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Respected Kentucky journalist, Al Cross, weighs in on the controversy at Murray State University -- first exposed by WPSD Local 6 -- involving university administrators, including President Robert Jackson, and efforts to obstruct investigative reporting by the university's public radio affiliate, WKMS.…

Cross -- who currently serves as director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky and, before that, was employed as a reporter for 26 years at the Courier Journal -- appears in the June 1  installment of WPSD's multi-part series “highlight[ing] the importance of freedom of the press at the local legal and the vital role the First Amendment plays in our lives.”

The series traces its origins to the removal of a local circuit court judge by the Judicial Conduct Commission for, among other things, using his influence with Murray State officials to block an embarrassing WKMS story about the judge's stroll through the courthouse in his underwear. Testimony at the since removed Judge Jamie Jameson’s removal hearing focused, in part, on his efforts to prevent the story from airing on Murray’s public radio station. (…

In the June 1 installment, Cross expresses alarm about influence peddling and intimidation at Murray State and it's impact on university affiliated journalism. He observes, "We see instances of this from time to time. But it violates a fundamental principle for a university: you create a public forum - hands off!" 

Public records obtained by WPSD through open records requests — that the university only partially fulfilled — reveal a disturbing pattern of interference with WKMS reporting by Jackson, and others, at the behest of state and local officials seeking to avoid negative publicity.

Access to the undisclosed public records is the subject of ongoing open records litigation between WPSD and Murray State.…

One email highlighted in the June 1 installment of WPSD’s multi-part series reads: 

"Dr. Jackson gets complaints in regards to the 'investigative' nature of some of the news...his line was along the lines of 'We're not the New York Times.' And this seems to be the nature of the complaints that are coming to him... I think this may be tied to a perception of [open records] requests that 'reporters stir up trouble.' Or inconvenience. Or maybe shed light in places people don't want it."

Cross comments:

"It's not unusual for politicans to complain about journalism. We can take that. But when the complaint is made to a university president who has a responsibility to keep that journalism independent, then he needs to say something different. He needs to say 'this is an independent news organization and they will rise or fall on the quality of their reporting. I'm not going to interfere with their work.'"

WPSD's June 1 segment identifies additional instances in which officials attempted to exert their political clout and more than one instance in which administrators yielded to these officials’ entreaties. 

A former WKMS reporter described the fate of a story involving a state lawmaker’s Twitter feed “showing nudity, sex acts and other sexual content that were ‘liked’” by the lawmaker — whose district includes Murray State:

"[The] general manager of WKMS at that time, called me at my desk right before we had planned to publish the story and told me to kill it. He told me he couldn't guarantee that my job would be protected if the story ran."

The story was not aired on WKMS, but was published in March by The Kentucky Lantern after the reporter left WKMS and accepted a position at The Lantern, an independent news service affiliated with States Newsroom.…

Jackson has maintained silence about WPSD's reporting. The university has issued a general denial. The legal battle for access to remaining public records responsive to WPSD's request continues. 

Given the damning content of those communications disclosed by the university -- albeit reluctantly and under legal compulsion -- the content of the remaining disputed records must be explosive. 

In concluding comments, Cross commends WPSD for its persistence — both for its fearless in-depth investigative reporting and for its legal battle for public records — declaring:

"What WPSD is doing is standing up for the public. The public has the right to know how public officials at universities, or where ever, are conducting public business. And that's what [WPSD is] trying to find out." 

The Kentucky Open Government Coalition strongly endorses Cross's position as well as WPSD’s courage and commitment to vindicating the principles of a free press.


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