Friday, November 24, 2006

Investigative reporting: Dead and buried in Kentucky

Where have all the real journalists gone?

They're sure not in Kentucky, we can tell you that.

The ongoing story that has dominated the headlines in this state for the last 18 months or so has been the merit system probe and the subsequent persecution of Gov. Fletcher. Until that plane crashed in Lexington, the persecution, indictment and subsequent dismissal of charges agains the governor was going to be the state's biggest news story of 2006.

But the media has done very little true reporting on this story. They've dutifully taken every statement and press release that Greg Stumbo's office has churned out and turned it into front-page news. In fact, we think Vicki Glass, Stumbo's PR flak, probably practically wrote every story about the investigation that carried a byline with the names Loftis, Brammer, Beardsley or Alessi on it.

(At least Glass is eye candy; that's one redeeming quality about her. Her choice of employers certainly leads one to question her professionalism).

At any rate, the press in this state has certainly shown its anti-Fletcher bias in the way the grand jury investigation was reported and written. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find any good, hard-hitting original reporting anywhere in the state on this matter, and investigative reporting was practically nonexistent.

When Transportation Cabinet employee Doug Doerting originally went to the attorney general's office with his complaint, for example, it was not widely reported (if at all) in the mainstream media that he had shopped his allegations around to several agencies, or that he went to Stumbo before he went to the Personnel Board -- where, by protocol and past practice, such complaints had always gone.

The ensuing media stories about and interviews with Doerting were puff pieces. No one delved into what may have motivated his actions. No one asked if he had legally and properly obtained his "evidence." Never was the theory explored that he may have acted because he was a high school classmate of Fletcher's, but Fletcher didn't recognize him at a state function and thus Doerting felt snubbed and acted out of spite. The fact that Doerting had caused legal problems for the state previously was never mentioned in the statewide press. And it certainly wasn't reported that Doerting was disliked -- hated, even-- by many of his fellow Transportation Cabinet employees; no one asked those co-workers why.

The only news outlet that really delved into Doerting's issues was The Big Sandy News, a regional semi-weekly serving several counties along the US 23 corridor in eastern Kentucky (including Floyd, home of the attorney general). Because of Stumbo's involvement in the investigation and the fact that residents of Magoffin County (one of the BSN's counties of focus) were connected to the probe, the BSN reported on several aspects of it. And because Doerting was the whistleblower, the BSN made note of the fact that Doerting was the focus of a lawsuit filed against the Paul Patton-era Transportation Cabinet by former UK basketball player Dan Hall. Hall, a resident of Floyd County, had named Doerting in a lawsuit he filed while he worked in Transportation's Pikeville district office.

The Big Sandy News played up Doerting's involvement in the Hall case, and the obvious implication was that Doerting's hands were not clean, but that conclusion escaped those so-called superior journalists at the daily papers in Kentucky's population centers.

As the unprecedented grand jury inquisition continued, culminating in an indictment of the governor and a scathing final report that read like a bill of particulars filed by the prosecution, our state's beacons of journalistic integrity again fell asleep at the switch. The reporters ignored several basic questions that should have been answered about the composition of the grand jury; all the while the editorialists and columnists praised the sacrifices the grand jurors made and spouted platitudes about how everyone in the state in general, and merit system employees in particular, should be eternally grateful to them.

Not once -- never -- did the press look into the backgrounds of the grand jurors to see what biases and outside influences those Frankin County residents may have brought to their deliberations. The only reference to their possible prejudices against Fletcher came in a New York Times story back in June, when Stan Cave was quoted as saying all the jurors were Democrats. Obviously, Fletcher and his advisers would have had the names and personal information about the jurors, but they haven't made this information public yet. They have too much class to do so, and besides, why should they do the press' job?

The validity and legitimacy of the indictments and report issued by the grand jury will always be in doubt until some fundamental questions are answered. Who sat on the grand jury? What political party do they belong do? Did any of them contribute to Greg Stumbo's campaign, or Ben Chandler's? Are any of them merit system state employees, or do they have relatives who work for the state? Did any of them or their families get turned down for a state job or a promotion during this administration?

These questions must be answered, yet we don't see the press rushing to ask or find answers to them. The daily papers can run glowing tributes to a cross-dressing gay teen who commits suicide, lament the lack of retail stores in Lexington on one page while complaining about the development of Hamburg Farm on another, or publish toxicology reports for dead college students who drowned in a freak flood, but they can't see fit to ask simple questions or obtain information readily available under the state's Open Records Act to dissect a costly, unprecedented investigation that resulted in the indictment of a sitting governor on misdemeanor charges and possibly brought his political career to a premature halt.

Oh, wait, we forgot ... the press does do investigative work. The Herald-Leader ran a bought-and-paid-for hatchet job on Mitch McConnell recently. So we can only conclude that they don't do investigative work when said work interferes with their anti-Republican, anti-conservative agenda.

And newspapers and broadcast networks wonder why their circulations and audiences are down, and why cable news channels, talk radio and Internet sites such as blogs are on the rise.


At 10:00 PM, November 27, 2006, Blogger KYJurisDoctor said...

Got a picture of the "eye candy", so we can judge for ourselves?

At 7:27 PM, November 30, 2006, Blogger K-Pac II said...

Sorry, we can't turn up any pics, so you'll just have to take our word for it.


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