I recently sat down with Gov. Bevin for an exclusive interview to hear about significant legislative progress, continuing challenges and current initiatives to address Kentucky's most pressing needs. We talked about a host of issues including foster care and adoption reform, education policy, the state pension crisis, and a special session to modernize the tax code.
It was a good interview, one of several I've conducted with him over the past couple of years. But if you'd believe some media outlets, you'd think this a rarity. The headline in the Louisville Courier-Journal (LCJ) said "Matt Bevin's media policy: Ignore reporters and control the message."
This is neither true nor fair.
Gov. Bevin freely gives interviews to reporters and media outlets all across the state who don't approach him with an axe to grind. According to Amanda Stamper, Gov. Bevin's Communication Director, they've had reporters tell the staff "I didn't want Governor Bevin to win." If you see your political opponent coming to lynch you, giving them more rope is the last thing you want to do.
Gov. Fletcher—Kentucky's last Republican governor, had his political career cut short by a big media firing squad that targeted him and failed to question the ethics of an attorney general angling for his own governorship. According to the Kentucky Gazette, the Lexington Herald-Leader (LHL) and LCJ ran 757 stories on the Fletcher personnel investigation over a 14-month time period. In comparison, there were only 193 stories of Gov. Patton/Connor sex scandal over 27 months.
Might as well call the 757 mostly negative stories against Fletcher trial by newspaper. Gov. Bevin isn't interested in that happening to his administration.
LCJ and LHL reports on the governor's recent purchase of a home (below the appraised value) from a friend whom he appointed to the Board of the Kentucky Retirement System, has raised concerns. There isn't any evidence of wrongdoing but some reporters are fanning the flames of speculation over the appearance of conflict.
It would be wise to let the facts speak for themselves, especially as big news media's credibility is at an all-time low. According to a May 24 poll by the Media Insight Project, only 17 percent of Americans believe the news media is "very accurate."
If Kentucky's big newspapers are truly acting as watchdogs and performing a public service to fight corruption, they should at least be consistent. Where was the ardor and determination to get to the bottom of the apparent improprieties of University of Louisville and UK board members appointed by former Gov. Steve Beshear and eventually donated to his son's campaign for attorney general? What about digging deeper to find if Beshear was in any way connected with his Personnel Secretary's kickback scheme?
Gov. Bevin told me that he can now take his "unfiltered" message directly to the public via Facebook without reporters interpreting the story. Social media platforms may be the new town halls of our day. They also appear to be the great common denominator of objectivity, allowing politicians to bypass biased reporters and share their message directly with the people. What could be more democratic?
Our technological moment opens doors of public discourse that weren't there 25 years ago when printing presses ruled. For example, Gov. Bevin held a real time Facebook Live Q & A on Adoption and the opioid crisis. Who says you need to be a reporter to have access to the governor? Seems to me all you need to be is civil and respectful.
Recently a reporter at the LCJ wrote a column and called Gov. Bevin "comrade" and likened him to a communist dictator. So who among us would be ready and willing to trust their words to that reporter?
Former president of the National Newspaper Association Chip Hutcheson told my group back in February that national media elites are "disconnected" from people and have no "accountability" to the general public. "The liberal agenda always has it's say," Hutcheson said. "I don't think the conservative agenda does."
At heart, Kentucky is a conservative state. At heart the LCJ and LHL are liberal outlets and they're losing access to the governor because their product has been weaponized against conservatives.
In my interview, Gov. Bevin called a few reporters cicadas. But the sound we hear isn't the electrified buzz from our regular summer visitors, it is more likely big news media's last gasp as they're clinging for dear life to their dwindling domain of power and influence.