparison with others who had held his post) and unpredictable temperament.

How often do you get a piece that gives readers a direct look into the thinking of a man charged with domestic violence? How often do you get such a piece from the governor’s ex-spokesman? The short answer to that is, "Never." So on the basis of news value alone, it was an easy decision.

Such pieces are unusual coming from anyone facing such charges, because normally his attorneys will tackle and bind and gag such a person to stop him from writing such a piece. But Will made it clear he didn’t care for advice from "lawyers and all, (who) keep telling me I shouldn’t talk about it." And not just lawyers. Shortly after he called to tell me he was sending the piece, I called back to ask for an ETA, and he hurriedly asked if he could call me right back. He later explained that his father had been trying to talk him out of this step. "He’s totally against it," he said. "He’s so worried about the legal" ramifications. "I just don’t care any more."

That’s why, he said, he had decided to plead guilty. "If they want to put me in jail for 30 days, I’ll go to jail for 30 days." He said this was the way he and the rest of the Sanford team had always operated: Say what you think, let it all hang out, and let others make of it what they will.

So he sent me the piece, and I ran it. But I didn’t run ALL of it. I cut out a key passage. It went between "…I did not intentionally grab or shove her so as to cause her to fall," and "I never set out to deliberately hurt anyone…"

Here’s what was cut:

Even my former fiancee herself, in an e-mail to my mother two days later, said “I do feel that Will did not intend to physically harm me” and further that “he never intended to hurt me.”

She’s right.

Why did I cut that out? A couple of reasons. The first is that this was — as he requested — Mr. Folks’ opportunity to tell his version of what happened. The piece had no business also providing his version of her version of events. (If she wants to share her story, that’s another matter entirely; but that’s up to her.)

The other reason is this: Before we decided to cut that passage, I had called Mr. Folks to tell him I had a problem with it. How was I to confirm that such an e-mail from his ex-intended actually existed? He offered to send me the e-mail itself, which he did.

What that e-mail contained differed significantly in its implications, as he had left out important context. Here’s how the actual, full passage read:

While I do not agree with the statement that Will is totally innocent innocent (sic) of the charge, I do feel that he did not intend to physically harm me– even though laying your hands on a woman in any regard is wrong. I know he just lost control of his anger and that he never intended to hurt me as he did.

As I say, I think it was a good idea to leave out Mr. Folks’ truncated version of that. But I also thought it a good idea to share both versions with you here on my blog. I await your judgment as to whether I was right on either count.

28 thoughts on “What I cut from Will Folks’ op-ed

  1. Deaver Traywick

    Mr. Warren:
    I agree in principle with the decisions you made regarding Will Folk’s statement. The section you cut does seem problematic for the reasons you suggest.
    My only suggestion is that you might have given Mr. Folks the option of running the piece as edited or not at all. As a writer and editor, I am concerned about the editorial policy of publishing changes or truncations without the writer’s consent. Perhaps the fast pace of newspaper publication does not allow extended debate about changes, but I’d perfer if writers were given at least the choice of approving the edited piece or not.
    Deaver Traywick
    Newberry, SC

  2. Wayne Cooper

    Just wanted to drop a quick note to say how good it is to see that you’re defying the blurb that for months accompanied your blog: You seem to know what you’re doing now.
    I think by publishing this truncation you are getting at one of the compelling features of blogs, which is stepping outside formal newspaper conventions.
    Of course the Folks’ piece is unique. Nevertheless, looks like you’re on your way. I can see a day when an inside item from the Brad Blog is picked up and plays across the nation.
    Good job.
    Wayne Cooper
    Charlotte, NC

  3. Tim Crenshaw

    Mr. Warthen,
    I do not think that Will Folks should have been given space in your paper to proclaim his ‘innocence’.
    However, as you have followed his wishes to be published in today‘s paper, let’s look at a few of his points:
    He says he doesn’t have a violent bone in his body, yet he admits he kicked open his front door in anger when his ex-fiancée locked him out of their house. He says he did not injure his ex-fiancée, yet he doesn’t remember exactly what happened at the critical moment when she was injured. He remembers enough, however, to insinuate it is her own fault by laying hands on him and losing her balance. He claims to be pleading guilty to spare his beloved ex-fiancée and her family from being fodder for ‘political bottom-feeders’, yet he is very publicly calling her a liar.
    What is missing from his op-ed is worth noting, namely a sentence that might read as follows: I apologize to my former fiancée, our families, and the people of South Carolina for my arrogant, immature and unacceptable behavior and I hope I am able to learn from my mistakes.

  4. Joe Smith

    I have a strong suspicion that the real root of this sad story might well have been the conflict between a lobbyist who was marrying to get close to the Governor and a fiancée who couldn’t understand why said lobbiest suddenly didn’t want to marry him when he quit his job in the Governor’s office.

  5. Bob Steel

    I think it is irresponsible to allow Mr. Folks the opportunity to give his side of the story without hearing from the victim. It is very apparent Mr Folks has friends at The State and was able to call in some favors. A friend of mine pointed out the other day that you quit using his mug shot in stories about the event. Is this policy of The State? Will you not run the mug shots of any Tom, Dick and Harry that calls and asks? I’m sure they’d be happy to supply you with more flattering pictures. Or do you have to be a memeber of the “good ole boy network” to get this type of treatment?

  6. harris

    I do not belive that Mr. Folks intended to hurt his fiancee, nor do I belive that she should have Locked the him out of his own house. If I was in my own home and anyone tried to hinder me in my physical movements I would take only the necessary action to remove that person from my home. Domestic violence is a result of the ignorance and sometimes arrogence of mostly men, but when you try to manhandle your husband or significant other and things go wrong, there is only one person to blame.
    Who touched who first?

  7. Larry Howle

    Todays climate in a Family Court decision is in favor of the woman. A woman can claim anything she wants, beat herself up and claim domestic violence, habitual drunkeness, drug abuser, etc. and have the spouse ejected from their home in 3 days without any impartial witnesses or real proof of abuse or spouses claims.
    Family Courts attitude is they will not try the case and will accept negotiation between the attorney’s respective parties only. I know because I am going through it now after a 28 year relationship. Mr. Folks is right is airing his side of the story, too bad the court could care less what the real story is.
    The accusing spouse will not have to prove her case, the man is already guilty, case closed.
    I was not accused of domestic violence but was threatened by my brother in law (campus cop) to be reported for it as I argued with my spouse in front of him.
    There is no justice in family court, only protection for women, no matter how much they may provoke the situation, no matter how much they are guilty of creating the environment that initiated it.
    How is a man to react if a woman blocks his way or runs around all night, ignoring her family and husband for years, or verbally, mentally and physically provoking him? Should he have jumped out the window? Called 911 to report her?
    Should I have left my son to deal with a mentally deficient person to keep me from being accused of something I did not do?
    How does a man in this situation get his day in court if the court system is not interested in the whole truth? How can a disagreement be treated as a felony just because someone claims it to be real?
    I know there are cases where men abuse women, what about women abusing men and the court system to their advantage. The situation I am in can happen to every man in South Carolina and there is no system of checks and balances. What about women under psychiatric care that are protected by HIPPA laws, abusing a system to their advantage? Crazy people can do crazy things but if you are a woman it’s OK, and we will prosecute anybody that falls within those felony parameters.
    I think it needs to be addressed as any disagreement, arbitration by a impartial 3rd party (at the courts expense, not mine). I had to pay a guardian ad litem to get my side heard, $200 for a 5 minute phone conversation, still don’t know what he told the court. Baffles me how this can be called justice.

  8. John Hearn

    Thanks for the blog report on Mr. Folks’s “explanation” of his crime; I believe it merits publication in your paper.
    I have only one comment. Mr. Folks writes:
    “I have taken the extraordinary step of offering to plead guilty to this awful charge despite the fact that I believe I am innocent.”
    One day, Mr. Folks will appear before a judge on this charge to offer his plea. In hearing the plea, the judge will ask this question: “Are you pleading guilty because you are, in fact, guilty of this charge?” If Mr. Folks does not answer “yes,” then the judge will very likely refuse to accept the plea, and rightly so. A proclamation of innocence has no place in a guilty plea.
    Mr. Folks no doubt would like to have it both ways. Folks wants the lesser punishment often offered in a plea bargain, but without the unpleasantess of actually admitting his guilt. Let’s hope the judge hearing the matter queries Mr. Folks at length on this issue, using Folks’s op-ed piece as Exhibit A.

  9. Randy O'Toole

    I think that Mr. Folks has a serious problem and it reflects poorly not only on him but the Governor and the State of South Carolina. You see, he wants to take responsibility for his actions, but only under the definition that he provides to for us to interpret. Not so fast there, sonny boy.
    Mr. Folks needs to apologize unconditionally to the entire state for making us the laughing stock once again.
    Pleading guilty and claiming innocence is a juvenile approach to a very grown up crime.

  10. Timothy Ward

    I do not personally know Will Folks. I have however worked with him on occasion to cover stories. My opinion is that he should have kept the op-ed to himself and let the story run its due course. In the business we are in, it can be unfortunate when our mistakes our made public. That is the nature of the business. The op-ed only seemed to me to try and help him in his other pursuits by publicly telling “his side,” which is only one side. He should let his past duties and work ethic stand for for him, not his personal life. Only two people know the true story behind this sad ordeal and thankfully or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, we may never know the truth. The only fact we do have is that this is the first charge of violence placed against Will. Mistakes happen and the news media did not have to over report it. Telling the story once was all that needed to be done. Marc should have let the personal matters of his former staff remain with a “no comment.” I feel for Will, we all could have been in his position, male or female, at some point in our lives. None of us has never had a disagreement with our loved ones. Athough, most of us probably have not had one go so far. Maybe we should all stand down and let the courts figure this out, and let both parties go on with their lives.

  11. Elsa Green

    The State Newspaper has made a poor decision in allowing Will Folks to write an op-ed about his own personal problems. From afar, it appears that Will maybe bi-polar or have some other mental illness that affects his decision making ability. If indeed that is the case, then the State was cruel in publishing his vague and incomplete account of what occurred when he attacked his fiance. It can be literally compared to picking on someone with a handicap.
    What is particularly frightening about this case is that Will has been an advisor to the top executive of our state. Mr. Folks, it appears, has been giving Mark Sanford advice that was simply crazy. What is more frightening is that Governor Sanford took his advice and promoted Will Folks several times. Crazy people hire crazy people and Mark Sanford never knoew the difference until it ended up in the newspaper.

  12. Johnny Morris

    A really astonishing piece.
    Either you’re sorry, or you’re not. Either you’re guilty, or you’re not. We’ve come to learn that Sanford-land means just saying what you want about a situation whether it’s true or not (i.e., “we’re going to lose our AAA credit rating because of the legislature” when in fact we lost it because of his actions, OR “we have the highest income tax in the South” when in fact we don’t, OR as your paper once reported telling lies to Boy Scouts to supposedly illustrate the importance of telling the truth, to name just three examples). It appears that this is more of the same.
    My favorite bit of irony is saying that he has no violence in his body after mentioning casually that he kicked down the door.

  13. Lisa Turner

    You’re becoming a pretty good blogger. While I am intrigued by all the behind-the-scenes iterations of this story, I do not think it should have been run. You say that it was an opportunity The State shouldn’t pass up, but do you really think that Will Folks was going to do anything but try to help himself out? After all, he is trying to start up a consulting gig.
    If you were going to run Will Folks’ protestations of innocence, then I believe you should have attempted to give equal time to the other side.

  14. John Smith

    I can’t think of anything worse than having a personal situation like this played out in a public forum.
    Basically it sounds like Will’s ex-fiancee bailed on him once he lost his status in the Governor’s office…and if that weren’t enough, she reported their dispute to the cops! Now that’s love for you.
    While Will Folk’s behavior was absolutely inexcusable, in the long run he should feel lucky that he discovered the shallow, status oriented, gold digging nature of his girl friend before he married her and brought children into the equation.
    The real winner in all of this is, of course, Mark Sanford. After running headlong into a brick wall in terms of “taking on” the governmental status quo, the Governor has now gotten rid of the “pit bull”: the very voice and symbol of his renegade attitude towards dealing with the legislature. Perhaps we will see a more cooperative effort from the executive branch as re-election time nears. After all, the voters like to see results.

  15. Thomas McElveen

    First of all, I must take exception to Mr. Traywick’s comment on Mr. Warthen’s blog. Based on my personal experience, Mr. Warthen is extremely fair in his editing, and very graciously allows op-ed contributers input and even critique of his editing. Some time ago, I wrote what I must now admit was an overly reactionary letter to the editor responding to an editorial on tort reform by Ms. Cindi Ross Scoppe. After a very protracted e-mail dialogue between myself and Mr. Warthen, The State eventually ran my fairly lengthy letter to the editor and did not cut corners. The end result was a piece that, looking back on it, was much more effective and articulate than my initial “knee-jerk reaction” letter.
    As far as Mr. Folks’ situation goes, I appreciate the fact that he is defying convention and is publicly attempting to share his take on this incident. However, in my opinion — and based on this story as I have followed it in The State newspaper — he has also done a little bit of backpeddling and floundering since this whole thing blew up. It almost seems as if he is making himself out to be some sort of martyr by stating his intent to plead guilty while at the same time proclaiming his innocence. Then again, I also find myself wondering what Ms. Smith’s side of the story is. I am confident that most juries would also.
    Regardless of all the facts and circumstances surrounding this incident, I wish Mr. Folks the best of luck in ultimately putting such an unfortunate situation behind him and moving on with his life. Everyone makes mistakes.

  16. Robert Trout

    Will Folks, while serving as the Governor’s spokesperson, was an arrogant, smart-ass bully. I don’t buy, and neither would a jury, his proclamation that he is a non-violent person (yeah, we all go around kicking in doors).
    I don’t get Mr. Warthen’s decision to not run an unedited op-ed piece in the newspaper, and yet run it in his blog. I don’t see the difference between publishing it in the newspaper versus the blog. One is a print communications tool and the other is an electronic communications tool. The blog is promoted prominently on the newspaper’s web site along side the content in the day’s newspaper.

  17. Scott Barrow

    From day one of the Sanford administration, Folks has been an embarassment to the Governor’s office and this state. He strolled around the state house wearing a baseball cap, casual clothing that looked slept in and sporting a four-day growth of beard. Very professional, huh, for the Governor’s spokesperson and the state of South Carolina’s most visible representative to the country and the world?
    His prior work experience before going to the Governor’s office was playing a guitar in a mediocre rock band. He was cocky enough to think he knew something about media relations after 4 years as the Governor’s spokesperson. He’s demonstrated what little he knows about crisis management and the media in the way he has handled his own little crisis the past week.
    Mr. Folks’ 15 minutes of fame are over, and it’s time he fade away to never be heard from again.

  18. Paul Mc.

    I find it interseting that Joe and John Smith have similiar names and comments dispariging the fiancee…wonder if the real name here is Folks ?

  19. Iguana

    What is happening to Will Folks right now serves him right.
    He invited in the gender feminists to help the Governor make anti-male, propaganda based domestic violence laws. These laws assume the man is always guilty and the woman is always innocent.
    On its face, this does not appear to be the case with Folks. Get locked out of your own house a pretty obnoxious, bordering on violent thing for his ex to do. If a man did that under current DV hysteria, he would most certianly be accused of domestic violence because such an act would be considered an expression of his “oppression and control.”
    Because of the Violence Against Women Act, these sorts of unreasonable DV laws have spread around the country. A woman can literally run over a man with her car several times and kill him and hardly get jail time (remember that case in Texas?). If a man pushes a woman out of the way who is attempting to strike him, guess who gets charged – the man.
    The DV hysteria – which is pumped up by radical feminists because their organizations receive all of the $1 billion per year allocated from VAWA – has prompted family courts to issue restraining orders against men without any sort of proof that they are a threat. This is a common tactic used in divorce proceedings so that the woman gets the house and the kids and the man is left out in the cold.
    I suspect Will Folks and the Governor sold you these new laws as if it were an advancement for SC. In reality, you have just moved backwards into feminist land, in which civil rights are tossed out the window and everything is much more Soviet-like than I bet you had bargained for.
    Believe me, in know, because I live in Seattle, WA, which considers itself a “leader” in so-called women’s issues. What that really means is that when it comes to domestic disputes, men have no rights and women get everything they want.
    Since Folks helped to bring this Women Studies Madrassa-type hatred of men and fathers into your state, I have no sympathy for him. But, I do feel sorry for the rest of the men and fathers in your state. And, I feel sorry for their children, who might well find that their mothers manipulate the system to drive their fathers out of their lives.
    Welcome to the post Constitutional era South Carolina!

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