What They Are Saying: Roy Cooper Eviscerated By North Carolina Press Corps For Lack Of Transparency Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

Already Plagued With Transparency Concerns, Cooper Has Doubled Down, “Shut[ting] Out” Questions From Reporters And Refusing To Release Public Records, “Erod[ing] Trust In The Government Response”

The News & Observer Editorial Board: “We believe the governor and DHHS have been thoughtful and aggressive in slowing the spread of COVID-19, but their fight is hampered if people don’t believe they have a full picture of the virus. In some cases, they don’t. The News & Observer has made multiple requests of DHHS for records, data and policies involving COVID-19 and nursing homes, which has seen a surge of infections. Thus far, those requests have gone unfulfilled.”

Carolina Journal Headline: “Cooper’s Proposals Lack A Critical Fourth ‘T’: Transparency”

  • “We’ve sent questions to the governor, asking for details of his blueprint for what he began calling ‘the new normal.’ So far, the response? Crickets. We’ve registered to ask questions at his regular news conferences. So far, we’ve been shut out. But this isn’t about us. More than 10 million North Carolinians have a right to know when they can hope to return to work, to school, to church, to family and friends and other social gatherings. They deserve to know with some detail how the new normal might be phased in. What might speed up the process and what could slow it down.”
  • We’re left with more questions than answers. Too much uncertainty. It can’t stand… While Cooper generally has offered calm and resolve, he needs to do more. He needs to offer clarity, information, and insights.”

Colin Campbell, NC Insider And The News & Observer: “The lack of transparency we’re seeing can erode trust in the government response…which I think can be dangerous at a time when our leaders are asking us to make big sacrifices for the good of our community.”

Nick Ochsner, WBTV: “More transparency troubles: I’ve been asking for a week what NC Dept. of Military & Veterans Affairs is doing to ensure proper care at the state’s 4 veterans homes. They didn’t answer at all until yesterday & still haven’t given any specifics.”

  • Ochsner: “People are waiting a week+ for #COVID19 test results in NC. Our reporting collab has requested records that would give more insight on testing but, so far, letters to @ncdhhs @JoshStein_ ’s office & @NC_Governor ’s office have gone unanswered.”

Joe Bruno, WSOCTV: “I asked how will the state respond if the Governor’s stay at home order is not enforced and businesses reopen in a few hours in Gaston County. Dr. Cohen didn’t answer my question. I tried to ask a follow up question to press on this but I guess the state muted my phone – ‘Gerald’.”

By “Sealing Up Records That Have Always Been Public,” Cooper’s Administration Made A “Bad Decision” That “Increases Distrust”

The News & Observer: “In North Carolina, death certificates are maintained by two separate agencies in each county: the county health department and the register of deeds. State law requires both agencies to provide copies of death certificates in response to a public records request, according to Mike Tadych, a Raleigh lawyer who regularly represents members of the news media in records lawsuits… Within two days of journalists requesting death certificates from county health departments, officials with DHHS sent guidance to county offices advising them to not provide the requested records. DHHS did not cite any legal justification for the advice.”

Colin Campbell, NC Insider And The News & Observer: “Basically DHHS is sealing up records that have always been public.”

  • Campbell: “This is not a great time for our state government to be withholding important data that’s available in other states, but here we are…”

Will Doran, The News & Observer: “State law makes death certificates a public record, but the Cooper administration is now telling counties to withhold those records from the press. They also told counties to direct reporters to the DHHS comms team–but they aren’t responding to any questions… This isn’t the media being nosey and trying to bother grieving families. It’s about knowing how deadly COVID-19 is, where the hot spots are, and other public health info.”

Michael Bitzer, Political Science Professor: “Unless otherwise addressed and justified, a bad decision on @NC_Governor @RoyCooperNC ’s part.”

Lynn Bernstein, Founder, Transparent Elections NC: “Lack of transparency always increases distrust, no matter the subject.”