Hutchins highlights Dudley’s role in bringing down Harrell

On a previous post, Doug Ross and Lynn T. both said that Renee Dudley, formerly of The Post and Courier, deserved a lot of credit for bringing Harrell down. I had to confess that I wasn’t that familiar with her work (the last one of their reporters I knew at all was Yvonne Wenger) and had little to add on the subject. I knew that a lot of the initial spadework on the case had been done by the Charleston paper, but that was about it.

Well, today, Corey Hutchins brings to my attention to this piece he wrote in Columbia Journalism Review, praising Ms. Dudley along those lines:


Renee Dudley

It is a case study in why local accountability reporting matters. It took the reporting of Renee Dudley, a young, aggressive reporter for the Charleston Post and Courier, to break the news of the longtime politician’s wrongdoing and force the issue to the forefront of public debate.

Harrell had been in the House since 1993, and had been Speaker since 2005. Before Dudley took him on, no other reporter had so thoroughly researched and scrutinized his behavior in office, not at papers around the state capitol nor in his home district of Charleston.

But Dudley, a Boston native, had started to make a name for herself with investigative features after joining The Post and Courier in 2010 to cover health stories. As a reporter covering politics at the capital for the Columbia, SC-based alt-weekly Free Times, I first noticed her work when she dropped a September 2011 story on Gov. Nikki Haley’s trip to Europe.

By the time I read her pieces on Harrell the next year, I was jealous. In the spring of 2012, Dudley, then 26, penned her first big report on Bobby’s world. The story was an investigative report about a big-money political action committee linked to the Speaker, and how he used it to consolidate and wield power in the House. Her piece raised questions about conflicts of interest, including whether it was proper for one lawmaker to accept $123,000 in payment to his communications firm from “the Speaker’s PAC.”

The bombshell that eventually put the Speaker in legal crosshairs, and later led to his guilty plea, came that September. Its title: “Harrell offers no details on self-reimbursement of $325,000 from campaign funds.”…

9 thoughts on “Hutchins highlights Dudley’s role in bringing down Harrell

    1. Mark Stewart

      She also mixed it up with Wal-Mart last year – and took down the PR shmuck who tried to ice her for her reporting on the company.

      If she were in my business, I would want to talk to her about a position – after I checked on my E&O insurance policy.

  1. Andrew G

    I think anyone who has paid attention, has to wonder why, in South Carolina, where legislators very rarely have electoral opposition, that many Reps and Senators carry around high five and six figure campaign accounts.

    Obviously these funds are not for campaigning.

    I am glad that Dudley has done the work of showing the corruption and linking the details together. I suspect it could get deeper.

    The campaign fund / PAC deal does bear such corrupt fruit.

  2. Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    If I’m not mistaken, the Post and Courier more or less put the brakes on Dudley’s efforts to dig deeper into Harrell’s shenanigans after her initial efforts, prompting her, in part, to leave for greener pastures.

      1. Cotton Boll Conspiracy

        I realize that the source here has to be taken into account, but I have personally seen Harrell use tactics described like those detailed by FITS against Dudley and the Post and Courier in 2012. I have no problem believing that he would do whatever he could to keep a pesky reporter from highlighting actions that most voters would consider unethical in spirit, if not law.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          You may have seen Harrell try such things, but I refuse to believe that it would work, at the P&C or any major paper in SC.

          Any paper that knuckled under to such naked threats as that should just give up and quit publishing. It’s unthinkable that editors would put up with such as that…

          So I’ve always assumed that the whole thing was more complicated than that.

          And indeed, we have no idea why Ms. Dudley left. She was highly marketable, and she may just have found greener pastures. We do know that after she left, Stephen Largen was fired. But we don’t know why.

          Whatever the truth is, it’s bound to be muddier than Will’s simple pocketbook explanation.

          I know what it’s like to be fired by a newspaper, and I know what it’s like to fire people from newspapers, and I know that people who aren’t involved have a way of imagining explanations that suit their own proclivities…

          1. Cotton Boll Conspiracy

            I agree, Brad, and also realize things are almost always more complicated than FITS makes them out to be. But I also don’t believe the Post and Courier did nearly as much sleuthing into Harrell’s activities as they should have once the initial questionable activities were revealed.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    and not only Dudley but Hutchens have left for greener pastures.
    I hope John Monk and Eva Moore will stick around.

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