Eric Schmitt Takes Aim at Journalists in Open Records Request

The Missouri Attorney General seeks emails between the Columbia Missourian and PolitiFact

Eric Schmitt is filing records requests left and right. - DOYLE MURPHY
Eric Schmitt is filing records requests left and right.

In one of his latest open records requests, the Missouri Attorney General and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Eric Schmitt, is diving into the emails of the University of Missouri's student paper.

The open records request, filed in June, targets three years worth of emails between the Columbia Missourian and PolitiFact.

This marks “unchartered territory,” Missouri Press Association attorney Jean Maneke told the Associated Press. Normally, correspondence at private media companies is not subject to open-record laws, but since this paper is attached to a public institution, it could be subject to Sunshine Law requests.

“There’s no clear instructions for what they should do when faced with these kind of parameters,” Maneke explained.

The request seeks correspondence between the Columbia Missourian and PolitiFact, a non-profit that helps journalists fact-check information. Their partnership began in 2015, the Columbia Missourian reports.

Specifically, it asks for any emails starting in June 15, 2018, to or from Aaron Sharockman, the executive editor of Politifact, and the paper's former executive editors Tom Warhover and Mike Jenner.

Warhover served as the executive editor of the Missourian for 15 years. After he resigned in 2017, Jenner, also a board member on the nonprofit that oversees the Missourian, took over on an interim basis, serving for 2 years.

“My initial and continuing reaction is one of confusion,” Warhover told the Associated Press. “What the attorney general would want with this is befuddling.”

The request asks for emails that include the phrases "fact checking," "fake news," "Washington Post fact-check," "political speech," "future of political reporter," "The Poynter Institute," "Politifact," “In Partnership with the Columbia Missourian,” “Truth-O-Meter" and "NewsGuard," according to the Columbia Missourian.

It initially resulted in over 5,000 emails and 30,000 pages of content. Schmitt then tightened the request to exclude newsletters.

The school does intend to “comply with the request to fulfill the lawful duty that we have,” said David Kurpius, the journalism school dean. The university has hired an outside legal team to determine the next steps, as it’s unclear what can be released.

Chris Nuelle, the press secretary for Schmitt’s office, told the Associated Press that Schmitt's goal is “simply trying to get to the bottom of the fact checking process.”

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