Folks starts working at 7:30 each morning, shortly after dropping August off at school. When I showed up at his house around 8:30 Wednesday, he answered the door dressed in athletic clothes and with a source on speakerphone. The conversation would lead to a post later that day flagging the involvement of Robert Cahaly—a Haley advisor and local political consultant charged in connection with illegal robocalls made in November 2010—with the Southern Republican Leadership Council, which hosted Thursday night’s CNN debate in Charleston.
Folks has lots of sources, many cultivated in his days working as Sanford’s spokesman, a job the former governor offered him in 2001 after being impressed with an op-ed that Folks had written in the local paper about small businesses. He now receives dozens of tips per day—so many more than he can manage, he claims, that he will sometimes pass them on to other news organizations. (He and Mace are working on a business plan to expand the site’s staff.).
After finishing up the call about Cahaly, he’s quickly on to the next, this one with an upstate political activist who wants to talk about Mitt Romney’s apparent snub of a pro-life forum held in Greenville. Folks managed to fish out another story, though: pro-life organizations were asking members to refrain from public attacks of Romney, calculating that he will be the eventual Republican nominee.
His source asked not to be linked to the leak, and Folks readily agreed. (He is an enthusiastic user of anonymous sources, saying he gets more information than the average reporter because they trust he will protect their identities.) He then texted one of his two go-to “Bible thumpers” with the information and put out calls to staffers at the National Right to Life Committee. When, after a suitable interval, he hadn’t heard back, Folks churned out the story and plugged in what he called the “most satisfying line”: “Calls to the NRLC’s national office were not immediately returned.” He posted the item, “SC pro-lifers pulling punches against Romney,” beneath a picture of boxing gloves grabbed off of Shutterstock.com, a royalty-free images site.
A call came in from another source—a “smart guy” Folks knows who wanted him to plug a piece of school choice legislation and news that the bill had been backed by the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks. Folks was an easy target for this pitch—he brought up the state’s weak public schools and the importance of the “parent’s choice” issue in South Carolina with me several times during the day. More in the spirit of activist than journalist, he agreed to write up the post.
Soon, it was time to leave the home office. In a sign that Folks is taken seriously (and takes himself seriously), he had an interview with WNYC’s Anna Sale, a political reporter for It’s A Free Country, scheduled for later that morning. He threw on a blazer and a tie and we headed down to the State House. A small group of national press was leaving the scene, apparently having shown up for a Newt Gingrich press conference that Gingrich himself blew off.
Folks had had no idea Gingrich was going to be at the State House. In fact, though he has been writing about the “Palmetto State’s pivotal ‘First in the South’ presidential primary”—a phrase he says he’s sick of—on a daily basis, Folks shows surprisingly little interest in life on the campaign trail. He only tuned in to his first debate of the season on Monday night, and rated it as unwatchable. He says he hates cable news.
On camera, though, Folks morphs into as practiced a pundit as you’re likely to find. As the WNYC cameraman filmed him he stood with his arms folded, paused to let a noisy airplane fly overhead, and delivered his answers in a crisp, unstuttering patter. Though he sees a Romney win as inevitable, he used the opportunity to plug Ron Paul, who will be the first politician Folks has voted for in 20 years.