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COLUMBUS, Ga. — “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” — George Orwell.
A leaked email provided to the Muckraker by a local news organization allegedly shows that City Manager Isaiah Hugley brazenly attempted to silence a local reporter for asking questions about his office and criticizing his actions.
The email’s text shows it was allegedly sent by Hugley back in April 2023 after a reporter sought to uncover details surrounding Hugley’s actions regarding the city’s former police chief.
When that reporter began uncovering details that Hugley did not wish to be questioned nor made public, Hugley contacted the reporter’s employer and weaponized the reporter’s employment against them in hopes of shutting them up.
Despite the reporter doing their job by investigating the actions of a public office, Hugley claimed he was “personally under attack” by the reporter who was simply discovering and uncovering things that were politically inconvenient for Hugley.
In response, Hugley sent a manipulative email to the reporter’s employer that purported a provably-false narrative in hopes of shutting up the reporter.
Before we delve into the text of the email, make no mistake: what you are about to read is a leaked email that allegedly shows the city manager actively attempting to silence the press by targeting a reporter for doing their job: asking questions about public officials to expose the truth of what they don’t want publicized.
Here’s the full text of the email as it was provided to us. Identities have been redacted in [BRACKETS] to protect the privacy of the reporter and the news outlet. We’ve inserted our clarifying notes in bold italics within parenthesis.
From: Isaiah Hugley <IHugley@columbusga.org>
Sent: Monday, April 3, 2023 9:53:42 AM
To: [REDACTED]; [REDACTED]; [REDACTED]
Cc: Teasha Johnson <TeashaJohnson@columbusga.org>
Subject: Formal Complaint
[NEWS AGENCY] has been a longtime staple in our community - a local and trusted news source for its viewers. In fact, [NEWS AGENCY] is my preferred news choice. It has been brought to my attention on multiple occasions that one of [NEWS AGENCY’S] reporters is actively pursuing stories to personally attack me - an act that easily threatens the integrity of journalism and the [NEWS AGENCY’S] brand. (Isaiah Hugley cannot be ‘personally attacked’ by a journalist lawfully contacting his office; he is a public official.)
I've been told by several very reliable sources that [NEWS AGENCY] Reporter [REDACTED NAME] is blaming me for the recent events surrounding Chief Freddie Blackmon and the Columbus Police Department. Because of that, [REPORTER] is allegedly telling people in the community “I'm going to take him down” - implying that [THEY] will purposely work to have me removed as the City Manager. This sounds like an attempt to attack me personally and not fairly seek the truth as a true professional journalist would do. (Hugley made this up and offered no evidence to support his claim; a reporter is free to ask his office anything they want, at any time, for any reason — even if Hugley doesn’t like it or the reporter doesn’t like Hugley. A public official cannot legally seek to silence a reporter, as is made clear by the First Amendment.)
The first incident came to my attention about two weeks ago when [REPORTER] told people that [THEY] were going to take me down by, “hitting him with a series of open records requests.” (First, this is hearsay intended to bad-mouth the reporter, which is completely immaterial to them doing their jobs. Second, filing open records requests is literally part of a reporter’s job. How dare they. Hugley just didn’t like that the reporter was asking the right questions.)
The second incident happened last week when [REPORTER] contacted my office requesting an interview with me about the rally that took place outside the Citizens Service Center on Tuesday, March 28. I was not available for an on-camera interview due to previously scheduled engagements. [REPORTER] expressed [THEIR] displeasure with my unavailability by saying, “he’s never available,” in a disrespectful tone to members in my office. Even after that, I still provided a brief written statement that was partially read and not clearly communicated on air in one of the evening newscasts. Here is the full statement the City Manager’s Office sent to [REPORTER] which was eventually added to your website:
“Though I stand with and support Police Chief Freddie Blackmon and I am a proud financially active member of the greatest fraternity in the world, the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. - Lambda Iota Chapter, I had no involvement in the rally in any way.”
(Again, Hugley is complaining to a reporter’s employer that they … did their jobs as a reporter. How dare they. Additionally, the statement Hugley is referring to was in fact published in full within the original debut of the article; his claim of it somehow being omitted is completely and provably false in its entirety.)
As I've said multiple times before, I stand behind Chief Blackmon; he has my complete support. That has not and will not change. Furthermore, I don’t mind open records requests and I welcome reporters’ requests for interviews. I’ve always had a good rapport with [NEWS AGENCY] reporters and would love to keep it that way. However, due to [REPORTER’S] recent unprofessional and erratic behavior, I believe it is best that [THEY] refrain from contacting my office. I welcome any of your other reporters to follow stories pertaining to me or needing my input. (So Hugley likes open records requests from reporters, but just not from THAT one who asked questions about things he didn’t like and didn’t want to answer. Got it. Right.)
As a respected business leader in Columbus, [ADDRESSEE], it's my hope that you will have a conversation with [REPORTER] about this issue. It is also my hope that you will counsel [THEM] on journalism etiquette, the importance of remaining professional, and the consequences of biased and unjust reporting. (So because Hugley didn’t like that a reporter was criticizing him and filing open records requests for things he didn’t want exposed, he contacted their employer and made things up in a direct effort to get the reporter in trouble and possibly lose their job; Hugley actively sought to silence the press so he didn’t have to deal with a reporter who was exposing things he didn’t want public.)
If you wish to discuss this matter further, I can be reached at my office at 706 653-4029 or my cell at 706 326-7624.
Georgia’s First Consolidated Government
P.O. Box 1340 Columbus, GA 31902
Phone: (706) 653-4029 | Fax: (706) 653-4032
//—-----END OF EMAIL—-----//
The thing speaks for itself. Perhaps city council and the public at-large ought to seriously consider the magnitude of Hugley’s actions as described in the email, along with the numerous laws he likely broke in sending it as a public official.
Let us be absolutely clear: You’re not going to silence the press, Hugley. We will not allow it. You can cancel Christmas around that fact.
Facts are stubborn things — and we’ll keep publishing them, whether city officials like them or not.
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