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Al Cross: Facts are facts and they matter; Matt Bevin has convictions — but it’s fair to ask hard questions


Matt Bevin is a conviction politician; he has beliefs and sticks to them. That’s one thing to like about the governor. But some of his beliefs are mistaken, perhaps even about himself. That was on display Tuesday night at the University of Kentucky, after he and Attorney General Andy Beshear tangled in a televised debate.

Afterward, Beshear told reporters that Bevin was “unhinged” in their hour-long encounter. That description much better fit Bevin’s performance in his own press conference, which followed. He tried to rewrite his political history, defended a misstatement with another misstatement, and made unsupported assertions about his questioners.

Bevin made perhaps his best-known remark on April 13, 2018, after the legislature controlled by his own party overrode his vetoes of tax and budget bills, amid a protest by teachers whose sickout caused many school districts to cancel classes on short notice.

He said, “I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today, a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them. I guarantee you somewhere today, a child was physically harmed or ingested poison because they were left alone because a single parent didn’t have any money to take care of them.”

Gov. Matt Bevin

The governor provided no proof that such calamities occurred, and his remarks sank him in job-approval polls. He has bounced back, with scare-tactic ads about illegal immigration, and has pulled even with Beshear. He’s probably on track for re-election, as long as President Trump’s Kentucky approval rating doesn’t sink. But in that press conference, Bevin looked and sounded like a flailing loser. Asked about his damaging comment, he said:

“Do any of you truly believe that when children are left home unattended that bad things don’t happen to them? Do any of you really believe that? That’s what I said. I said when children are left home alone unattended, they’re exposed to drugs, they are sexually assaulted, that they’re exposed to things that are bad for them.”

No, Governor, that’s not what you said. You guaranteed that such things had happened. If, the day after, you had said that’s what you meant to say, and apologized, you might be assured of re-election right now. Instead of taking the blame, you put it on the news media, and you doubled down on that Tuesday night.

“Teachers were nowhere in that commentary; their names were never invoked,” Bevin said, adding later, “For people to then conflate that into saying it was a direct attack on them, and for you all to carry that water, which was an absolute, blatant lie . . . Get the actual question that was asked, and the full answer, and you will realize that what you’re alluding to and what you’re asking about is not based on anything I actually said. It’s based on falsehoods that many of you have reported, and that people enjoyed hearing, because it fit a narrative that they wanted.”

Asked if people are making up what they think he said, Bevin replied, ‘Perception is reality, and perception is driven by people not doing their homework sometimes to get to the truth – or, in fairness, you not reporting the things capable of allowing them to get to the truth, by holding out a question to an answer that wasn’t asked.”

The governor was way off base. The video of his remark begins with the question, “What did you think about the demonstration today by the teachers from across the state?”

At the end of the debate, Bevin said “People that worked for this attorney general and his father [then-Gov. Steve Beshear] are increasingly going to federal prison, who are being convicted month after month.” There have been two such convictions, the most recent last summer, followed by a sentencing in January.

Asked afterward to explain himself, Bevin said, “There have been two or three in the last several months,” adding that one “of the most notable is Alison Lundergan Grimes’ father.” That would be Jerry Lundergan, the longtime political enemy of Steve Beshear. The governor was off base again.

Bevin ended Tuesday night’s presser by telling the reporters, “I know you’re voting for the other guy. . . . You can continue to carry water for the next two and a half, three weeks, for those of you that are doing it, and you can ask half-baked things . . . But at the end of the day, the people of Kentucky deserve better than that. They deserve the truth, and for the next four years you’re gonna realize that things are shifting, and you can either come along board and actually report on the news, or you can continue to try to twist and fabricate.”

Bevin seems to believe that reporters play favorites, and that those who ask him tough questions are out to get him. What they’re trying to get is the truth. That often requires asking for responses to an opponent’s charges, but beyond that, no one worthy of the job title reporter carries water for against a politician. The governor should apologize to every reporter who was there.

Now, this is a column, not a news story, but your correspondent tries to base opinions on facts, not personal feelings. Bevin asserted that “Nobody will be more disappointed” than this writer when he is re-elected. Governor, I’ve been doing this kind of work for more than 30 years, and I quit being disappointed or happy about elections very long ago. People in my trade aren’t driven by emotional reactions, and you’re one big blip in a very long passing show.

Journalists are human; sometimes our feelings do bubble up, especially when we’re disrespected. And it might even affect our votes. But we are trained to not let it affect our work, and editors and colleagues help us do that. We sometimes fall short, but we try to operate in good faith. Our leaders should, too.

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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3 Comments

  1. Tony Kinzel says:

    Sometimes the truth hurts.

  2. Betty Claycomb says:

    Al Cross is always on target in his reporting. I have great respect for him. The Governor is trying to emulate President Trump with his mean and untrue statements. Both the Governor and the President are an embarrassment.

  3. Helen Harris says:

    I agree . I am continually embarrassed by the Governor and the President and our Senators.
    We need to vote all of these guys out.

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