As media circuses go, Gov. Mark Sanford's staff can say they've been to the big top. As the mystery deepened over Sanford's whereabouts last month, Sanford staffers were inundated by interview requests from Larry King to Stephen Colbert.
Newly released e-mails and cell phone records show that as Sanford staffers tried repeatedly to reach their missing-in- action governor, the national media's cry for information grew to a crescendo.
The chorus began June 22, when local reporters began asking about Sanford's whereabouts.
By 5:08 p.m., Sanford's press secretary, Joel Sawyer, was getting sugary e-mails from CNN's John King.
"John King here. First and foremost, I hope the governor is well," he wrote, adding that "I've always appreciated his (Sanford's) kindness, candor and hospitality — and yours — and wanted to offer you as sane a place as there is (I think) in my crazy business when you and/or he are ready to solve the mystery."
At first, Sawyer shrugged off some of the attention.
"Yeah, all is well," he e-mailed a reporter from FOX News. "Slow news day ..."
Some television people told Sawyer they thought the attention was overblown.
"Off the record," an anchor/reporter for WIS-TV in Columbia wrote, "I think this whole thing is ridiculous."
The Post and Courier obtained these and other e-mails and cell phone records in response to a request under the state Freedom of Information Act for documents related to the governor's recent trip to Argentina, where he met his mistress.
The documents show that by June 24, with Sanford poised to hold a press conference about his secret trip, the governor's travails had become a media phenomenon.
Stephen Colbert of the satirical Comedy Central show "The Colbert Report" dashed off an e-mail:
"Hi Joel, as you may know, I declared myself Governor of South Carolina last night. I went power mad for about 40 seconds before learning that Gov. Sanford was returning today. If the governor is looking for a friendly place to make light of what I think is a small story that got blown out of scale, I would be happy to have him on."
About a half-hour after Colbert's e-mail, Sanford revealed that he had misled his staff about taking a hike on the Appalachian Trail and instead had flown to Argentina to meet his mistress.
That explosive revelation fueled a new round of occasionally desperate attempts to get exclusive interviews with Sanford.
Within two hours, a staffer had taken personal calls from Larry King and Wolf Blitzer of CNN and David Gregory from "Meet the Press," among others.
During these days, while Sawyer kept the media fed with statements, the governor's chief of staff, Scott English, tried to lower the alarm among friends.
One associate, a public relations consultant, offered suggestions about why Sanford's whereabouts on the Appalachian Trail might need to be kept quiet. At one point, author and columnist Joel Mowbray wrote English a message titled "holy crap."
"As if there hasn't been enough local coverage, you're about to get hit with a national media maelstrom," Mowbray wrote. "Is everything OK? Even for Mark, disappearing without telling Jenny is a little nerve-wracking. I'm saying a prayer for him. Please tell me what you can."
English fired back that Sanford's disappearance was "much ado about nothing."
Behind the scenes, though, English had tried to reach Sanford on his personal and work cell phones 14 times between about 2 p.m. June 20 and around 6:45 p.m. June 22.
The e-mails also show that because of Sanford's secret trip, staffers weren't able to schedule dinner for a big-dollar business prospect June 24, the day Sanford admitted his affair. "Unfortunately, he cannot be there," a staffer wrote. "So sorry."
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