Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

Former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines was attacked by trans-activists after giving a speech on preserving women’s sports at San Francisco State University earlier this month. I learned of Riley’s story through the New York Post, not the Lexington Herald-Leader nor Louisville Courier-Journal. In a recent interview, I asked the 12-time All-American swimmer if either of Kentucky’s largest newspaper outlets reached out for an interview. She said no. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.

Many Kentucky journalists lament lost readership of legacy newspapers and affix blame on the rise in social media and competition from other digital outlets. The Courier-Journal and Herald-Leader combined have lost 75 percent of their subscribers since 1983, even as Kentucky’s population has increased by over 800,000 in the same time. But have they considered that their failure to fairly report important stories involving and affecting Kentuckians have driven significant numbers of Kentuckians elsewhere to find news?

A significant story last fall involved an Anderson County high school principal who was suspended from his post after refusing to use preferred gender pronouns of students and keeping it hidden from parents. Randy Adams, a highly regarded public school administrator before the incident, told me he was never interviewed by either major publication when he resigned. (Valeria Spears of the LHL did reach out to him after he was suspended but he could not comment per legal counsel at the time.) Adams’ story fueled the passage of SB 150, which addressed gender preferred pronoun usage in schools and protected public school employee’s conscience rights.

Did either publication fairly cover the story of Louisville parents who objected to the book Gender Queer available in at least two public school libraries? The Herald-Leader headline said, “Kentucky school district says LGBTQ book banned elsewhere has literary value, will stay.” Reporting by the Courier-Journal story was similar, giving credence to an activist and neglecting perspective from conservatives. The perverse images and obscene nature of the book prompted Kentucky legislators to pass SB 5, which gave parent’s recourse to removing such books.

When Kentucky’s news media covered SB 150, it made the state legislature appear as closed-minded and bigoted. The Courier-Journal called the comprehensive bill that banned gender transitions of minors, school bathroom policy, gender preferred pronouns, and sex-ed in K-5 classrooms as “anti-trans legislation.” The Herald-Leader said it “would ban gender-affirming care for trans kids.”  Amplified were talking points from opponents who say that such legislation will “lead to more suicide.” Muffled were voices by detransitioners like Luka Hein, who testified before legislative committees about her gender dysphoria that led to mutilation of perfectly healthy body organs at age 16. SB 150 passed with bipartisan support.

Those who’ve not heard any of the above mentioned stories seem perplexed that Republican candidates for governor are campaigning on these issues. Chalk it up in part to news media malpractice. Neglect of voices like Riley Gaines and Randy Adams keeps the electorate ignorant. Unfair coverage on controversial issues may feed a political narrative, but it fails to broadly inform the electorate. This is why center-right readers have given up on Kentucky’s biggest newspapers. They’re looking elsewhere for reliable news and better understanding of the big issues.

Fair and objective reporting is still valued, especially when it comes to government and elections. All this being said, it’s clear that time is ripe for a center-right publication in the Commonwealth.