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Al Cross: Continuing the tradition of gifts for public officials; hoping for a 2020 in which facts matter most


The tradition of a Christmas-gifts column for public figures in Kentucky was started almost four decades ago by the late Ed Ryan, when he was the Courier Journal’s bureau chief in Frankfort. Those were the days of Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. and first lady Phyllis George Brown, who had an administration and an entourage of characters who provided plenty of grist for Ed’s sometimes snarky humor mill.

Since then, we’ve had governors who couldn’t take a joke, administration officials and office-seekers who were jokes, and now a highly partisan atmosphere that could use some chuckles but makes it more difficult to run the humor mill with a light touch. So, if you don’t think the following is light enough, think about how much heavier it could have been. And if you think it’s too heavy, our apologies, with best wishes for a year that promises to be a daunting one for politics and citizens.

Gov. Andy Beshear: A detailed map of Kentucky, cut into a jigsaw puzzle of 5,136 pieces, one for every vote by which he ousted incumbent Matt Bevin. He and his family could spread it out in the governor’s mansion (which they say will be their only home, unlike recent governors). Putting the map together would test and improve their knowledge of the state, and serve as a reminder that most of its precincts didn’t vote for him – but might in 2023 if he pays the state’s struggling rural areas proper attention.

A map of Kentucky for Gov. Beshear. (Click for more)


Matt Bevin: A framed photo of the three Commonwealth’s Attorneys he appointed to the state Prosecutors Advisory Council, to remind him that a governor should consult prosecutors, or at least inform them, when he’s about to pardon (or commute the sentences of) people they sent to prison. Two of the three, Rob Sanders of Covington and Jackie Steele of London, handled cases that ended in some of Bevin’s more controversial pardons and statements defending them.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron: To the new chair of the Prosecutors Advisory Council, a new carry-on bag, a Fodor’s Travel app for his phone, and an Almanac of American Politics (the next of edition of which will surely mention him), to facilitate the travels he is likely to make for Republican candidates around the country in 2020 as one of the most prominent African American officeholders in his party.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: A smoke detector to hang around his neck. For months, as Republicans in the House blew smoke about process questions and other things essentially irrelevant to the impeachment charges against President Trump, McConnell didn’t join in. But on Dec. 19, the day after the House passed two articles of impeachment, he responded with a 30-minute Senate floor speech that was lawyerly and scholarly, but also smoky. Some of the smokier quotes:

            • “Last night House Democrats finally did what they decided to do a long time ago . . . impeach President Trump.” Actually, until Trump’s attempted extortion of Ukraine’s president was revealed, only a minority of House Democrats favored impeachment.

               • The issue is “the timing of aid to Ukraine.” No, it’s the fact that Trump withheld the aid, and delivered it only after his attempted extortion was revealed.

               • “What it [the second article, obstruction of Congress] really does is impeach the president for asserting presidential privilege.” As Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer pointed out in a reply speech, Trump never formally asserted executive privilege, but simply refused to cooperate with the House’s investigation.

Sen. Rand Paul: A whistle, blown loudly in his face, to call foul. After calling on the news media to reveal the name of the whistleblower whose report led to the Ukraine investigation, Paul gave a radio interview in which he spoke the name of the person some reports have identified as the whistleblower. That violated the intent of the federal law that is supposed to protect whistleblowers from retaliation.

That being said, Kentucky’s junior senator wears a coat of many colors. He recently signed onto the proposed Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, to give news publishers a limited antitrust exemption to negotiate with Facebook and Google – to get the wealthy tech platforms to pay the publishers for using the news that the publishers pay reporters and editors to produce. Democracy’s main fact-finders are newspapers, which are suffering from digital competition; as News Media Alliance President and CEO David Chavern says, “Advertising revenue that previously went to the news publishers and allowed them to reinvest in quality journalism is now going to the platforms.”

So, to Paul and others who realize that someone has to pay for journalism, and that fact-finding journalism is essential to democracy, our thanks – and a wish for a new year in which facts matter more than opinions.

Al Cross (Twitter @ruralj) is a professor in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media and director of its Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. His opinions are his own, not UK’s. He was the longest-serving political writer for the Louisville Courier Journal (1989-2004) and national president of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2001-02. He joined the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2010.

NKyTribune and KyForward are the anchor home for Al Cross’ column. We offer it to other publications throughout the Commonwealth, with appropriate attribution.


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One Comment

  1. Bev passerello says:

    Thanks as usual Al. Your wit and wisdom, and honesty are such a welcome relief to what we get on tv, social media, etc. God bless you and your fellow journalists. We seniors have such limited access to local news now, and the Herald Leader has…well…decided not to publish a print edition on Saturdays which I’m sure you are aware of. My “room mates”, in assisted living facilities do not, for the most part, own or use computers, many do not have even cell phones, so newspapers are a big deal. I’m aware of costs, and I’m not helping: I share my paper with several folks here, who simply cannot afford a paper now a days. Fight on Al…we need you guys desperately!

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