In Atlantic, an online journalist finds herself at center of race for County Executive

It’s said that a reporter should never become part of the story.

But Virginia McCabe, a self-published journalist who runs a website called the Atlantic Daily Sentinel, has found herself in that awkward position. Currently, she’s being criticized by Democrats as a tool of the Dennis Levinson County Executive Campaign.

On Saturday, McCabe broke a story about the use of the term “wetbacks” by Sheriff and Atlantic County Executive candidate Jim McGettigan at a candidates’ forum. Her lede read: “Atlantic County Sheriff Jim McGettigan said he wanted to get rid of ‘wetbacks,’ Saturday referring to Mexicans who have crossed over the boarder illegally.”

That story got picked up by local Republicans, including incumbent County Executive Dennis Levinson, who’s enmeshed in a hotly contested race with McGettigan. From there it went on to The Press of Atlantic City and blogs across the state. But yesterday, the Atlantic City Press obtained a copy of a videotape made from the forum.

The story was wrong. McGettigan, it turned out, repeated the word ‘wetback’ after an audience member asked a questionusing the term, but never said it in a derogatory manner.

To Sheriff Jim McGettigan, it was just another example of how he thinks McCabe is a mouthpiece of the Dennis Levinson campaign.

“She never checked her facts or verified what the truth was before she wrote her stories. She has never put a correction in there, has she?” said McGettigan.

And today, the liberal blog Blue Jersey had an entry comparing her to Matt Drudge, of The Drudge Report.

McCabe acknowledged that her stories have been critical of McGettigan, perhaps more so than Levinson. But that’s because McGettigan won’t talk to her, she said. As to charges of bias, she countered that if she wasn’t taking heat from political campaigns, she wouldn’t be doing her job, and that she tried unsuccessfully to get McGettigan’s input for the story. And although her lede in last weekend’s story read that “McGettigan wants to get rid of ‘wetbacks,’” McCabe stood by it.

“If the story is wrong, it’s because Jim McGettigan didn’t defend himself and put his point forward,” said McCabe.

For about seven years, McCabe, a former craps dealer, has been running a web site, along with a now-defunct print edition, that is made up primarily of local political gossip and commentary. And last year, she hosted a liberal AM talk radio show called “The Zone,” which was sponsored and even once guest-hosted by McGettigan himself (the two used to be on good terms).

McCabe describes herself as “really liberal” although not affiliated with either political party. She’s broken several stories that have resonated in South Jersey, like Atlantic City Councilman Eugene Robinson’s videotaped tryst with a prostitute. She was even the reporter to whom Jim McGettigan said that Levinson could “Go ____ himself” –an article that ultimately resulted in McGettigan refusing to talk to her.

According to McCabe, if her articles appear slanted in favor of Levinson, it’s because McGettigan no longer talks to her. While she admits that some of the political content on her site is “flippant,” she said she goes after politicians of all political stripes, and is quick to point out that she’s received several awards from the New Jersey Press Association in 2000 and 2001.

McCabe says that McGettigan’s campaign has had too many gaffes to count, and she won’t apologize for covering them mercilessly.

“He’s bunkered in right now. His campaign is just on fire, he’s had major mistakes,” said McCabe, who said she’s written critical stories about Levinson in the past that have drawn his ire.

And while she realizes that her stories have provoked a negative reaction, she’s not worried about the fallout.

“I’m not worried about this. You know, when they can’t defend their point, when they’re in a situation and they can’t defend the situation they’re taking they go after reporters. Everybody, both Republicans and Democrats,” said McCabe.

In Atlantic, an online journalist finds herself at center of race for County Executive