Dear Matt Bevin, journalism is no joking matter


Matt Bevin talks to his supporters during the Republican ticket election night party on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, at the Galt House hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff file photo

Rayleigh Deaton, Editor-in-Chief

Friday, Jan. 6, at 4 p.m., was the deadline for Kentucky’s gubernatorial hopefuls to formally file their candidacy for governor.

The state Capitol was lively, the first week of the General Assembly’s 2023 session underway. The quickly approaching deadline only served to heighten the excitement.

For days, journalists had been publishing predictions of who they believed would file as candidates. Some, like Republicans Kelly Craft and Daniel Cameron and Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear, had been advertising their intentions to run for months.

Some also expected Matt Bevin, who served as governor from 2015-2019, to run again, perhaps hoping to win a comeback after losing to Beshear during the last gubernatorial election. And the morning of Jan. 6, Bevin himself appeared to support those suspicions.

Taking to social media, Bevin sent a tweet at 8:08 a.m. on Friday, posting a photo of the sunrise while driving east with the caption, “A beautiful day dawning In Kentucky… Make it a great day!”

The rather cryptic tweet piqued the interest of journalists, some of whom took it to mean that Bevin was planning to announce his candidacy later that day.

Their suspicions were strengthened when, at 12:52 Friday afternoon, Bevin again tweeted: “At 2:45pm in the Capitol rotunda (primarily for space reasons and because some of you are probably tired of sitting on the floor outside the SOS office 🙂), I will share a few thoughts before proceeding down the hall…”

When 2:45 p.m. arrived, Bevin delivered an approximately 22-minute speech to the throng of elected officials and journalists congregated in the rotunda, some of whom had been in the building all day.

Bevin’s rather unconventional, somewhat freewheeling monologue noted perceived issues in Jefferson County Public Schools, the foster care system, Kentucky’s infrastructure and pensions, calling on journalists and legislators to devote more attention to them.

“You should wear this out,” Bevin told his listeners, referring to the issues he was addressing. “Demand better.”

He concluded with a call to action for the candidates to “not bring each other down” and a reminder for Kentuckians to be unified.

“And now, I’m going to head down the hall,” Bevin said at the end of his speech, subsequently walking out of the building and driving away without filing his candidacy.

Bevin’s actions are not the actions of someone who fully appreciates, perhaps even understands, the role journalists play.

My qualms are not with Bevin’s decision to not run for governor. That is his choice, and I support his freedom to make it.

Accordingly, I do not have an issue with his decision to speak to the media about problems that he has seen in Kentucky. Based solely on the contents of his speech, Bevin seemed passionate about the commonwealth and wanted to raise awareness of perceived “failings.”

My concern lies in the subversive nature of how he went about announcing his decision. While they never overtly said that he would be running for governor, Bevin’s teasing, cryptic tweets implied his intention. Bevin seemed to view the whole thing as a big joke, a rather narcissistic “will he, won’t he” that ultimately culminated in a (somewhat anticlimactic) platform speech raising issues and subsequently passing them off to legislators and journalists to figure out.

Bevin’s stunt took advantage of the journalists, stringing them along and compelling them to stay in Frankfort after an already long week of covering the General Assembly, some waiting hours for his speech.

Tweets with #Bevinwatch from political journalists posted updates hours in advance speculating about whether the wait would result in a legitimate announcement of his candidacy or an antic exploiting their time. In the end, it was the latter.

“He issued a challenge to the media to cover these issues (we are!) but yet wasted many man hours with this stunt. He could have gotten the same message across with a video on social media,” the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Frankfort bureau chief, Tessa Duvall, tweeted.

Duvall’s post points to the larger issue here. Any legitimate concerns Bevin raised were seriously undercut by the frankly immature and self-indulgent way he raised them.

Maybe next time, Mr. Bevin, rather than wasting their time, let the journalists do their jobs covering legitimate issues.

Who knows? If they’re spending less time waiting for meetings that, truly, could have been an email, they might even have more time to devote to “wear(ing)” these issues out and bringing about real change.