Taylor Batten, the editorial page editor for The Charlotte Observer, wanted to ask North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) a question at an event Thursday. But when he tried to do so, he was told that there were already three questions in the queue from his outlet, so he was out of luck.
Ends up those questions weren’t from The Charlotte Observer at all. They were questions planted by McCrory’s own staff. Batten said speakers at the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club regularly take questions from the audience, but this time, McCrory would take only written questions submitted in advance.
More from his column:
Ricky Diaz, a campaign spokesman, on Friday acknowledged the campaign provided questions for the governor, but said “we were asked to in order to keep the conversation format going.”
Jenn Snyder, executive director of the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club, said that’s not true. She said she had expected the governor to take live questions from the audience but the campaign insisted on this other format and wanted to include questions of their own along with ones from the audience. All the questions were portrayed as coming from the audience and the Observer, and the crowd was never told that many of them actually came from McCrory’s campaign.
The questions planted by the staff were about what the governor wants to do in his next term, how he will reduce the rape kit backlog in the state and how North Carolina’s crime lab performed under his Democratic opponent, Roy Cooper, the state’s attorney general.
Batten wanted to ask McCrory about the controversial law known as HB2, which bars cities and localities from enacting anti-discrimination policies that protect people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It became known as the “bathroom bill” because it also prevents schools from allowing transgender students to use the restroom that correspondents with their gender identity, rather than the gender assigned to them at birth.
Since its passage this spring, the state ― and McCrory ― have suffered intense backlash. PayPal scrapped plans to expand its business to Charlotte, resulting in a loss of 400 jobs for the city and state. Various musicians and entertainers canceled planned concerts.
Last week, the NCAA announced it would withdraw all its championship events from the state for the 2016-17 academic year because of HB2.
“Fairness is about more than the opportunity to participate in college sports, or even compete for championships,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. “We believe in providing a safe and respectful environment at our events and are committed to providing the best experience possible for college athletes, fans and everyone taking part in our championships.”
McCrory ended up calling Batten shortly after the event, and the journalist was able to ask him about HB2. McCrory said he believes it’s Congress’ job to pass protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. But when Batten asked him if that meant he believes those rights should be in place, McCrory replied, “I wish the federal government would have this discussion.”
There currently is a bill in Congress called the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of already protected classes (race, color, sex, religion and national origin). It hasn’t gone anywhere in the GOP-controlled Congress.
McCrory is running for re-election against Cooper. Polls show a tight race, with Cooper slightly ahead.