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Opinion: Assault on the press damages democracy

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By Randy Patrick

You should be outraged.

That’s the message Gov. Matt Bevin’s official Facebook page used to introduce a YouTube video posted June 17 — the latest salvo in his war on the media.

In the two-minute video, the governor criticizes reporters for ignoring a sexual discrimination lawsuit filed against the Office of the Attorney General.

He said he was telling listeners because “our media refuses to cover it.”

That’s odd. I thought I recalled reading or hearing something about a sexual harassment suit. So I did what any consumer of social media news should do: I looked it up.

A quick Google search found several references to the lawsuit in question, including on the websites of The Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader, two of Bevin’s favorite whipping boys. I shared the governor’s Facebook post but copied and posted in the comments the URLs of news organizations that had covered it.

WAVE3 TV pushed back against the governor, disputing the accusation that it had ignored the suit and posting a link to their own story about it.

Most news organizations covered the suit in November 2016 when it was filed. They included USA Today and its affiliates, Murray University’s NPR station, the Baptist newspaper Kentucky Today, Western Kentucky University’s student newspaper and Lexington’s CBS News affiliate, WKYT.

WYMT, the CBS TV station in Hazard, last month aired and published online a story about the governor’s Facebook post, along with excerpts from his video and comments from Attorney General Andy Beshear about the governor’s latest rant.

Beshear suggested Bevin’s video was payback for his looking into the governor’s abolishing education boards and said his efforts to make the governor follow the law were “not personal …”

Beshear and Bevin have been engaged in a long-running feud, and it appears Bevin thinks the coverage has been one-sided.

This wasn’t Bevin’s first on-camera tirade against reporters.

Recently, the governor attacked Courier-Journal reporter Tom Loftus for investigating his purchase of a house from a friend and donor at a price well below the property valuation administrator’s assessment.

Bevin called Loftus “Peeping Tom” for visiting the property, where he was turned away by a state trooper before he could get a good look. Bevin also repeatedly used the word “breathlessly” to describe reporting on the issue.

I’ve never known Tom to be breathless or biased. If he were, he would not have had the same job covering state government for decades. Editors tend to frown on that.

Bevin hints, however, that we reporters ignore negative news about Democrats and overemphasize negative news about Republicans.

“I wonder where is the media that will give credence to anybody laying claims, no matter how preposterous, against anyone of a certain political party, but completely disregard those in power in another political party,” he said. “I find it interesting.”

I find it tiresome that he continues to make this accusation without substantiating it.

In my 34 years in this business, I’ve known as many reporters and editors who were conservative, libertarian, anarchist or apolitical as liberal. Most of us tend to be centrist and irreverent toward the powerful regardless of their party.

There is no doubt the editorial pages of the two largest newspapers in Kentucky tend to be liberal, but that doesn’t affect their news coverage.

Still, it’s an argument that plays well to the hard right Republican base.

An NPR/PBS NewsHouse/Marist poll conducted June 21-25 shows 42 percent of Republicans believe freedom of the press has gone too far. The percentage of Democrats who believe that is only 11 percent. But if we are to fulfill our proper role, we can’t be seen as speaking to only one side. We must remain nonpartisan.

President Trump has taken attacking the media to an unprecedented low by calling us the “enemy of the people” and describing the conscientious work of the legacy media as “fake news.” The irony is that “fake news” is a term first used to distinguish phony information on social media and partisan websites from the real news that newspapers, wire services and the old broadcast networks publish.

It’s true no one is 100 percent objective in how he or she sees things, or is infallible. We all make mistakes. But real reporters question and verify, look at all sides and are conscious about keeping their biases out of their work.

Trump’s video of him pummeling a WWE executive in a staged fight and superimposing the CNN logo on his face is embarrassing.

So was Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte body slamming a reporter. He apologized and pledged money to the Committee to Protect Journalists so he wouldn’t be sued, but the stunt had the desired effect. He won.

Fomenting hatred of reporters whose purpose is to provide information people need to live their lives and govern themselves is a craven course.

Democracy can’t exist without a free and independent press, and to discredit journalism is to diminish democracy.

You should be outraged.