Last week, national reporting revealed that a sitting U.S. senator facing a runoff election in Georgia is involved in a continuing stock trading scandal dating back to the start of the pandemic -- but you wouldn't know anything about it from reading the state's local print newspapers.
According to a Media Matters analysis, no major Georgia-based newspapers available in the Nexis or Factiva databases have published a single story in print on the Justice Department’s investigation into Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) for potential insider trading involving at least $1 million in stocks, though some papers published online reports.
On November 25, The Associated Press reported new details about Perdue, who was one of several senators whose stock trades came under scrutiny in the early days of the pandemic. According to the AP, Perdue sold off between $1 million and $5 million of his stock in Atlanta-based financial technology company Cardlytics, where he previously served on the board before his election to the Senate in 2014, six weeks before the company’s stock tanked. Perdue then bought the stock back at a lower price before it rocketed back up again, netting him a substantial profit. A New York Times piece published the same day expanded on the AP’s story by detailing that the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission had investigated Perdue for insider trading:
Investigators found that Cardlytics’ chief executive at the time, Scott Grimes, sent Mr. Perdue a personal email two days before the senator’s stock sale that made a vague mention of “upcoming changes.” The timing of the message prompted additional scrutiny from investigators in both Washington and Atlanta.
The investigation was reportedly closed over the summer, but not before “F.B.I. agents in Washington spoke with Mr. Perdue in June” and his lawyers “turned over hundreds of pages of information, including the emails with Mr. Grimes, in response to a subpoena from a grand jury,” according to the Times.
Despite this story concerning a sitting senator who is currently in a competitive runoff bid for reelection, a Media Matters review found that no major Georgia outlet published a story about the topic in print between November 25, when the AP and New York Times stories broke, and December 4.
Many news outlets across the state did carry the story on their websites, however. Multiple papers reposted the AP’s stories detailing Perdue’s trades, including the Athens Banner-Herald, Savannah Morning News, The Augusta Chronicle, The Brunswick News, the Ledger-Enquirer, and the Rome News-Tribune. Other outlets including the Gwinnett Daily Post and The Albany Herald reposted a November 26 CNN article about The New York Times’ reporting.
A few outlets carried original coverage of the story online. The Atlanta-Journal Constitution published its own article on November 25 noting that the New York Times reported Perdue had directed the Cardlytics trades himself, contradicting “what the senator told his constituents and media organizations about those trades — that he did not control how his portfolio is managed.” Local website Decaturish published an article a few days later on Perdue’s Democratic opponent in the upcoming runoff election, Jon Ossoff, criticizing the senator for the trades.
Almost all coverage reviewed by Media Matters dropped off after November 26. Although the Decaturish piece on Ossoff’s comments was published online on November 30, no local paper reviewed produced any follow-up coverage to the AP and New York Times original reporting.
This lack of coverage was largely mirrored in Georgia’s local broadcast outlets, which also virtually ignored the story in the days immediately following the new reporting from the AP and the Times, with only two of dozens of news stations covering it. At least two local stations, however, published full independent investigations a week after the original stories were published, finding Perdue traded stocks related to the opioid crisis in 2016 while Congress held hearings trying to manage it and Perdue traded stocks “involving a regional bank that benefited from legislation he supported and helped write.”
Media Matters searched articles in the Nexis and Factiva databases for any mentions of “Perdue” and any mentions within the same article of any variations of the terms “stock,” “wealth,” “cardlytics,” “Grimes,” “Security Exchange Commission,” “SEC,” or “million” in Georgia print publications including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Thomasville Times-Enterprise, The Daily Citizen, The Moultrie Observer, The Tifton Gazette, The Union-Recorder, the Valdosta Daily Times, The Augusta Chronicle, The Albany Herald, the Douglas County Sentinel, The Hartwell Sun, the North Fulton Neighbor, the Northside Neighbor, the South Metro Neighbor, the Times-Georgian, the White County News, The Telegraph, and all Georgia newspapers in the Newsbank archives from November 25 through December 4, 2020.
We also conducted site searches and reviewed the results for relevant online articles on the websites for the Athens Banner-Herald, the Savannah Morning News, The Augusta Chronicle, The Brunswick News, the Ledger-Enquirer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Rome News-Tribune, the Gwinnett Daily Post, The Albany Herald, and Decaturish for mentions of “Perdue” during the same time period.