Coming from California, Charles Johnson made a splash in Mississippi this election cycle with the launch of his online news outlet, GotNews.com, which exposed the allegedly corrupt election practices of the Cochran-McDaniel U.S. Senate race. Only, he didn't just cover the controversy, he became it.
Charles "Controversy" Johnson, as Tea Party member Tricia Raymond calls him, buddied up to radical conservatives last night at Life Church Jackson in Flowood at one of three of his speaking events here in Mississippi this week. Preaching to their cause and throwing in a little God talk, Johnson spoke to Tea Party members about his role in the recent U.S. Senate election in Mississippi.
At the beginning of the meeting, just after asking God in the opening prayer to "be violent against" the GOP establishment, Mississippi Tea Party Chairman Roy Nicholson thanked Johnson for getting "down in that dirty, muddy trench and exposing a lot of truth" in Mississippi politics.
Coming from California, Johnson made a splash in Mississippi this election cycle with the launch of his online news outlet, GotNews.com, which exposed the allegedly corrupt election practices of the Cochran-McDaniel U.S. Senate race. Only, he didn't just cover the controversy, he became it.
By paying a Meridian preacher for text messages possibly implicating Sen. Thad Cochran's campaign staffers in a vote-buying scheme, Johnson made the public and other media question his journalistic integrity.
In a room full of people who consider him a fearless bulldog, Johnson chastised "mainstream" reporters for being "stenographers for the Haley Barbours or the Henry Barbours."
The Tea Party members in attendance ate up Johnson's words—oohing and aahing during his speech. In general, they were less interested in the special guest's unconventional reporting or the state investigation for which he was subpoenaed days ago than they were in Cochran's sex life. Most wanted to know about a specific element of the Senate saga: that Cochran lives in the Washington, D.C., home of his executive assistant, Kay Webber.
"It has a separate entrance? Is there a different address for the basement? So that makes it one residence then, don't it?" the audience asked, outraged.
The crowd wasn't as disgusted when the topic switched to the nursing home break-in, a plan conspired by McDaniel supporters to get a picture of Cochran's bedridden wife to offer in contrast to Cochran's D.C. lifestyle.
"That's OK," one woman said to comfort Johnson after he told the audience people were upset with him for attributing the death of Mark Mayfield, who took his life after the nursing home scandal, partly to The Clarion-Ledger's Assistant Managing Editor Sam Hall's "failure to do his job."
They all reveled in the fact that, according to Johnson, what happened in the nursing home wasn't illegal. "It may have been distasteful. It may have been the wrong thing to do, but it was not criminal," Johnson said.
The crowd nodded.
Johnson also explained his interview with Rev. Stevie Fielder of Meridian, who said he made a deal with Cochran campaign staffers to pay black voters to vote for Cochran. Johnson said that many people referred him to Fielder, never going into specifics.
Attorney General Jim Hood's spokeswoman Jan Schaefer said last week that Fielder was then saying that McDaniel campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch paid him to lie about the vote-buying. Today, Mississippi Public Broadcasting reported that Fielder is now saying that Fritsch paid him to explain a hypothetical vote-buying situation. Fritsch has not returned calls to comment on the accusations.
At one point, an older man at the back of the room asked exactly what many people want to know. He acknowledged the fact that Fielder has changed his story, then said: "Which one of y'all are lying?"
But the crowd erupted in laughter, allowing Johnson to avoid the question.
"I think that they got to Fielder," he said to explain why Fielder told Attorney General Jim Hood he was paid to lie. Johnson didn't, however, explain why Fielder told Hood that McDaniel campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch paid him for his story.
In the Fielder interview, Fritsch is mentioned. When asked why, Johnson said, "We mentioned Noel to send the text messages, to send them through Noel, so that they could be published, so we could ascertain that those were there."
When asked why the messages would have to go through Noel, Johnson said, "We wanted to have the images sent to somebody in Mississippi who could then send them on to us."
The state issued Johnson a subpoena Sunday regarding his interview with Fielder and any of his interactions with Fritsch. He said he does not know who is being investigated and assures that he was never in cahoots with the McDaniel campaign.
"I'm in a house of God. I can't lie," Johnson said at the Tea Party meeting shortly after Raymond professed, "God gave us Charles Johnson."