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ProPublica fires back at Kentucky governor after being called ‘biased’

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Editor’s note: Business Insider has a publication agreement with ProPublica.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky on Wednesday went on a tear after The Courier Journal, the state’s largest newspaper, announced it had partnered with the Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit news group ProPublica for a year-long investigation of a “government program” in Kentucky.

“The Courier-Journal … have announced with breathless excitement that they are partnering with an organization called ProPublica,” Bevin said in a video. “This is the same Courier-Journal … while it’s dying, continues to maintain that they are unbiased, that they are good journalists, and that they are interested in transparency and holding government, among other people, accountable.”

Bevin accused The Journal of a left-leaning bias and discredited ProPublica by making comments that have been associated with conspiracy theories and acts of violence against media organizations. Bevin particularly took issue with ProPublica having been financed by billionaire investor George Soros, a popular target for anti-Semitic and right-wing groups.

“Now the Courier Journal has just straight up said, ‘We don’t even care about being objective. We’re willing, for a price, because we’ll sell our soul, we’ll be a sock-puppet for the ProPublica organization, for George Soros … for all these other people who hate America, and undermine day in and day out the values that we in Kentucky actually hold dear, that America was founded upon.”

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky discusses The Courier Journal’s partnership with ProPublica using air-quotes.
Bevin-Hampton Administration

In his tirade against The Journal, Bevin described Soros as “George I-hate-America Soros” and encouraged “everybody to just disregard the nonsense that comes out of this biased, left-wing organization.”

ProPublica disclosed that the George Soros’ Open Society Foundations “fund less than 2%” of its operations in an article published in August. The article also acknowledged its ties to Soros could be viewed as controversial but maintained that its journalistic integrity was not compromised.

“Those who bring to light uncomfortable truths are dismissed as ‘fake news’ or, in our case, the work of the ‘Soros-funded’ ProPublica, the all-purpose, vaguely anti-Semitic epithet meant to connote left-wing bias,” editor-in-chief Stephen Engelberg wrote.

It was unclear what exactly prompted the governor’s remarks against The Journal and ProPublica, aside from his accusations of bias and his suspicion against its financiers. However, The Journal has published numerous investigations of Bevin as recently September, including one in which he allowed a 134% salary increase — or $215,000 — to an Army friend and business associate who worked as the state’s chief information officer for 10 months.

Bevin also expressed some concern for The Journal’s upcoming investigation “of some organization within Kentucky.”

“Now they’re not going to be transparent about what that is,” Bevin said. “They’re not going to be transparent about their partner.”

The Journal notes in its partnership announcement that the project was launched as part of an initiative to “help strengthen coverage of state government at a time when many news organizations are cutting back because of economic conditions.”

In a light-hearted tweet, ProPublica responded to Bevin’s video and said The Journal’s “reporting project is [very] promising,” and that it would not disclose any further details “[because] we believe in gathering facts first.”

“You called us a ‘biased, left-wing organization,'” ProPublica tweeted. “Actually, we believe in evidence. Hard, indisputable evidence. Carefully gathered and precisely told. Perhaps that’s why our peers have given us 4 Pulitzers, 3 Peabodys, 2 Emmys, 6 Polks, a duPont and a National Magazine Award.”

The Journal, which published its first edition in 1868, celebrated its 150th anniversary in November. The newspaper has won 10 Pulitzer Prizes that have ranged from the public service category to international reporting.

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