Missouri attorney general seeks journalism school records

Sep 2, 2022, 2:09 AM | Updated: 2:56 pm

FILE - Republican U.S. Senate candidate and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt listens to an at...

FILE - Republican U.S. Senate candidate and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt listens to an attendee at the Governor's Ham Breakfast at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, Mo., Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022. Schmitt has filed an open records request seeking correspondence between two journalism professors connected to the University of Missouri and the executive director of a fact-checking group. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has filed an open records request seeking correspondence between two journalism professors connected to the University of Missouri and the executive director of a fact-checking group.

In a move that appears to be unprecedented in Missouri, Schmitt, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, filed a request in June asking for three years of emails sent and received by the professors while they worked at the Columbia Missourian.

Most correspondence generated at private media firms is not subject to the state’s open records law, but the Missourian could be because it is attached to the University of Missouri, which is a public entity.

The Missourian is not overseen by university officials, but most of its staff are students who are working for credits toward a journalism degree. The professional editors work as university faculty members.

David Kurpius, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, said the school has hired outside legal counsel to determine which emails could be released to the attorney general. Some records, such as those that identify students’ personal information, are protected by federal law.

Jean Maneke, an attorney with the Missouri Press Association, said the request puts the university in “unchartered territory” because most public institutions do not have journalists attached. She was unaware of any similar requests in the past.

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

The request was first reported by the Missourian, which discovered it after filing an unrelated open records request.

Schmitt’s spokesman, Chris Nuelle, said in a statement that the attorney general is “simply trying to get to the bottom of the fact checking process.” He declined to answer further questions.

Schmitt previously used open-records laws to seek copies of handouts, emails and other resources that address race from school districts as part of a push targeting “critical race theory.” He also opened a “transparency portal” to allow parents to see his efforts.

In the latest request, Schmitt is seeking any email correspondence starting June 15, 2018, sent to or from Mike Jenner, Tom Warhover, who previously worked with the Missourian, and Aaron Sharockman, the executive director of PolitiFact.

Warhover, an associate professor at the university, was executive editor at the Missourian for 16 years before resigning in 2017. Jenner, board member of the Missourian Publishing Association, a nonprofit that governs the Missourian, succeeded Warhover for about two years.

Warhover noted the fact-checking course involving PolitiFact hasn’t been offered for about 1 1/2 years. He did not see a similar request during his years at the Missourian.

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

Sharockman told The Missourian in an email statement that Politifact doesn’t use off-the-record information and publishes a list of sources with each story.

“Our methods and reporting are transparent, and we’d be happy to sit down with the attorney general at any time to discuss our work, or his ideas for continued accountability journalism,” he said.

Maneke noted the attorney general’s office is one of the primary entities that advises citizens and enforces the state’s Sunshine Law. In this case, Schmitt appears to be using the law as a “battering ram” against the university and journalists who are housed at the university, she said.

“It creates a real conflict in interest in what the attorney general is doing and how citizens view the office of attorney general as a Sunshine Law advocate,” she said.

Kurpius said the school will comply with whatever determination its legal team makes about which records should be released. He noted that the journalism school often uses the Freedom of Information Act and strongly supports open records laws.

“We also obviously believe in the process of journalism,” Kurpius said. “Fact checking, making sure we get things right is important in having the trust of the public we serve.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Eugene and Linda Lamie, of Homerville, Ga., sit by the grave of their son U.S. Army Sgt. Gene Lamie...

Associated Press

Biden marks Memorial Day lauding generations of fallen US troops who ‘dared all and gave all’

President Joe Biden lauded the sacrifice of generations of U.S. troops who died fighting for their country as he marked Memorial Day with the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

11 hours ago

OpenAI's CEO Sam Altman, the founder of ChatGPT and creator of OpenAI gestures while speaking at Un...

Associated Press

ChatGPT maker downplays fears they could leave Europe over AI rules

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on Friday downplayed worries that the ChatGPT maker could exit the European Union

1 day ago

File - Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, left, and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman arrive to the White House for a ...

Associated Press

Regulators take aim at AI to protect consumers and workers

As concerns grow over increasingly powerful artificial intelligence systems like ChatGPT, the nation’s financial watchdog says it’s working to ensure that companies follow the law when they’re using AI.

3 days ago

FILE - A security surveillance camera is seen near the Microsoft office building in Beijing, July 2...

Associated Press

Microsoft: State-sponsored Chinese hackers could be laying groundwork for disruption

State-backed Chinese hackers have been targeting U.S. critical infrastructure and could be laying the technical groundwork for the potential disruption of critical communications between the U.S. and Asia during future crises, Microsoft said Wednesday.

4 days ago

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House, May 17, 2023, in Washington....

Associated Press

White House unveils new efforts to guide federal research of AI

The White House on Tuesday announced new efforts to guide federally backed research on artificial intelligence

5 days ago

FILE - The Capitol stands in Washington D.C. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)Credit: ASSOCIATED...

Associated Press

What it would mean for the economy if the US defaults on its debt

If the debt crisis roiling Washington were eventually to send the United States crashing into recession, America’s economy would hardly sink alone.

6 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...

Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Missouri attorney general seeks journalism school records