Covering the WV Public Broadcasting controversy
A year-and-a-half ago, I did back-to-back posts (see here and here) about WV Governor Jim Justice’s attempt to turn WV Public Broadcasting into a Republican news outlet. Since then, WV’s public broadcasting outlet has lost a couple of good reporters. (Most notably Dave Mistich.) They are minus another good one this week as WVPB fired* Amelia Knisely. As Knisely explains:
I was let go from my job at WVPB last week following threats from DHHR about my reporting on DHHR’s treatment of people with disabilities.— Amelia Knisely (@ameliaknisely) December 28, 2022
Knisely’s sin appears to have been that she wrote about client mistreatment by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services. While her story has made national news, the best reporting that I’ve seen on the controversy has been Ogden’s Steven Allen Adams:
West Virginia Public Broadcasting has parted ways with one of its reporters after alleged retaliation from WVPB operational management and pressure from the Department of Health and Human Services. https://t.co/Yl7ewibuId pic.twitter.com/n87npAGeWG— Steven Allen Adams (@stevenadamswv) December 28, 2022
Adams’ story, however, was edited before it was placed on page 10 of Friday's Wheeling Intelligencer. Sadly, the edits left out key elements of the story. For example, here, the Intelligencer removed what is in bold from Adams’ article:
Crouch wrote a six-page letter to Antolini on Nov. 10 seeking a retraction of Knisely’s Nov. 3 story, alleging it contained multiple factual errors. WVPB stood by the story and gave Crouch a one-on-one interview to refute the claims in the story on Nov. 28. DHHR Communications Director Allison Adler did not address Knisely’s allegations of pressure on WVPB to take her off of DHHR coverage in a statement Tuesday.
That WVPB never refuted Knisely’s claim strikes me as very important to the story. So why was Adams’ story edited? Additionally, pictures and charts are often worth many words and often catch viewers’ attention. To that end, the original article included a timeline that visually explained the sequence of events. This simple chart, included in the original, was not included in our papers:
Why wasn’t this graph or the other edited material included? It could be that the editor had only a limited amount of space to fill. On the other hand (and more likely), the editor didn't want to criticize a Justice agency.
There has been no editorial comment that I could find in Ogden’s papers.
On Friday, the Charleston Gazette-Mail editorialized:
The thing going on now over the firing of a West Virginia Public Broadcasting employee is only the logical extension of the trend of controlling information. Newspapers, radio, television and other outlets once were the gatekeepers of information. With the rise of the internet and social media, there’s no need for a gate; the fence is down. Justice and others have replaced the fence with brick walls. There is no flow of information except for what advances the interest of The Party.
I agree. But should anybody be surprised that a reporter was fired for being critical of a Justice state agency? After all, the WVPB board is filled with Justice appointees. Here is the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s Phil Kabler describing some of the members of that board in an article last year about the firing of WVPB’s executive director, Chuck Roberts:
That includes longtime Republican political operative Greg Thomas, and Danielle Waltz, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbyist who has lobbied for Republican issues and served on the board of directors of the right-wing Cardinal Institute, which has advocated for defunding West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
During his confirmation hearing, Thomas said he neither watches nor owns a television, saying he gets his news mostly from social media. He told senators he did not coin the phrase “fake news,” but wishes he had.
Justice also appointed Taylor Hood, an attorney and CPA employed by the Generations Physical Therapy chain, a business owned by Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, a frequent critic of state broadcasters in general and WVPB in particular.
During Confirmations Committee hearings in June, Tarr said the Justice appointments would help balance an EBA that is, in his opinion, “way too far left.”
WV Senate Majority Leader Craig Blair is shocked!
Republican leadership was quick to respond with Craig Blair, the senate's top Republican, telling us how much he supports the First Amendment. If you search the internet, you'll find Craig Blair filling lots of space in WV media with this op-ed. For example:
You don’t have to like what the media reports. I’ll be honest – I often don’t. However, there’s a very clear difference between not liking what the media reports and actively working to silence them. Read my op-ed here: https://t.co/Qg56hT6uA9.— Senate President Craig Blair (@WVSenatePres) December 29, 2022
Yesterday's Wheeling News-Register, also featured it:
Free, Unfettered Press Important to Mountain State’s Future
Okay, so why is Blair surprised? He does know who is on that board, doesn’t he?
*Note – WVPB claims that Knisely wasn’t fired. Knisely, however, told Adams that her keycard no longer works, and she can no longer access her email.