by Daniel Lowry
When CareerCast.com came out with its “Jobs Rated Report” for 2017, the job-finding website ranked 200 careers from best to worst. Their key criteria were income, growth outlook, work environment and stress. Their research found that the worst job right now for all of those categories was something that surprised me, yet made sense, too, as I’ve done this job myself: newspaper reporter.
The news business is packed with stress, often has low pay, has little chance for promotions and constantly puts you in a dangerous environment (shooting scenes, standoffs, car crashes on busy highways, etc.). Reporters get chased off property, screamed at, have guns drawn on them, and, in some cases, get body slammed by a politician.
By now you’ve probably heard about what happened in Montana, where a newspaper reporter asked a Republican candidate a question involving the GOP health care bill. The candidate had no history with the specific reporter, but lost his cool. He told the reporter to talk with his spokesperson, and then, without any warning, body slammed him, breaking the reporter’s glasses. The candidate screamed, “I’m sick and tired of you guys!”
The incident took place in an open room with other media present. A crew from Fox News was on hand and said they were shocked. The candidate now faces assault charges.
To my knowledge, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has never tried to body slam a reporter (somewhere journalist Joe Gerth is saying bring it), but he has attacked them plenty of times in his own ways.
Bevin went on a tirade against Ronnie Ellis, a veteran reporter, in front of a group other journalists, calling a story he did “absolute malarkey” and saying “shame on you.” The story turned out to have corroboration from witnesses. In another case, Bevin claimed another award-winning Kentucky journalist, Debby Yetter, was trying to “mislead readers” and “perpetuate a lie.” Her story has been proven accurate. Also, Bevin retaliated against a story about the questionable ethics involving a purchase of his mansion by claiming the Hall of Fame journalist who wrote that story, Tom Loftus, was “pathetic” and needed to “get a life.”
When you can’t handle questions and you snap at the people who are professionals when it comes to asking them, how are you going to handle your constituents? Regular people are not afraid to point a finger at a politician and ask hard questions. Just ask James Comer, who had a voter get right in his face at a town hall. The man held up a pump that he needed to stay alive, yet without the Affordable Care Act, he said he would never have been able to afford it. He knew four other people who used the exact same device, which costs thousands of dollars.
If you sign up to represent the people, you need to be able to answer hard questions. Matt Bevin doesn’t do that. His office repeatedly ignores media requests. One Louisville reporter keeps a board for every time Bevin’s office has refused to answer even the most simple of requests. The board has reached 46 straight. Bevin doesn’t stop there. He’s even been blocking scores of regular people who ask him questions on Twitter.
Why all the secrecy? Why all the anger? The answer lies in another question: What are you afraid will get out?
I can tell you from more than 13 years of experience in the news business: as a general rule, reporters have no hidden agenda. They are trying to write stories that sell newspapers or bring in television ratings. They are trying to seek the truth. That’s why they put up with the “worst job” in the country. The news business is addictive because there is something magical about seeking the truth.
In my time in the newsroom, never did a manger give any sort of directive about leaning either way for a political candidate. The goal was always to be objective. There were candidates I didn’t like, but I knew it was my job to treat them as fairly as possible.
Matt Bevin doesn’t return the same professional courtesy to journalists. He insults them, refuses to talk with them, hides from them, and does his best to go around them.
He called them “cicadas” — saying they “make a lot of noise.” Bevin, basically, has declared war on the mainstream media. The problem for Bevin, however, is the angrier he becomes, the more obvious it is that he has something to hide, and he’s afraid it will be discovered.
As Herald Leader columnist Tom Eblen put it, that noise is only going to get louder. Those reporters aren’t going to stop seeking the truth. Whatever it is you have to hide, Governor, they’ll find it.