RALEIGH, N.C. – As a student journalist, Carla Babb hopes to work on national news – not be the subject of it.

But the tables were turned Friday for the UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student when word got out that John Edwards’ presidential campaign tried to squelch her story for a campus news program.

Babb, 23, interviewed an Edwards volunteer and a campus columnist about the campaign’s headquarters in the upscale Southern Village shopping center in Chapel Hill.

She posted it on YouTube Tuesday night. The next morning, Colleen Murray, a spokeswoman for the Edwards campaign, called her.

“She said this sounds like it came straight from the Republican Party,” Babb said. “She was like, ‘This has to come down.’ “

Babb referred Murray to her faculty advisor, C.A. Tuggle. Murray and Edwards’ communications director, Chris Kofinis, then called Tuggle. He said they asked him not to air the story and to pull it from YouTube.

Tuggle said they threatened to cut off access to Edwards for UNC reporters and other student groups if he did not pull the piece. He declined to do so.

After another UNC professor blogged about the tussle, news spread across the Internet. The video was linked to by the popular online news site The Drudge Report and reporters for The New York Times called Babb’s home.

Tuggle said the Edwards’ campaign’s actions backfired.

“My gosh, what are they thinking?” he said. “They’re spending this much time and effort on a student newscast that has about 2,000 viewers? They’re turning a molehill into a mountain.”

The Edwards campaign would not answer questions about the tussle, but it released a statement saying it had no problem with student reporters in general.

“This is silly,” Murray said in the statement. “We love all reporters, the problem is the feeling isn’t always mutual.”

The two-and-a-half minute segment includes an interview with James Edward Dillard, a columnist for The Daily Tar Heel, saying that the location of the campaign headquarters conflicts with Edwards’ goal of reducing poverty in America.

“To pick that place as your campaign center, when you’re going to be the man who advocates on behalf of the poor, I just think, why not turn the media’s attention to somewhere where there are huge, huge problems,” he said.

Nation Hahn, an Edwards campaign volunteer and UNC student, is quoted saying that the choice of Chapel Hill over Washington, D.C., for the campaign headquarters shows that Edwards is a candidate for the average person, though the choice of Southern Village isn’t relevant to the campaign.

“Frankly, Chapel Hill is a relatively affluent area, period, so I don’t know where they would rather him place his headquarters,” he said.

Babb said she came up with the idea for the story after hearing other students talk about it in the newsroom of Carolina Week, a student-run program where she works.

She decided to film it for a regular broadcast and an MTV “Choose or Lose” contest in which she is a semifinalist. She posted it on YouTube Tuesday to meet a contest deadline, though the piece isn’t slated to air until Monday.

Online, the segment drew a split reaction. Some commenters said the Edwards campaign overreacted to an innocuous story, while others attacked Babb for being a registered Republican.

Babb said she was surprised, pointing out that she interned for Rep. Bob Etheridge, a Democrat from her hometown of Lillington, while an undergraduate at N.C. State University.

“My political affiliation isn’t in any of my stories,” she said.

Tuggle, who has overseen the Carolina Week news program for eight years and previously worked as a television reporter in Florida, said that pieces are normally posted on YouTube after they’ve aired.

Though the program is shown on cable television in 16 counties, he estimates it has about 2,000 viewers. He said a really interesting piece – such as Babb’s earlier segment on state trooper misconduct – might get as many as 1,000 hits on YouTube as well.

As of 7 p.m. last night, Babb’s report on the campaign headquarters was already at 27,000.

Watch the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?vlb8r0XIZs7Y.

(c) 2007, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.).

Visit The News & Observer online at http://www.newsobserver.com/

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-10-26-07 2124EDT

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