Sunday, January 31, 2016

Was Gov. Bevin trying to bully reporters?

An interesting (or disturbing) piece from a veteran Kentucky political reporter...

This from Ronnie Ellis in the Daily Independent:
Reporters aren’t at the top of Gov. Matt Bevin’s Christmas card list.

Nothing unusual about politicians who think life would be simpler without troublesome reporters.  But most don’t go out of their way to poke the bear in the eye.

As Bevin sat down with reporters Tuesday afternoon for an embargoed preview of the budget he was to present to lawmakers, he first lectured us.

“And I’ll tell you this,” Bevin began. “We’re at the front end of the four years of working with each other and a lot of what that looks like and how it works will be determined by each of you.

“I’ll be very honest before we even start,” Bevin continued. “The amount of ink and time and energy that has been spent on rumors and - idiocy, frankly - is remarkable to me. And you’re better than that. You truly are.

“And it’s going to be a long four years if this is the kind of thing that we see more of,” said Bevin before launching into the budget preview.

Bevin is a very good politician — he can charm the socks off people, especially in small groups. He succeeds with larger audiences, too, because he’s a truly extraordinary public speaker.

“But truth be told,” to use one of his overused — and some would say ironic — phrases, Bevin isn’t very good with reporters.

As I listened Tuesday, I thought about the irony of a lecture on “professionalism” from someone whose ever-changing accounts of past actions and statements during the campaign created legitimate credibility problems with reporters.

During Bevin’s 2014 U.S. Senate primary challenge to Mitch McConnell, Bevin was caught off guard by the revelation of his letter to investors touting the advantages of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP - the “bank bailout”).

To my astonishment, Bevin explained the letter by telling me his signature was a “formality,” and didn’t mean anything and he didn’t even know what was in the letter he’d sent out to the people who trusted him with their life savings.  I resolved on the spot never to accept his personal check.

Tuesday I also wondered if Bevin has heard the cliché about arguing with people who buy ink by the barrel. Then, considering how Bevin sometimes cites his Christianity, I thought of the biblical admonishment:  “ . . . first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

I concluded Bevin was doing what a lot of politicians and others covered by the press sometimes do: he was threatening our access, trying to intimidate us.

There is hardly a more sure way to ensure just the opposite — at least when dealing with professional and self-respecting journalists.

I realize most politicians — and much of the public — do not believe it, but most reporters operate under the romantic notion that we’re there asking those unpleasant questions on behalf of our readers or viewers and the public.

That’s why we ask questions, sometimes even about swirling (and inaccurate) rumors concerning a governor’s plan to defund an arts council. Bevin could have put an immediate end to those rumors and the reporting on them if he’d simply answered the original question by saying, no, he wasn’t defunding the Kentucky Arts Council.

The reporters asking that and other questions were attempting to inform the public and the taxpayers whose money funds the state budget. They weren’t trying to “ambush” or play “gotcha” with a new governor.

No, Governor, we reporters ARE better than that. And you should be too.

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