Police in Lexington, Kentucky are investigating suspected gunshots fired into the windows of the Lexington Herald-Leader’s downtown building on Sunday morning. It’s not yet known who did this or why, although it’s tough to ignore that the incident took place in a national and local environment of alarming hostility towards the press. A reporter was allegedly “body-slammed” by a GOP candidate in Montana last week, while Kentucky’s own governor Matt Bevin recently likened journalists to “cicadas” and claimed that the Herald-Leader and Louisville’s Courier-Journal “don’t actually seem to care about Kentucky” while noting that the papers are owned by companies outside Kentucky (Bevin is from New England). On Sunday morning, the president tweeted “#FakeNews is the enemy!”
The Herald-Leader reports that three exterior windows were shattered and two were damaged, showing holes police say are consistent with bullet damage. The incident, which occurred when some employees were in the building but not near the area, is being investigated as criminal mischief, and publisher Rufus M. Friday said steps are being taken to increase security at the building. From the Herald-Leader:
“It’s concerning,” Friday said, especially given the level of rhetoric directed at journalists recently in the United States and in Kentucky.
“We’re going to be vigilant and continue to do what we do,” Friday said. “We’re not going to be deterred by this senseless act of vandalism.”
On Tuesday morning, the Herald-Leader also reported that Lexington police arrested a man for allegedly randomly shooting at a number of different locations on Memorial Day. The Herald-Leader noted that it wasn’t immediately clear whether the incident on Sunday was related.
In May, a number of individual journalists were violently targeted for doing their jobs. After Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs was seen and heard being slammed to the ground by GOP House candidate Greg Gianforte, Gianforte was charged for misdemeanor assault and went on to win the election; Alaska reporter Nathaniel Herz was allegedly slapped in the face by Republican state Sen. David Wilson; CQ Roll Call reporter John Donnelly said he was pinned against the wall by FCC security guards while he tried to question officials (the agency has apologized); and reporter Dan Heyman was arrested and charged with “willful disruption of government processes” while attempting to question HHS Secretary Tom Price.
The blatantly self-serving and inflammatory anti-journalist rhetoric we’re seeing every day from the White House has been mirrored in Kentucky, where Governor Matt Bevin (R), a Tea Party “outsider” who threatened to send his nine children into battle against a hypothetical Clinton administration, has waged a peevish crusade against journalists in the state (who have, of course, already seen their newsrooms decimated following years of layoffs and wage cuts; the vandalized Herald-Leader building in downtown Lexington, for example, was put on the market last year). The Bevin administration has been unresponsive to requests for comment from local reporters, including “the most innocuous of questions,” reporter Joe Sonka told the Courier-Journal.
Reporters have been scrutinizing Bevin’s financial ties, which have been difficult to suss out because he—like someone else we know—refuses to release his tax returns. “The governor is obviously annoyed because these newspapers keep asking legitimate questions he ignores about his financial and political relationships, such as the one with Louisville businessman Neil Ramsey,” Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen wrote. Bevin recently purchased a generously-priced mansion from Ramsay, a former campaign donor who had received state tax credits for investing $300,000 in a company partly owned by Bevin. A formal ethics complaint accusing the governor of using public office for private gain was filed against the administration last week by the chairman of Common Cause of Kentucky. (In a news conference on Friday, Bevin dismissed the ethics complaint as a political attack, said the property was overvalued, and said he was a minority owner of the company in question and that Ramsay was just one of up to 100 investors.)
“If Bevin thinks he can avoid accountability by insulting newspapers and comparing journalists to bugs, he has a lot to learn about being a public servant,” Eblen wrote. “He isn’t the first governor to have his questionable actions questioned, and he won’t be the last.”
Jezebel reached out to the Bevin administration for comment on the incident at the Herald-Leader, explaining that the article would note that the incident took place amid increased hostility toward the press from public officials including Gov. Bevin. The press office responded:
“Gov. Bevin condemns all acts of vandalism against any individual or institution. However, it is highly irresponsible to suggest a motive when we don’t even know the facts. This practice of journalism by innuendo is sloppy and reckless and was at the heart of the Governor’s comments last week.”