In nearly every instance, campaign reporters want to report the news without being part of the news. There’s very rarely any need for the focus to shift away from the candidates and the campaigns, and towards those covering the race.
But once in a great while, journalists find themselves in difficult situations.
With Kentucky’s gubernatorial race nearly over – Election Day is tomorrow – The Lexington Herald-Leader’s Sam Youngman published a piece late last week on the Republican nominee, who’s within striking distance of victory. The headline read, “When it comes to Matt Bevin, what’s a reporter to do?”
It’s an interesting look at an experienced reporter who seems genuinely conflicted about a baffling candidate.
The piece noted, for example, that Bevin, who has never held public office, “has angrily lashed out at anyone who questioned whether he has had tax problems in the past.” In his campaign commercials, the Republican assures voters, “I have no tax delinquency problem, nor have I ever.” Last week, however, Bevin admitted the opposite to the Associated Press, and then said soon after that he’d never made such a concession.
For Bevin, this confusing and contradictory kind of reply isn’t the exception. It’s a pattern that started when he was running for the U.S. Senate and has continued through this election. It has given his opponents and their supporters – from Mitch McConnell to Hal Heiner to Jack Conway – ample material to question Bevin’s honesty.And it has created a nightmare for Kentucky’s political reporters.On his taxes, his positions on health care and early childhood education and his problems with his own party, just to name a few examples, Bevin consistently shoots from the hip with statements that just aren’t true.
Journalists who confront the candidate find themselves on an “enemies list,” filled with members whose questions go unanswered.
And while this is problematic enough, Bevin went after the Herald-Leader’s Youngman directly in an interview last week, calling him, among others, “an embarrassment to their profession.”
That last statement, made to Kentucky Public Radio, came just days after Bevin refused to answer my questions after the debate at Eastern Kentucky University.When Bevin wouldn’t take my questions, other reporters asked why, to which Bevin responded that he’d had a “private conversation” with me to explain why.The problem? That conversation never happened. Seriously. It never happened.After he said that, I admit I was flummoxed, asking Bevin when that conversation supposedly happened.
The GOP candidate didn’t respond.
By all appearances, Youngman doesn’t want to be part of the story, but this seems like an instance in which an odd gubernatorial candidate lied about a reporter to other reporters.
I don’t envy those media professionals whose job it is to cover Bevin’s campaign for statewide power. It can’t be easy.