Tuesday, May 8, 2012
’60 Minutes’ tells the story of how two young, rural journalists brought down corrupt sheriff
By Al Cross
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
The story of how a 6,000-circulation paper in southeast Kentucky got the local sheriff indicted and jailed has been told before on The Rural Blog, most recently here, but it got a fresh telling and a much larger audience tonight on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes.”
Managing editor Samantha Swindler and reporter Adam Sulfridge of the Corbin Times-Tribune “soon discovered poking into the affairs of a powerful county sheriff can be risky business,” Byron Pitts said in the segment produced by Clem Taylor. Cut to Sulfridge: “You’re 20 years old, and you’re taking a shower one day and getting ready for class, and you get a call from a federal agent because there’s a credible threat against your life. . . . And it’s the sheriff. The sheriff wants to kill you.”
Sulfridge said that made him buy a gun, and though he never used it, letting it be known that he had it may have saved his life when, as Pitts put it, “Two local thugs, friends of the sheriff, drove to Adam’s house.” Sulfridge picks up the story: “The passenger in the vehicle gets out, approaches me without saying a word, puts his hand a little bit into his waistband and I just quickly pulled my pistol. . . . I didn’t point it at him or anything. And he explained that they were out looking for junk metal on my dead end street, and that they would be going now.” Asked if he was prepared to use the gun, Sulfridge said, “Well, you never pull a gun unless you’re prepared to use it.” After that, he left town under the protection of federal agents.
Swindler, who had come to the paper from her native Texas, and Sulfridge had struck paydirt by catching Sheriff Lawrence Hodge in lies about confiscated guns, lies he tried to cover up by staging a fake burglary of his own office. “You know, you got this, this, little out-of-towner girl and this 20-year-old college kid,” Sulfridge recalled. “We played along, we played nice for a very long time. Let him lie.” A federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent told Pitts that his agency couldn’t pierce Hodge’s protective network, but “They caught him off guard ’cause they’d done their research.” Hodge lost his re-election bid and was indicted before leaving office. To watch the segment, click here.
This story was republished from The Rural Blog, a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues, and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.