They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker
"If a brand new PR director can survive the 10 days I've survived," Shay says, "she's got it in her. She's got it in her."
She adds: "There's been stress, but a lot of fun."
Shay's new life began when she abruptly quit her job at the Billings Gazette to work for APPF, the company she had been covering. At first, there was ebullience. The salary was $60,000 per year. She told a local TV station last week: "Here I am feeling the best I've ever felt about myself. At a great point in my life." Her terms for joining APPF were simple: "I don't want the moon and the stars, but I'd like to be able to see them from the patio."
But ebullience quickly turned to fear when the black helicopter crowd descended on Hardin, and more and more holes were poked in APPF's cover story. Shay gave an emotional press conference Friday during which she broke into tears and asked cameras to be turned off because "it's important to me that I do not appear as vulnerable as I feel."
With conspiracy theories bouncing around the Internet and radio of a CIA-FEMA-New World Order-H1N1 plot unfolding in Hardin, Shay has been barraged with phone calls and emails, ranging from "crude to aggressive to intimidating to threatening."
That culminated in an episode Thursday in which nutjob extraordinaire Alex Jones, with two cameramen and six followers in tow, repeatedly yelled at Shay and shoved a cell phone in her face after she gave him a tour of the jail for his radio show.
"He goes back and forth between being very congenial and puffing up his body and becoming very loud and yelling," Shay says.
APPF provided her with personal security -- not a bodyguard, but "people watching out for me." Law enforcement friends she made during her years as a reporter are chipping in, too. "My house is being patrolled by local police."
One might think that nothing engenders feelings of vulnerability like the revelation that your new boss is a perennially bankrupt ex-con with a history of alcoholism who has been called to appear in court in California later this month over an unpaid judgment in a fraud case.
But no. Shay told us today her spirits are up again.
Some of the conspiracy craziness has petered out. She says APPF has compensated her for her work. She insists APPF is in the process of buying a house in Hardin where she will live. Plus, she's still got the keys to a company Mercedes SUV. And she's gotten emotional support, too.
"My friends and family and strangers have covered me in prayer."
This week, when the deal for APPF to run Hardin's Two Rivers Detention Facility was put on hold after town officials accused APPF's Michael Hilton of lying, some things changed for Shay. She shifted from working alone at the empty jail to working at her home in Laurel, a 2.5-hour round trip commute from Hardin. (Though she told us she still has access to the jail if she needs it.)
Other things have stayed the same. APPF has made promises that Shay plans to honor.
"There are still some commitments we've made as far as providing a dinner for a student council convention on October 20," she says.
She's still fielding media inquires -- down to 15 per day -- and messages from the people she has taken to calling "the fear mongers."
And Shay is still confident in her new company, which won't authorize her to give out any new information, and its leader, Michael Hilton, who even the governor of Montana has called a "low-level card shark."
Even though a long-promised job fair in Hardin, which was pushed back till next week, is now on hold -- again -- Shay says her boss will be back.
"Michael intends to return to Hardin in the coming weeks. I'm not setting a date yet."