HOW THE CONSERVATIVE MEDIA GAME IS PLAYED…. When South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) secretly left the country last month, there was quite a bit of email and phone call traffic going in and out of the governor’s office. South Carolina’s The State newspaper obtained records through open record laws, and received nearly 600 pages documenting communications between the governor’s aides.

There are plenty of interesting exchanges — it seems there was genuine, widespread confusion about Sanford’s whereabouts when he went to visit his Argentine mistress — but of particular interest were the emails from conservative media outlets. (via Zachary Roth)

Some outlets, hoping to outdo their competition, were volunteering to coordinate with the governor’s office to spin the story to Sanford’s advantage.

A staffer with The Washington Times wrote in an e-mail that “if you all want to speak on this publicly, you’re welcome to Washington Times Radio. You know that you will be on friendly ground here!”

On June 23, a Fox News Channel correspondent wrote to [Sanford’s communications director, Joel Sawyer], “Having known the Governor for years and even worked with him when he would host radio shows for me — I find this story and the media frenzy surrounding it to be absolutely ridiculous! Please give him my best.”

The Wall Street Journal‘s Brendan Miniter emailed Sawyer to complain about his own newspaper’s coverage of Sanford’s disappearance. “Someone at WSJ should be fired for today’s story. Ridiculous,” Miniter wrote.

Now, I realize that in the media industry, media professionals may try to curry favor with a source (or potential source) in the hopes of landing a bigger story or interview. When a high-profile criminal, for example, is convicted, he or she will likely receive plenty of sympathetic-sounding letters from major news outlets, each trying to land the first post-trial interview.

But this Sanford story seems different, to the extent that conservative news outlets communicated to aides for a conservative governor that they’re on his side. In the case of the Washington Times, there isn’t even a pretense — the staffer wrote that Sanford’s communications director would “on friendly ground.” Media professionals are not supposed to coordinate with a controversial figure to make sure his/her story is told the way he/she likes it.

Given these details, Josh Marshall calls the emails, “Hacks on Parade.”

There are reportedly other emails that have not yet been published. Maybe they’ll be exculpatory for the conservative media figures, but I kind of doubt it.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.