Kentucky has become the latest state to experience the chill surrounding journalism in the US after a prominent local newspaper came under fire â literally â and a printing factory was disrupted by a bogus bomb threat.
Police have confirmed that they are treating as a criminal mischief a shooting at the offices of the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky. Nobody was hurt in the attack but a newsroom window was shattered, and there were signs of further damage on other floors of the paperâs offices thought to be caused by small-caliber bullets.
Seventy-five miles to the south of Lexington, a printing works in London, Kentucky, was the subject of a hoax bomb alert after a letter was received at the premises saying explosives had been planted and demanding $25,000. The warning was later deemed to be fake.
The spate of threats to news industries in Kentucky adds to a growing litany of attacks and physical assaults on journalists across the US. Last week, a Guardian reporter was body-slammed to the ground in Montana by Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate who went on to win the stateâs only House seat, while several other reporters in recent weeks have been arrested or assailed while going about their jobs.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, Donald Trump kept up his diatribe against the media following his return to the White House from a foreign tour. He revived his by now frequent jibe on his Twitter feed referring to news outlets as âfake newsâ and âthe enemyâ.
Media observers have warned that Trumpâs constant disparagement of journalists is contributing to an increasingly hostile climate in the US in which reporters are facing increasing hurdles to performing their public function. A similar chill can be detected on a more local scale in Kentucky, where the Republican governor, Matt Bevin, has embarked on his own full-frontal charge against media organizations.
A week ago Bevin turned to Facebook Live to broadcast a harangue against the Lexington Herald-Leader and other major news outlets in the state. He said the news organizations âdonât actually seem to care about Kentuckyâ.
That diatribe was made in response to an article in the Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky, that reported that the governorâs office had shut out major media outlets, refusing to engage with them in any meaningful way. When one of the Courier-Journalâs reporters, Tom Loftus, began publishing a series of articles raising questions about a large house in Anchorage, Kentucky, that had been bought apparently for a knock-down price from one of Bevinâs political donors and was now being guarded by state troopers, the governor responded with further invective:
Bevinâs claim of wrongdoing on the part of the Courier-Journal reporter, strongly denied by the newspaper, was made one day before the Herald-Leaderâs newsroom came under fire. Senior staff at that paper have been careful not to directly connect the governorâs incendiary language with the attack on its offices, but the Herald-Leaderâs publisher Rufus Friday did say in a statement that the rhetoric that was being leveled against journalists in Kentucky and across the US was âconcerningâ.
âWeâre going to be vigilant and continue to do what we do. Weâre not going to be deterred by this senseless act of vandalism,â he said.
On Tuesday, Bevin responded to the news of the shooting and hoax bomb threat, saying such acts were irresponsible. âAny kind of behavior of that sort against any individual or an organization is wrong. Period. We should find out who is responsible and they should be held accountable for it.â