His assault upon reporters at West Virginia Public Broadcasting is proof of the power of the press; he fears it, so now is the time for a solution from the grassroots
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – There is a reason that the First Amendment is designed to protect speech and the press (as well as assembly and freedom of religion). It is because free speech and the press are the first rights attacked by dictators and autocrats.
The evidence of this truth is on display right here in West Virginia, where West Virginia Public Broadcasting (WVPB) has been gutted by Governor Jim Justice and his cronies.
As reported yesterday on National Public Radio’s website, part time WVPB reporter Amelia Ferrell Knisely was fired by WVPB “ …after she covered allegations of the mistreatment of people with disabilities in the state’s care.”
The report continues, “Interviews with 20 people with direct knowledge of events at West Virginia Public Broadcasting indicate Knisely’s involuntary departure from her position as a part-time reporter was not an aberration but part of a years-long pattern of mounting pressure on the station from Gov. Jim Justice’s administration and some state legislators.”
While this might be news to you, it is not to me. Nor is it to others concerned about the poor and vulnerable people in West Virginia. West Virginia is a state full of marginalized people. They are disenfranchised with no voice in Charleston, especially now that WVPB is hopelessly compromised.
As I’ve covered the fossil fuel extraction industry in West Virginia, I noticed that WVPB reporters were nowhere to be found as the fracking industry started plowing through land, lives and livelihoods. WVPB was silent. As dangerous as fracking is, even more dangerous is governmental interference of reporters exercising their First Amendment rights to the point of threatening and silencing them.
The question, of course, is what does Justice fear? What is he hiding? What about the legislature? Well, they simply want to dismantle any program that benefits the poor and vulnerable, and they sure don’t want the press reporting upon that.
That’s too bad for those misusing their elected and appointed positions. Because we can’t be stopped. There is an alternative. It is organizing and training a grassroots movement of reporters throughout West Virginia. This training would include ethics, writing workshops, gathering and analyzing data, knowing a reporter’s rights and limitations, learning how to challenge elected officials to be transparent, learning how to compose hard news stories, learning how to set up and maintain an online presence, and knowing the laws and regulations of your beat better than the Authorities Having Jurisdiction. It is my experience that this training is sufficient to establish a Citizens Reporting Corps that would certainly challenge local officials, and even develop a few enterprise reporters willing to dig deeper than WVPB will be allowed to for the foreseeable future.
The only thing that can not be taught to a reporter is courage. Physical courage to stand up against bullies that literally attempt to intimidate or threaten you. More importantly, you must have moral courage. Speaking and writing truth is not only unpopular with unscrupulous politicians or business leaders, it might also upset your favorite aunt to the point that she never speaks to you again. In short, in addition to angering the powers-that-be, your family and friends will ostracize you. That is the cost of truth-telling. Not everyone is cut out for it.
Personally, I welcome the fight with a wanna-be dictator and the so-called “honorables” in the state capitol here perpetrating injustice upon the people of West Virginia. Bullies are simply afraid of the truth and that is why Amelia Ferrell Knisely was fired. Enough is enough. I believe we can take our state capitol back with a relentless barrage of truth.
What about you? If so, let’s make it happen. Interested? Then reach out to me on our Contact page. Let us not forget our state’s motto – Montani Semper Liberi – Mountaineers Are Always Free. Let us free ourselves, once and for all, from the corporate leaders robbing us of our homes, heritage and hope.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2023. Feature Photo by Anders Nord on Unsplash
Note: My book, ‘FRACTURED SANCTUARY: A CHRONICLE OF GRASSROOTS ACTIVISTS FIGHTING PIPELINES OF DESTRUCTION IN APPALACHIA’ will be available soon. Here is one article from it that underscores the hierarchy in Charleston. Since this story was published, the DEQ has, by the accounts of many environmentalists, become even less likely to adhere to its mission.
Right on the head!
I am so relieved to hear that others are now hearing about this travesty that occurred last year. And to think that she was revealing the suffering of the most vulnerable. THANK YOU for your excellent writing, you have a gift and a passion. In Kindness
“May Light always surround you; Hope kindle and rebound you. May your Hurts turn to Healing; Your Heart embrace Feeling. May Wounds become Wisdom; Every Kindness a Prism. May Laughter infect you; Your Passion resurrect you. May Goodness inspire your Deepest Desires. Through all that you Reach For, May your arms Never Tire.” ? D. Simone ________________________________
Have you reached out to Hoppy Kercheval for a spot on his talk radio show?
“May Light always surround you; Hope kindle and rebound you. May your Hurts turn to Healing; Your Heart embrace Feeling. May Wounds become Wisdom; Every Kindness a Prism. May Laughter infect you; Your Passion resurrect you. May Goodness inspire your Deepest Desires. Through all that you Reach For, May your arms Never Tire.” ― D. Simone ________________________________
Theresa, thanks for the question/suggestion. The answer is no. I simply say, in the case of Jim Justice, his dictatorial behavior is there for all to see. I have no expectation that Kercheval cares. I know his advertisers wouldn’t tolerate honesty. In fact, I am finding that writing about this topic is met with yawns even among other reporters and those groups in the crosshairs of the growing autocracy in the United States. For she who has eyes to see and he who has ears to hear, the danger is clear and present. As I keep saying, silence is compliance. Silence is consent. Silence is cowardice. I am not silent, but I am not wasting my time with those that have facilitated the further erosion of citizen rights in West Virginia.
I’ve a personal tale about what I believe to be the power of major vested interests to thwart media. I cannot definitely prove it, but I think my hypothesis is spot on.
Sometime around 2014 I hatched an idea to run a weekly television show through the Library Television Network of the West Virginia Library Commission. Library Television Network Services produces several hundred high-quality TV shows each year, including programming for state agencies and non-profit organizations. Gary Zuckett and others with WV nonprofit environmental organizations were very much on board. We would produce a weekly show spotlighting conservation efforts in our state with interviews and footage. I approached Mark Lanham, then and now the director of the television network. He expressed interest, showed me the studio, and agreed to support our application to be presented in February when scheduling is done. He felt confident a slot would open.Our groups was excited. About 1/3 of West Virginia gets the library channel through cable services.
I had star status with the library commission. As director of Pocahontas Libraries, we were one of three libraries in the nation to receive the National Community Service Award of the Institute of Museums and Library Services for 2003. We received the award at a press conference in the White House presented by First Lady Laura Bush. We also had won other awards during my tenure.
In February, Mark Lanham called to give me his regrets that our application, although good, was bumped, because a state agency had also applied and state agencies get priority. For the next three years or so I kept applying. (I would have to dig through old records to find details of dates and application process). I met with Lanham several times. But every year, the same. No slot for us.
Meanwhile, the longstanding program, “Coal Seam,” was produced weekly to be aired several times. “Coal Seam” is produced by the West Virginia Coal Association, and its chief lobbyist, Chris Hamilton.
A close former library commission employee and a best friend, Steve Fesenmaier, tells me that the Library Commission is heavily influenced by the governor and legislature, who in turn are pressured by the coal and gas industries. Steve says that is why our environmental program would never be approved by the cowardly library commission.
And in the past year, whatever modest semi-independence the library commission had was swept aside during a reorganization that puts library services essentially under the WV Arts, Culture, and History, led by Randall Reid-Smith. Reid-Smith has been called the lapdog or poodle of Gayle Manchin (Joe’s wife). Years ago, after Blair Mountain battlefield was in final stages of approval, Reid-Smith sabotaged it. (check with others for details, as mine are hazy).
Anyway, just as WV PBS is intimidated by Gov. Justice and the coal and gas barons and their legislative whores (don’t pardon my language), other state agencies also know to toe the line if they want funding and breadcrumb perks.
I’ve not outed my story in part because I cannot prove anything other than inductive adding up the clues.