THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) is two days into a political controversy threatening to mar his career, and he has a man named Lamar White Jr. to thank.
On Sunday, White broke a story on his Web site, cenlamar.com, that has left Scalise struggling to explain how he ended up speaking at a gathering of white nationalists in 2002.
Just as James O'Keefe has become a thorn in the side of liberals, White fills that slot against conservatives. He was famously on the receiving end of one of Andrew Breitbart's last tweets before the conservative provocateur died; Breitbart called him a putz on Twitter.
White, now a law student, is frequently at odds with O'Keefe, Breitbart's protege, via Twitter.
Scalise defenders have dismissed White and his story, saying that it was "manufactured" to score political points. That line of argument got harder to sustain as more mainstream outlets built on White's initial scoop. Scalise finally apologized for his error in judgment on Tuesday afternoon.
For now, Scalise seems to have survived White's revelations. But White, a self-described "Louisiana boy" has expanded his platform, joining a band of independent political bloggers who can drive coverage and threaten careers. (He appeared on MSNBC via Skype to discuss his reporting on Tuesday.)
Cutbacks in political coverage at the state level have provided an opening for bloggers like White, who have largely partisan missions and a singular focus. Well-known in Louisiana, which is the focus of his coverage going back to 2006, White's reporting about now-Sen.-elect Bill Cassidy's (R-La.) employment at Louisiana State University Health Science Center made its way into the Senate race.
But this election cycle, White (who did not respond to a request for an interview) didn't limit himself to what he calls "the circus of Louisiana politics." He also figured rather prominently in the governor's race in Texas, where he is currently a law student at Southern Methodist University.
At an October press conference, White, who has cerebral palsy, argued that Wendy Davis (D) was a champion of the disabled, while her opponent, now-Gov.-elect Greg Abbott (R), himself in a wheelchair, was not. White, who is sometimes unsteady on his feet, was moved from the center of the stage while seated and critics said he was dragged across stage and was awkwardly used political prop.
He then took to Twitter and to his blog:
I spoke for about two minutes about Abbott, his record, and why I was proud of Senator Davis for bringing this to light. I gave a couple of pertinent examples of Abbott’s hypocrisy on the issue. But I think most importantly, I was able to talk briefly about basic human empathy, the need to recognize your own privileges, and the importance helping those less fortunate with the chance to access the same opportunities that you may take for granted.
I wasn’t there to deconstruct a television commercial or explain to the media how their collective reaction to the image of a wheelchair revealed their own inherent biases against and uncomfortableness with the disabled.
According to White's blog, his Web site had been viewed "more than 1.1 million times," as of October 2014. The Scalise scoop, which put GOP leaders in a bind, was no doubt a boon to his site and his brand. It's this kind of partisan digging, prevalent on both sides, that will continue to drive coverage at the state level, but also more nationally.
UPDATE: I was able to connect with White via telephone Tuesday evening. Here is a lightly edited version of our conversation:
The Fix: Talk to me about the last few days since you broke the Scalise story on your site.
White: It's been sort of insane. I’ve been writing for almost 9 years and certain stories I've written I’ve thought they would make news, but most of they time they don’t. So you’re always caught a little off guard by what catches on. I was struck by how quickly this one went viral and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s an important story to share. He is minority whip, perhaps if he weren’t in leadership, it would have been isolated to Louisiana media.
The Fix: When did you notice that the story was starting to go viral?
White: I looked down at my phone and saw that something like 20,000 something people had looked at or shared my Facebook status and that was in six or seven hours of the story coming out. It was picked up by Reddit and that had a lot to do with the virality of it.
The Fix: I described you as the liberal version of James O'Keefe, someone who is a thorn in the side of conservatives in the way O'Keefe is to liberals.
White: Our techniques are obviously very different. He is a videographer and does ambush style stuff and that's not my thing. When I first began writing, I was writing a lot about Alexandria politics which is mostly Democrats, and those are the people I criticized. There is a perception that I’m going after only Republicans because I’m a "crazy liberal." But I like to think of myself as equal opportunity. If Scalise was a Democrat, I would have published it as well.
The Fix: How did you come across the Scalise story?
White: I came across this story through a connection with the candidate who ran against Scalise in 2008. They said that they had always heard these rumors about Steve Scalise going to a function associated with David Duke. I was vaguely familiar that he had talked about David Duke in the past. So I googled Steve Scalise and David Duke and within 20 seconds found the Stormfront posts.
The Fix: Should we expect more reporting from you on this?
White: It wouldn’t surprise me if more stuff came out and certainly others a pursuing more leads. I don’t have anything else to write as of now. I have some stuff that I haven’t been able to report out. The additional stuff might not be as surprising, compared to the shock of the initial story. But I’ve got to report through it. I don’t know how damning it is, if at all.