Haley regret over 'little girl' remark draws more fire

Gov. Nikki Haley

Matt Silfer

COLUMBIA -- Gov. Nikki Haley on Friday said she regrets her decision to call a reporter for The Post and Courier a "little girl," but women's advocates found Haley's would-be apology as offensive as her original remark.

Haley, South Carolina's first female governor, slammed Renee Dudley a second time for a story published Sunday that raised questions about the Republican's $127,000 economic development tour of Europe in June that so far hasn't resulted in any jobs.

"The story painted a grossly inaccurate picture and was unprofessionally done, but my 'little girl' comment was inappropriate and I regret that," Haley said in a statement. "Everyone can have a bad day. I'll forgive her bad story, if she'll forgive my poor choice of words."

Drucilla Barker, director of women's and gender studies at the University of South Carolina, said forgiveness has nothing to do with the situation. Haley's remarks Friday are as egregious as her first comments, she said.

"These are two professional woman and they should treat each other professionally," Barker said. "The reporter was doing her job. The appropriate response from the governor would have been to apologize, which she did not."

Haley's first comments came Thursday on Laura Ingraham's nationally syndicated talk show. She said, "All I will tell you is, God bless that little girl at The Post and Courier. Her job is to create conflict, my job is to create jobs."

The governor's decision to call Dudley a "little girl" is meant to imply that the reporter is incompetent and should not be taken seriously, Barker said.

"Little girls are asked to leave the room when adults are talking," she said.

Alison Piepmeier, director of the Women's and Gender Studies Program at the College of Charleston, said the remark is evidence of a sexist double standard: "How often are male reporters at The Post and Courier called 'little boys' by elected officials?"

Rick Nelson, the newspaper's content editor, declined comment on the issue.

The story Sunday recounted how Haley, who won the governor's race last year with a campaign that included an emphasis on fiscal restraint, spent the cash so she and her contingent of more than two dozen others could stay in five-star hotels; sip cocktails at the Paris Ritz; dine on what an invitation touted as "delicious French cuisine" at a swanky rooftop restaurant; and rub elbows with the U.S. Ambassador to France at his official residence near the French presidential palace.

The South Carolina group also threw a soiree at the Hotel de Talleyrand, a historic Parisian townhouse where they feted foreign employers in hopes they'd set up shop in South Carolina. The Department of Commerce billed the $25,000 event as a "networking opportunity for members of the South Carolina delegation."

Haley and the rest of the South Carolina group traveled to France and Germany the week of June 18. They attended the International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget and toured BMW headquarters in Munich.

A daily itinerary shows the governor and her staff scheduled more than 20 meetings in France and Germany. Haley's husband, Michael, paid his own travel expenses.

Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association, said Dudley, an award-winning reporter, performed a public service. Rogers said the public has an interest in and a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. The Post and Courier's story was valid, he said.

"The public can make up its own mind," he said, "but Renee put the facts forward as she found them."

Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855, follow her on Twitter at @yvonnewenger and read her Political Briefings blog.