I can’t bring myself to believe the charges against Courson

I’ve had a day and more to think about the news regarding John Courson, and it remains tough for me to come up with much to say about it, beyond this:

I can’t believe these charges.

I know Courson as a longtime source. We’re not close buddies or anything. I haven’t been on baseball road trips with him like Greg Gregory. All I can attest to is the impression I’ve formed dealing with him professionally over the course of decades.courson

And that impression is: John Courson is a gentleman, one who deeply values honor. Not only that, but he is a man to whom being a gentleman, in an old-school sense, is extremely important. He’d no more throw it away than he would tear down that Marine Corps banner he flies in front of his house and trample on it. He certainly wouldn’t do it in an underhanded scheme to obtain filthy lucre.

That’s just something I’m not able to imagine.

So there has to be some other explanation.

I just don’t know what that would be.

It seems unlikely that prosecutor David Pascoe would have stepped out on this without having what he believes to be solid evidence. After all this time, and all this expectation that’s been built up, and all the controversy infused with the ugly taint of partisanship, he’d be crazy to go after Courson unless he was sure he had him.

Even if you accept the notion — which I don’t — that this is all partisan politics, a desperate attempt by a Democrat to weaken the supremely dominant Republicans, Pascoe would be nuts to make a play like this without an ace in his hand. (And if it were a matter of a Democrat going after Republicans, why target Courson, who enjoys so much Democratic support?)

What might that ace be? One assumes he has, or would want to have, documents showing a money trail. And if that’s what he has, what explanation will Courson have to counter that?

In any case, I’m just not able to believe he’s guilty.

Yeah, it’s true: One can be fooled about someone. I’ll never forget my uncle’s reaction to Lost Trust. When the feds charged John I. Rogers, my uncle said no way. They’ve got the wrong man. No one in Bennettsville could believe that Rogers would do anything underhanded. If it had been the local senator, Jack Lindsey, no one would have raised an eyebrow. But John I. Rogers? No.

And then Rogers pleaded guilty.

But I don’t see that happening here.

We’ll see.

105 thoughts on “I can’t bring myself to believe the charges against Courson

  1. Doug Ross

    You thought Bobby Harrell was okay too before he was exposed, right? Every one of these guys (and there will be more) will be brought down by greed.

    Why would someone like Courson even NEED a quarter of a million dollars in campaign funds to funnel thru Quinn? He won in 2016 by 50% , in 2012 by 20%, and was unopposed in 2008. Seems like it would be a waste of money to give to him when you knew he was going to win anyway. I wonder why someone would do that? (No I really don’t wonder why).

    Your world view has been pretty shaken in the past year. Might want to expand the type of people you hang out with.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      My world view hasn’t been shaken at all. Which is why I can see clearly what is happening, which separates me from the people who think this is normal.

      And no, I never had the opinion of Bobby Harrell that I have of Courson. I would never have said he stood out among other men for his honor and integrity. I do say that about Courson.

      And if I turn out to be wrong in this case, it will be a painful disappointment.

      For you, it will just be an occasion to say, “See? They’re ALL crooks.” But you would still be wrong, because they aren’t.

      Man is deeply imperfect, born into sin. But some men try — not always with success, but they try — to rise above that. Courson is one of those who tries…

      Reply
  2. Dave

    I thought the job of a newspaper (and by extension, a reporter) is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Simply not accepting the possibility that these charges are true is decidedly not doing the latter. I see this type of attitude running all too frequently through the pages of The State newspaper these days too. Meanwhile, the Post and Courier increasingly cleans its clock on a daily basis. Because they’re following that maxim about newspapers.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      To take your points one at a time:

      First, I am not a reporter and have not been since the first few months of 1980. I was an editor for practically all of my newspaper career.

      Starting in 1994, I joined the editorial board, and my career was no longer about chasing facts — it became about apploying my judgment to the available facts, combined with my knowledge and experience.

      Next, as an editor I can tell you that the words “Simply not accepting the possibility that these charges are true” does not describe what I wrote in this post. I left plenty of room for the possibility — made a point of doing so. But I told you that based on what information is available to me at this time, I cannot conclude that Courson is guilty.

      Finally, you have just laid out perfectly the reason why journalists never, ever want to say anything positive about anyone in public life. We prefer to be seen as the slavering attack dogs, relentlessly tearing into anyone in the public eye.

      That makes us feel strong, and tough. It makes people pat us on the back, and admire us.

      But if we do the opposite — if we stand up and say, I know that guy, and he’s a good man, an absurd amount of scorn is heaped on us. People say, well, things like what you just said.

      I have learned over my long career that it takes far, far more courage to stand up and defend someone than it takes to join the howling mob jeering and shouting as the tumbrels pass on their way to the guillotine. (If you doubt me, take a look at the routine responses I get whenever I stand up for Lindsey Graham or John McCain.)

      Consequently, when I’m about to say something in someone’s defense, I pause and think about it longer and harder, and review the available facts more closely, than when I criticize.

      But I do it anyway, because someone should. And because the journalistic principle I value most is to tell the truth, to the best of my ability to discern the truth. Which isn’t perfect, of course — far from it. But it’s somewhat better than the average person’s (now watch how people react to that “elitist” statement, but the fact is that everyone is better than average at something), because the average person hasn’t had decades of experience expressing what he thinks under the scrutiny of thousands of critical eyes…

      Reply
      1. Richard

        “That makes us feel strong, and tough. It makes people pat us on the back, and admire us.”

        How often does that happen???

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Quite a bit. Mostly, as with most things, people complain. Human nature. People are more motivated to gripe about what you’ve done than they are to praise. But when they do praise, it’s frequently thanking us to letting them know something that keeps public officials accountable.

          Sometimes people even praise us for our “courage,” which usually seems silly to me.

          And as I say, for me personally (and I think for most journalists), it takes more courage to stick up for somebody than to tear somebody down. I find the flak I get for that far more unpleasant…

          Reply
  3. Lynn Teague

    Like you, Brad, I haven’t seen the evidence in this case and can form no opinion on what I haven’t seen. The evidence that I have seen regarding John Courson points towards a history of public service with integrity. Both of us have been in a better position than most to hear reports of bad behavior by people in the State House. There are people there about whom remembering “innocent until proven guilty” wouldn’t be easy, because we’re already on our way to a guilty verdict based on what we’ve heard over the years. Courson certainly doesn’t fall in that category. I have no trouble considering him innocent until proven guilty.

    My other thought on this is that neither integrity or corruption belongs to just one party. Concentration of power permits some expressions of corruption to flourish more easily, whether at the state or local level. However, using one’s official position for personal enrichment is a game that everyone can play, regardless of party, and some in both parties appear to be happy to take advantage of that. In the case of the Pascoe investigations, it is my understanding that his jurisdiction outside his own district is confined to cases arising from the SLED report that began with Harrell. That limits his reach to a group that is disproportionately from one party. This is my long winded way of saying “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

    Reply
  4. Doug Ross

    The sad thing is that there are people who actually believe a bunch of old guys who have been in office for decades are somehow going to change the way this state is run. Term limits are what we need to get rid of them all.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Which of course, as I’ve said a million times to you, makes zero sense.

      It’s like saying people whose names start with a consonant are crooks and that you can only trust those whose names start with a vowel.

      Actually, it’s worse than that. That is merely random. Your assertion actually runs the opposite of logic: You assert that the less experience one has, the better representative one will be…

      Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Actually, I don’t. That’s one of the prerequisites.

          Here’s one of the most important things about experience: It’s not just the knowledge and skills THEY have gained in office. It’s that we’ve had the opportunity to observe them on the job. Which gives us something to go by in assessing whether they should be re-elected, or elected for a different office.

          With some people, that’s a reason to vote for/endorse them. With some, that opportunity to observe them tells us there’s no way we want them in public office. I’m thinking about people like Lee Bright here…

          Reply
          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            And the evidence — and I’ve observed a great deal more evidence than you have (you tend to see the exceptions that lead to scandal) — is not against me. Experience is, generally speaking, an asset…

            Reply
            1. Doug Ross

              Only to a point. Then experience turns into closed-mindedness.. “that’s the way we’ve always done it” and power hoarding.

              The job of a legislator is so easy even Joe Wilson can do it. ‘Nuff said.

              Reply
              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Yes, that CAN happen. But it does not have to happen.

                The key is for voters to take their responsibility seriously, which too few of them do. Hence Trump…

                Reply
      1. Doug Ross

        I’m giving representatives 12 years to gain experience. It shouldn’t take more than a year to come up to speed — and I would assume someone who can win an election already has some of the basic skills necessary. Also, my term limit plan doesn’t prevent anyone from running for a different position. So go from legislator to senator to governor and you could be in office for 32 years straight. You just can’t stay in the same spot.

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          1. Claus2

            I woudln’t even allow one term break in service before resetting the clock. In the House that’s two sessions and the guy is back for another 12 years. I’m for 12 years total in either house. I don’t know why any of these guys want to spend 40 years in office… other than for money. 40 years in one job and I’d be sent to the nuthouse.

            Reply
            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              And see, that’s the problem. If you don’t see any reason “other than for money,” then you’ve got an attitude that’s going to keep you from seeing another person’s point of view…

              Reply
              1. Claus2

                There’s an easy way to determine this. Ask them if they’d do the “public service” job without any compensation.

                Reply
                1. Doug Ross

                  Courson is getting retirement pay while he “serves”. He gets $32K in pension payments by giving up the $10K salary that other lawmakers get.

                  Nice “work” if you can get it for a part time job. Plus $12K in expenses for those long journeys to the State House…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          That seems totally arbitrary to me. You’re going to treat complete idiots who should never run for office to begin with exactly the same as someone who is an excellent representative and has finally worked his way into a leadership position and finally has the power to get things done exactly the same — you’re going to throw them both out of office.

          I don’t think your term limits are onerous or excessive. 12 years in one office doesn’t sound terrible. But again, it’s arbitrary, and doesn’t take into account individual abilities. You’re willing to allow them to serve 32 years as long as they move from office to office — but what if the thing is that they’re really good at being a House member, and able to make a difference there? The House, the Senate the governor’s office require very different skill sets. You could be forcing a very good House member to become a terrible governor. It’s the Peter Principle applied to politics, a matter of promoting people to the level of their incompetence.

          The better thing is to decide based on the individual circumstance, and the particular person’s abilities. Which is what the current system allows. If voters don’t think someone is a good representative, they don’t have to re-elect him. If he runs for Senate and they think he’d be good at that, they can always elect him to that.

          The problem with term limits is that it’s about imposing your will (as an advocate for term limits) upon voters in a district where you do not live yourself. A lot of the impetus for term limits comes from folks getting frustrated that folks in OTHER districts keep re-electing the same person. But that’s their right. That’s the way the system is supposed to work. You get to elect — or not — someone from your district, and other people get to decide whom to elect from THEIR districts, even if it’s someone you think is an idiot, or dishonest, or whatever.

          Another reason why I object to term limits….

          Reply
          1. Bob Amundson

            Let’s look at this issue from the other direction. Why do people hate politicians, except for the politicians who represent them? IMHO, answering that question is the key to having quality representation.

            Reply
          2. Doug Ross

            If idiots are elected, that’s the will of the people. I’ll take an idiot over a corrupt experience politician (which is a high percentage of them) any day.

            And, really, the job is not hard. Anyone with reasonable intelligence can do it. It’s certainly not as difficult to learn as computer programming, nursing, teaching, etc. You just need basic literacy and willingness to spend other people’s money. Plus at the state level, its supposed to be a part time job.

            Reply
                1. Brad Warthen

                  Actually, Claus, it’s more like, “You listen to me, and I’ll listen to you.”

                  And as Mark says, it IS hard. Especially in the Senate, where it’s hard to get anything done, and you can’t take ANY fellow senator for granted…

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Of course that happens, and there’s nothing wrong with it unless people are voting contrary to their own beliefs. But the mutual back-scratching cliche goes beyond that. It implies gaining person advantage….

              1. Doug Ross

                Not for the type of people who typically run for office at the State House or higher level. Most of them are lawyers or businessmen. I would hope that’s a core competency.

                Plus the idea that they are negotiating or forming consensus is vastly overrated. There’s only a few lawmakers pulling strings there — and that’s the problem with their experience, There are plenty of experienced Democrats in the SC State House who do nothing.

                Reply
                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Actually, in the Senate they either achieve a sort of consensus or nothing passes. Also, there’s the curious dynamic that empowers Democrats because there are three factions: Democrats, regular Republicans, and the William Wallace Republicans.

                  Democrats as a group can make their power felt. For instance, Courson became president pro tem with solid Democratic support, much to the frustration of some of the Republicans. So did Leatherman.

                  It’s the House where Democrats are particularly disenfranchised.

  5. Doug Ross

    I’m reading “Shantaram: A Novel” by Gregory David Roberts. It’s the story of an Australian escaped convict who flees to Bombay in the early 80’s. He gets embroiled in organized crime while there. An excellent book. It’s got a cover blurb from Pat Conroy: “A novel of the first order, a work of extraordinary art, a thing of exception beauty”.

    Anyway, there’s a quote by the protagonist that I could relate to.. especially when Brad calls me a cynic about government:

    “‘Anarchists …’ I began and then faltered. ‘No political philosophy I ever heard of loves the human race as much as anarchism. Every other way of looking at the world says that people have to be controlled, and ordered around, and governed. Only the anarchists trust human beings enough to let them work it out for themselves. And I used to be that optimistic once. I used to believe and think like that. But I don’t, any more. So, no—I guess I’m not an anarchist now.’”

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      You identify with the reason for BEING an anarchist, or the reason he isn’t an anarchist now?

      If it’s the former, you might want to think hard about why he isn’t an anarchist any more.

      Of course, I consider his justification for anarchy to be absurd. It’s based in the anti-government notion that government is about “controlling” people, or doing something TO people. On the contrary. If you live in anything from a hunter-gatherer society on up to our complex societies consisting of hundreds of millions of people, you need arrangements for working together to keep the peace among each other and make decisions about things that affect you all. Those arrangements, whether they are an absolute monarchy or direct democracy or (preferably) something in between, are government.

      And a person who wants to be apart from, or exempted from those arrangements, or is hostile to those arrangements, is a problem and not part of the solution — whatever the issue at hand may be. His unwillingness to participate is a force tearing society apart….

      Reply
      1. Doug Ross

        “His unwillingness to participate is a force tearing society apart….”

        The greatest force tearing society apart today in the U.S. is the political parties and their desire to control people whether through taxes or regulation. It’s Democrats and Republicans working together to try and defeat the other side. It’s not libertarians who are just victims of the bad decisions made by the other two groups.

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen

          Yes and no.

          Yes to this: “The greatest force tearing society apart today in the U.S. is the political parties… ”

          No to this: “… and their desire to control people whether through taxes or regulation.”

          The latter is just a libertarian article of faith, bearing no resemblance to the real world…

          Reply
    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      By the way, that novel sounds like something I might want to read, if I can get some more of my guilt reading done. (And I finished a chapter of Alexander Hamilton over the weekend, but it’s still slow, even though the book is excellent. The Revolutionary War is still going on. On the other hand, I spent a LOT more time on the family tree. I added 78 people — and real people, from the last couple of centuries, as opposed to lords and ladies from the Middle Ages. This really cuts into reading time, but I dig it so much.)

      Interesting that Conroy liked it so much. It sounds so different from his work.

      What is it about the novel that makes you like it? I ask that because it sounds like something I’d like IF it did a good job of making me feel at home in a completely alien environment.

      That’s what’s so brilliant about those Aubrey/Maturin books. I feel like I’m at home in the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Someone else who does a great job at that is Martin Cruz Smith — Gorky Park makes you feel like you’re really in Moscow at the height of the Cold War; Rose makes you feel like you’re in a 19th century coal mining town in England.

      Organized crime in Bombay is something I, and most readers, would know nothing about. So I assume Roberts is good at putting you there and helping you understand it…

      Reply
      1. Doug Ross

        I’m reading it for two reasons: 1) it was recommended by someone whose opinion I respect and 2) I have spent a lot of time socializing with some Indian friends over the past couple years and thought it would be a good way to get some cultural background. I’ve been watching Indian movies (dozens of them) over the past two years and that helps as well. There are some really good Indian movies if anyone would like recommendations. Dangal is one that I saw in the theatre in Harbison before Christmas. It’s about an Indian wrestler who raises his two daughters to win national wrestling titles. It was really interesting to see in the theater at the end when the girls win gold medals and the Indian national anthem was played, most of the audience stood up.

        The book is really well done. Very descriptive writing, a lot of detail as well as a fast paced plot that follows the lead character across every social segment of Bombay. He lives in one of the slums and works as a “doctor” there for months. He ends up in jail and those chapters are harrowing in the description of the filth, torture, and despair.

        Warning – the book is 967 pages long. I’ve been working through it at about a chapter a day for a couple weeks and I’m only halfway done.

        https://read.amazon.com/kp/embed?asin=B002U5HKZ6&preview=newtab&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_2Ha0ybFJSH6QV

        Reply
  6. Mark Stewart

    This is a story as old as the South.

    Of course Courson is guilty; once proven in a court of law. This is not the first indictment because it is the most difficult to prove, that does remain clear, no? This is likely to be the first indictment of many; a charge of money laundering/embezzlement is never a one-off thing. The real question here is was this limited to the Quinn “empire”, or was this a more broadly acknowledged “gentlemen’s agreement” within the SC political bubble?

    Net/net, it is a hell of a way for political operatives to lever fealty; therefore my guess is this scandal (criminal behavior) is going to be more on the scale of Lost Trust. John Courson is going down because, as Lynn alluded, it will make the indictments to come that much easier for the public to believe. In their totality.

    The real question here is which path down will Courson chose? Can integrity and honor be redeemed even in shame?

    Reply
    1. Doug Ross

      Just look at all the payments The State laid out from all the major politicians in SC to Quinn. What exactly are they buying for those payments? A half million from Henry McMaster? a half million from USC? 175K from Hugh Leatherman?

      Brad loves to say that he doesn’t care about money — except this is ALL about money. It’s about the greed centered around using political influence to transfer public money to connected parties. He’d like to live in the rarefied air of selfless public servants who donate their time and energy for the public good. It’s a fantasy world.

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        The fantasy world is the one in which you get elected without money. Which is one reason I don’t run for office.

        Most of that money goes to advertising or various creative deliverables — yard signs, mailings, website, etc. Then of course there’s the markup for the agency, which is how the consultants earn a living….

        Reply
        1. Doug Ross

          Yeah, someone like John Courson who ran unopposed or against a candidate he beat by 50 points needs to spend six figures on advertising. Keep believing that.

          Reply
          1. Claus2

            I was going to write something similar to Doug, but those tend to get the “Doug already said that” response.

            I especially love getting junk mail during election year asking me to vote for the candidate who is running unopposed. Who else would I vote for? The only thing better is the candidate who sends out 2-4 fliers out every day the two weeks before the election. If only they knew that if I was going to throw one in the trash without reading, it’s likely that I’m going to throw the 15 I got that week in the trash as well.

            Reply
              1. Brad Warthen

                Also, raising that money is one way to discourage challengers. Unless you’re Lindsey Graham, in which case they run against you anyway…

                Reply
              2. Claus2

                I’ve purposely voted against candidates who bother me on weekends by showing up unannounced thinking I want to talk to them, fill up my mailbox with their picture and list of to-be broken promises, or flood the airwaves with pictures of them with their grandchildren. Then there’s the 500 signs between my house and work.

                I TOLD YOU KIDS TO GET OFF MY LAWN!!!!

                Reply
                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  But I don’t think you’re typical. Most voters seem to expect to be asked for their vote.

                  It’s very different from the early days of our republic. Back then, it was considered tacky for a candidate to ask for votes. At least it was that way with the presidency, up through Lincoln’s time.

                  We’ve changed. Americans today tend to want to see that the candidate WANTS it, and will act accordingly…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Mark, it’s wrong to say “Of course Courson is guilty.”

      Let’s remove Courson from the equation completely. Let’s make him X. It is wrong, upon the indictment of X, to say “Of course X is guilty.” That’s true even if X is a total dirtbag whom no one respects. As Lynn said earlier, it’s up to the prosecution to prove guilt, which it has not yet done. It’s not supposed to be up to the accused to prove his innocence.

      And since it would be wrong for X, it’s wrong in this case.

      Reply
      1. Doug Ross

        And indictment means there is a enough evidence that the prosecution believes a guilty verdict is highly likely. How often does it not happen (except on technicalities)?

        When he is convicted (or pleas to a lesser charge), he should be viewed as any other criminal would be. I know it’s just money to you, but it’s not different than a bank robber. Conspiring to launder money over six years is not a momentary lapse of judgment. It speaks to the fundamental character of a man.

        Reply
      2. Mark Stewart

        I had a semicolon in there. It changed the sentence’s meaning I think.

        However, my “of course” comment relates to my supposition that this is the strongest case Pascoe has so far – or the one he first wants to pursue at least. If Courson is guilty, I would hope, for lots of reasons, that he choses to admit his guilt.

        Honorable isn’t living life mistake free; honorable is the taking of responsibility for our errors.

        Reply
        1. Doug Ross

          Agree, Mark. Now that Courson has said he’s innocent, he has to take this to the jury. A plea deal means he is lying about being innocent. An honorable man would admit his guilt now or deny it until he dies. You can’t be partly ethical — it is a binary choice.

          Reply
          1. Mark Stewart

            I disagree, Doug. We often make decisions that we later must reconsider – are internally compelled to reconsider.

            Also, a truly honorable man would never deny the truth in long-lived lies.

            Reply
  7. bud

    The State newspaper has always had this tunnel vision mentality. They focus on some specific belief and just can’t let it go. It’s a big flaw in their business model.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      ???

      The flaw in The State’s business model is the same as the flaw in every other paper’s business model: Depending on advertising to support what they do will not work any more, because businesses don’t market themselves that way any more.

      The obvious alternative — actually charging readers what it costs to gather and present the news — won’t work because the market won’t bear it. Readers have always gotten their news either free, or at a subscription rate that only pays a small fraction of the cost of news, since it was always propped up by advertising, until now.

      Whoever discovers the new model will do a great thing for our republic. But I have no idea where that’s coming from, if it DOES come…

      Reply
      1. Doug Ross

        People will pay for value. The State hasn’t developed a model for presenting news in a way that makes it worth paying for. I pay for content when the content is worth it. I’m not going to pay for Gamecocks “analysis” or cheerleading for the Chamber of Commerce and USC. I would pay if they actually focused on local journalism that served as an advocate for the people in the Midlands.

        Just look at the tone of this headline on the Courson scandal:

        “Taint of misconduct allegations could hurt one of SC’s leading GOP consulting firms

        If that isn’t the most watered down version of how to present what might be a bombshell in SC’s government, I don’t know what is.

        Reply
                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  The Times applies the same rules that I do. They and The Wall Street Journal are possibly the best papers in the country. Although The Washington Post has been impressive lately…

          1. Doug Ross

            Quinn Political Consuting Firm Implicated In Courson Money Laundering Indictment

            You see, no qualitative words like “Taint”, “Leading”, “Allegations”

            Reply
            1. Doug Ross

              But then that’s consistent with The State’s style — rarely do they use the names of people in headlines – unless it’s Haley or Sanford.

              Reply
              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Yeah, those damn’ people at the paper just won’t use a name in a headline, will they?

                heds

                But I’m just giving you a hard time because, in this instance, you made it so easy.

                In truth, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Of course, the difference between us is, I know why they do it.

                You, like most self-appointed media critics, imply there’s something sinister about it. There isn’t. At least, there isn’t unless you consider it sinister to assume readers are clueless.

                News people assume that readers are unfamiliar with most newsmakers, other than the president or the governor or maybe the mayor of the city in which the paper is located. Beyond that, the practice is usually to describe the person in the headline as well as can be done in that restricted format. So the hed might say, “Senior senator charged.”

                I suspect the reasons they used “Courson” in these headlines are that the story by this time was a cycle old, so there’s some presumption that readers will have heard about the charges already and have “Courson” top-of-mind, and also because his name is distinctive, and if you know anybody in the Legislature, you probably know Courson. You’ll notice that even then, they jammed “Sen.” into the lede hed, for those who go, “Who’s ‘Courson’?”

                But normally, news people take the “voters are ignorant” presumption to ridiculous lengths. I frequently get irritated when I see them write around a name that I feel is perfectly well known. Of course, the practice is different in editorial. We assumed that our readers knew more than people who just read the front page. Still, if there’s any possibility of confusion, we’d qualify it — using “James Smith” or “Rep. Smith” in the hed instead of just “Smith.”

                Of course, Doug has a whole other criticism about us — that we tended to blame an institution or group of people when Doug, in his belief in “naming names,” thinks we should blame a particular individual.

                Well, when we thought it was a particular individual, we named the individual. But when the problem was systemic — as it so often is when you’re talking about our Legislature, then we were not (and I am still not) inclined to give the other people a pass by selecting a scapegoat. In other words, while Doug thinks we let people off the hook, it’s the opposite.

                Sometimes in the Senate, there will be one culprit. I’ll tell you right now that Tom Davis is gearing up to single-handedly defeat the gas tax increase, if he possibly can.

                But when the majority of a body votes to do a bad thing, I hold the whole gang responsible. And I look with contempt upon any member who says someone made him do a bad thing. Every member is responsible for his or her own vote…

                Reply
                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  And let me add that there should be, but too seldom is, a “how they voted” list on any significant vote.

                  Once, newspapers had a good reason why they didn’t do that regularly — limited space. But now, there seems little excuse to me (beyond the fact that I know full well how little time they have) not to put the “how they voted” online — or even just include a link to the Journal…

                2. Doug Ross

                  Well of course they used his name in the original headline. And look at your “smoking gun” — it puts WITCH HUNT and innocent in the title!!! Are you REALLY using that of a good example of The State’s headline policy? Really???

                  But I challenge you to find the name Courson anywhere in any of the pages of the website… or the name Quinn.

                  Meanwhile, when it involves Trump, here’s the headlines I see:

                  “Trump campaign is subject of a U.S. counterintelligence investigation”

                  “Here’s what one top Democrat finds suspicious about Trump-Russia contacts

                  “Native Americans prepare to battle Trump over Utah national monument”

                  That’s the first three I found… See a difference there? There’s no “President Trump Claims “Witch Hunt” in Russia Probe”.

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Nope; I don’t see a difference. Courson being charged is news; Courson (a guy who owes much of his status to getting along with Democrats) claiming a “witch hunt” is also news.

                  When Trump Tweets out such lies as the Obama-wiretapping charge, that’s news, and is treated as such. The fact that he has NO basis for saying it is even bigger news, because at no time in American history has there been a president who did stuff like that, over and over, and in such a way that it’s OBVIOUSLY not true.

                  And this headline you cite is a good example of what I was talking about earlier: “Here’s what one top Democrat finds suspicious about Trump-Russia contacts”

                  As I explained earlier, the newspaper assumes that you won’t know the “top Democrat,” and therefore doesn’t name him. It’s always assumed the reader will recognize the president by name.

                  And boy were they right in this case. I wouldn’t know Adam Schiff from, you know, Adam…

              1. Doug Ross

                Just to clarify this:

                “But I challenge you to find the name Courson anywhere in any of the pages of the website… or the name Quinn”

                I meant in a headline for any article on the website today. Apparently it’s already old news — and you know how expensive pixels are on a website. Can’t take any room away from the Tim Tebow’s coming to Columbia news.

                Reply
                1. bud

                  Give it up Doug. You’re defending this way too stridently. You said rarely. Brad easily refuted that. Doubling down just makes you look foolish.

  8. Bart

    Admit to not knowing much about Courson other than the limited information I have read or heard about him on the news. Everything so far has been more positive than negative. With that said, he has been indicted. The key word is “indicted”. He has not been tried in a court of law, no evidence has been presented because of our justice system supposedly preventing publicity before a trial creating in the public eye a prejudicial view of the defendant.

    Mark has already declared Courson to be guilty as charged. I wouldn’t want Mark on any jury that was charged with deciding my innocence or guilt or anyone else who has already prejudged and predetermined Courson to be guilty of the charges leveled against him. Politician and criminal can be mutually exclusive.

    He is entitled to the same consideration as any other defendant and an automatic presumption of guilt is indicative of someone who believes they have an insight others do not have. When Courson goes on trial and the charges are made public, if the evidence is overwhelming and indisputable, that is the proper time to make a declaration of guilt, not before. If we allow ourselves to forego the presumption of innocence before trial and a guilty or innocent verdict is rendered, we either intentionally or unintentionally violate an individual’s right to a fair trial even though we are not directly involved in the trial.

    Until Courson is tried and a verdict is rendered, he is entitled to a presumption of innocence. Is that fair or not?

    Reply
    1. Doug Ross

      An indictment means a grand jury has seen the evidence and has determined that there is enough to proceed with a case, right? That in and of itself usually means we’re only going to see some type of plea deal or a conviction unless the prosecution screws up.

      This from a Dallas News analysis of indictments:

      “Jury acquittals are rare in all levels of the criminal justice system. Most people charged in both state and federal courts plead guilty without a trial. In the federal system, which handles vastly fewer cases than county courts, not guilty verdicts are even more uncommon. When federal prosecutors do go to trial, they almost never lose, which is why so many defense lawyers recommend their clients plead.
      “The stats are daunting against federal defendants,” said Paul Coggins, former U.S. attorney in Dallas who is now in private practice. “About 90 percent of the cases end with a plea bargain, and of those cases going to trial, about 90 percent end in a guilty verdict,” he said.”

      So let’s say Courson is sitting on a 1 in 10 chance to be acquitted.

      Reply
      1. Bart

        This is anecdotal but true. I learned my lesson about prejudging anyone because I was the victim of someone prejudging me after I closed my business. When my business was closed, it was done so without the benefit of bankruptcy and leaving creditors holding the bag. They were paid off by my partner and me to the tune of several hundred thousands of dollars. My wife and I ended up with very little in the bank afterwards. We sold everything we had because including our home and every asset we could lay our hands on because that was how I was raised. It was of paramount importance to us that everyone owed was paid in full or if they agreed, a settlement. Most were paid in full, a few close friends accepted a settlement.

        But, one day after all was finalized while in line at the local Krispy Kreme, one of the local business leaders and his manager were in line next to me. The manager asked in a very loud voice exactly how much money did I hide from creditors because he knew for certain that it was true. I asked him how the hell did he know about my personal business and financial affairs. He couldn’t answer but said it was something anyone in the business would do and I was no different. Rumors did abound for a while until the people who actually knew what happened spoke up for me. And it was confirmed by the debtors who were paid off and every one told me that if I ever started another business, my credit line would still be unlimited. I faced every one in person, never hiding behind an attorney or cheating anyone out of what they were due. Unfortunately, some probably still believe I “squirreled” a large amount of cash away and hid it from debtors. But, that is something I have to live with but I rest very well at night and have a clear conscience because I know it is a lie and an untruth.

        So, I do my very best to never prejudge anyone as being guilty until positive proof is presented in the proper setting. In Courson’s case, a court of law with judge, jury, prosecutor, and defense attorney. If he is found guilty, then he should pay the penalty proscribed under the law. If he is not found guilty, unfortunately all too many will believe he “got away with it”.

        It may be totally naïve but “innocent until proven guilty” is very important to me and I have no intention of changing.

        Reply
        1. Bryan Caskey

          “It may be totally naïve but ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is very important to me and I have no intention of changing.”

          That’s very true. We have courts of law where there are strict legal procedures, presumptions, and burdens of proof. On the other hand, we have the court of public opinion, where we have none of that.

          As much as it pains me to see Courson indicted, I highly doubt that Pascoe would have gone through with an indictment if he didn’t have the goods. A good prosecutor is usually holding all the cards – he sort of has to be based on how our judicial system works. I’m keeping an open mind, but if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t put a whole lot of money on Courson being vindicated in this. (And I hope I’m wrong about that.)

          Reply
              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Was it one of those Atreides code gestures that Paul and Gurney Halleck are always doing, to fox the Harkonnens?

                (Just say “yes,” but combine it with the hand gesture for “there are those among the smugglers who are not to be trusted.”)

                Reply
          1. Doug Ross

            Explain why you hope you are wrong? Because in your limited exposure to the man you assumed he was “good”? Because it might mean your ability to judge character isn’t as sharp as you thought? Because Courson has a family that will suffer public embarrassment?

            I’m wondering if you had the same level of concern about Mark Sanford’s innocence when he metaphorically came off the Appalachian Trail?

            Reply
              1. Doug Ross

                Not if he gets caught. Then it’s a good thing. I hope if he is guilty he goes to jail. He shouldn’t receive any special treatment.

                Why do we use a different standard for a legislator than anyone else? We should always hope that criminals are caught and prosecuted — then perhaps others will not attempt to do the same thing.

                What we should be hoping for is that legislators don’t commit crimes.

                Reply
                1. Bryan Caskey

                  Yes, it’s a good thing to detect and prosecute crimes. Obviously.

                  And who’s got a different standard? Everyone hopes that criminals are caught and prosecuted. Everyone also hopes that people don’t commit crimes.

                  How can you be so obtuse?

                2. Doug Ross

                  I’m not obtuse. I’m trying to understand why someone who isn’t directly related to Courson would hope he is not guilty. If that’s your first reaction, that means SOMETHING… Did you hope O.J. was innocent too? Bernie Madoff?

                  It seems to be more about being duped to think Courson was a good guy.

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Actually, Doug, comparing Courson to O.J. is being pretty obtuse. Madoff, too.

                  What Bryan is saying is pretty open to ordinary understanding.

                  Pretty much anyone who knows Courson hopes he’s not guilty. You have to be an awfully negative person to hope otherwise. Even people who believe that there’s no way this charge would be brought if not true would quite naturally wish that not to be true…

                4. bud

                  Sorry Doug you are decidedly inconsistent on this whole law issue. You defensed both Mark Sanford and Kellyanne Conway when they violated the law. We all pick and choose which laws we wish to uphold.

                5. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Why would you hope he goes to jail?

                  I thought you agreed with me that prison should be reserved for offenders who pose a physical danger to society. Or am I remembering wrong?

              2. Doug Ross

                Bud – refresh my memory – when did I defend Sanford and Conway? When were they indicted?

                Brad – jail for money launderers of a quarter million dollars is fine for a short time — a couple months would be okay. He can’t pay restitution, right? But maybe take away his pension and benefits. The penalty has to be severe enough to dissuade others.

                Reply
                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Yeah, well, I suppose I go back and forth on it sometimes myself. In PRINCIPLE I don’t think we should imprison non-violent offenders. But there are circumstances when no other penalty is feasible…

                2. bud

                  Sandford for violating the court order that he was not to trespass on his ex wife’s property. He took his son there on super bowl Sunday, a clear violation. Conway when she was promoting Ivan’s Trumps fashion line on national TV. That violates federal ethics laws. You were ok with both.

                3. Doug Ross

                  I have no idea what you are taking about bud. Was there an indictment I missed? And you are seriously going to compare money laundering with a divorce battle? Keep trying.

    2. Mark Stewart

      Bart, I respectfully disagree. I said he is not guilty until a court verdict is rendered.

      That said, as Doug laid out, the chance of innocence here is slight. As you said, politician and criminal can be mutually exclusive. I think they most often are, actually. I believe most people are good. I also believe that of John Courson, even today.

      That said, I also know people make mistakes – as have I – and they can still be considered honorable and of integrity. However, the clock is now ticking for Courson over this. If he is in fact innocent he should fight the charges and prevail in court. On the other hand, if he is guilty he should plead guilty before trial. To go to trial and to lose is to forfeit one’s integrity. That said there are two clearly distinct types of cases; this is simply – as a bystander who will never be called to a jury pool for this trial – the type that appears open and shut. That’s why Pascoe is leading with this indictment.

      I believe Courson’s protestation of innocence – though I will not be surprised to find that he changes his tune on this position. I will also not be surprised when more indictments rain down not just from the Quinns but from other political vendors as well.

      Reply
      1. Doug Ross

        Here’s an analogy – a married man has a one night stand and because of his guilt confesses to his wife and promises to never do it again. That’s a momentary lapse of character. On the other hand, a married guy who maintains a mistress for six years and after being exposed by a private eye, claims to be innocent right up until he signs the divorce papers isn’t honorable.

        If Courson is innocent, he can offer to open up his campaign ledgers to the press now to prove it… or if he’s guilty, he can reveal the what he knows about the operation (spare me the “no snitches” excuse). Let’s see him live up to the Marine code.

        Reply
        1. Bart

          Doug,

          Why would Courson offer up his campaign ledgers to the press? They are not the legal system but unfortunately, all too many people are tried and convicted by the press before they ever see the inside of a courtroom. And if he is guilty, doesn’t he still deserve his day in court the same as any other defendant? Since Pascoe apparently has what he believes is the “smoking gun” and it can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, wouldn’t it be in Courson’s interest to work a deal with the prosecutor without going to the press?

          If I were in Courson’s place and innocent, no press releases, make Pascoe prove his case with indisputable facts. It very well could be that Pascoe is painting Courson with the same brush as others who are guilty simply because of association. If I am guilty, then I would do everything I could to work with Pascoe and try to salvage what is left of my reputation.

          If he is still a Marine at heart, he will step up at the right time and do what is right if he is guilty. Conversely, a Marine will fight to the end to protect and defend his honor and reputation if impugned and if the charges are not true. However, if he maintains his innocence but in the end is convicted with hard, indisputable evidence, his Marine code of honor will have no meaning and dishonor other Marines. He will become an outcast among his fellow veterans for disparaging the good name of Marines everywhere.

          Courson has a moral choice to make and if he is the man he claims to be, he will do the right thing either way.

          Reply
  9. Harry Harris

    Who was it who said “follow the money?” Since Jesus and the writers of James and First Timothy warned in no uncertain terms (in spite of our attempts to make it uncertain) of the corrupting influence of money, we should be more diligent and less corruptible. Some persons I admire greatly for their actions and courage in other areas are blinded to the ability of money and other power to get them to abandon principles and betray important causes. Treasure here on earth draws our attention and often our loyalty away from becoming the people our faith or values intend us to be. Shame on Sen Courson if guilty, but redemption is always available if chosen. Too often our reputation and status makes it very hard to choose the steps needed to avail it.

    Reply
  10. Doug Ross

    Meanwhile, members of the SC DOT are heading to jail (unless they roll over on their bosses).

    From Fitsnews:

    This week, embattled S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson announced that the two individuals who were indicted along with Shirley nine months ago entered guilty pleas. At the top of the ticket, former SCDOT signal shop operator Curtis C. Singleton pleaded guilty to the following offenses …

    Use of official position or office for financial gain, in violation of section 8-13-700 of the South Carolina Ethics Act;
    Receiving anything of value to influence action of public employee, in violation of section 8-13-705 of the South Carolina Ethics Act;
    Official misconduct in office; in violation of the common law of South Carolina;
    Acceptance of rebates or extra compensation, in violation of section 16-9-230;
    Four counts of receiving anything of value to influence action of public employee, in violation of section 8-13-705 of the South Carolina Ethics Act;
    Official misconduct in office, in violation of the common law of South Carolina; and
    Acceptance of rebates or extra compensation, in violation of section 16-9-230.

    Meanwhile former SCDOT inspector Joe Edward Butler pleaded guilty to four counts of receiving something of value to influence his official duties and one count of accepting rebates or extra compensation, and former SCDOT contractor Allen K. Ray pleaded guilty to one count of “offering money for advice or assistance of (a) public official” and one count of “accessory after the fact” to a criminal conspiracy.

    “Sentencing is deferred for cooperation until resolution of existing or possible future codefendants,” a statement from Wilson’s office noted.

    =====

    What do you say, bud? Should we increase the gas tax to fund people like this? Or are these the only two crooks in the DOT? (Ha ha, good one, Doug!)

    What is it about having access to other people’s money that makes some people think it’s theirs?

    Reply
    1. bud

      Crooks are everywhere including businesses. Why do you never mention it when they pollut our water, con people (Trump University) or poison peanut butter. Yes the DOT should get substantially more money to fix the roads. How else will they get fixed.

      Reply

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