Harassment of journalists on the rise in Kentucky as state’s best political reporter calls it quits

by Paul Oliva, Web Editor

In recent years, Kentucky has witnessed an alarming rise in the harassment of journalists, a trend that threatens not just the individuals targeted but also the public’s access to vital information. Journalists are increasingly finding themselves at the receiving end of vitriol, intimidation, and even threats, often fueled by political divisions. This hostile environment has real-world consequences, as seen in the case of Olivia Krauth, a former reporter for the Courier Journal.

The relentless harassment of Olivia Krauth

On June 19, 2023, Krauth reported on Twitter that she had been subjected to “relentless” harassment by supporters of Governor Andy Beshear after she fact-checked claims he made. The harassment was described as “gaslighting insanity,” emphasizing the emotional and psychological toll it took on the journalist.

A plea for respect, ignored

A few days later, Krauth took to Twitter to express her frustration. On June 21, she encouraged those who disagreed with her journalistic approach to simply unfollow her. “I’m sick of people harassing me. If you can’t like not harass me, leave. Truly. Please,” she tweeted.

By August, the harassment had not abated. On August 7, Krauth tweeted about being tired of having to fight for a modicum of respect. She noted that the responses to her tweets were essentially telling her to “shut up.”

On August 19, Krauth highlighted the futility of online tools like the Twitter block feature in preventing harassment. She stated that harassment had been her “lived reality” for over three years.

The final straw: resignation

Finally, on August 25, Krauth announced her resignation from the Courier Journal, expressing her devastation and calling it an “absolute shame.” Her departure was part of a larger trend at the Courier Journal, where 30 people had left in a year and a half, indicating systemic issues within the organization.

The bigger picture

Krauth’s experience is not an isolated incident but part of a broader pattern of harassment that is pushing journalists out of the field, thereby undermining the public’s access to reliable information. As Dahlia Ghabour, another journalist, pointed out, Krauth was the 10th reporter to leave the Courier Journal this year, and the third to cite management issues.

A personal reflection on harassment in citizen journalism

In July 2022, I founded The Lexington Times out of a growing concern that Lexington’s local media often donned “rose-colored glasses” when reporting on the myriad issues plaguing our community. While I don’t claim my work to be on par with the journalistic quality of Olivia Krauth, the harassment I’ve faced as a volunteer citizen journalist has been relentless.

Digital barriers are indeed futile

Krauth is absolutely right: the block feature on social media platforms is essentially useless. Harassers simply create new accounts to continue their vitriol. The digital realm offers no sanctuary from the constant attacks.

A personal and ableist attack from an elected official

Once, after creating a light-hearted meme about eight members of Lexington’s Urban County Council blatantly and publicly violating state open meeting laws, a local elected official took to their personal Facebook account to out me for having received mental health treatment in the past and attack me on the basis of my status as a person living with mental illness. The official, a close ally of Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, incorrectly assumed I was somehow associated with Beshear’s reelection campaign, and went to the extraordinary length of suggesting they would take their grievance against me up with the governor himself, a thinly veiled reference to the disproportionate access political insiders have to the mechanisms of power and control.

A Lexington elected official recently attacked The Lexington Times on the basis of its editor’s mental health status. The post was made in retaliation for a light hearted meme about eight council members who violated the Kentucky Open Meetings Act. (Facebook)

No one from Beshear’s team ever followed up with me, but this deeply personal and ableist attack shook me to my core and made me consider quitting journalism altogether. I am choosing not to name the elected official to avoid further retaliation.

The Irony of Political Allegiance

Interestingly, despite being an openly left-leaning publication, the harassment I receive is almost exclusively from liberals—specifically, neoliberals. This predominantly white and privileged subset of the left generally avoids addressing issues related to poverty and class consciousness. It’s as if politicians and political parties are sports teams to them; if you voted for a candidate, you are duty-bound to defend them ruthlessly, never questioning their actions and attacking anyone who dares to do so.

The Echoes of Krauth’s Experience

The fact that Krauth’s most targeted harassment came after an article fact-checking Democratic Governor Andy Beshear is telling. It underscores the point that loyalty to a political figure often trumps the pursuit of truth, even among those who identify as “progressive.”

A Reflection

The harassment Kentucky journalists have faced is not just an attack on us as individuals; it’s an attack on the very essence of journalism and, by extension, democracy itself. When journalists are harassed into silence, it’s not just our voices that are stifled, but also the voices of the communities we aim to serve. The harassment comes not just from the fringes but from within our own supposed ideological allies, revealing a disturbing trend of tribalism over truth.

The experience has been both disheartening and enlightening. It’s shown me the lengths people will go to silence those who challenge their preconceived notions or the image of their chosen leaders. But it has also strengthened my resolve to continue, to push through the harassment and the personal attacks because the role of journalism in holding power to account is too crucial to be silenced.

The rising tide of harassment against journalists in Kentucky is not just our problem; it’s everyone’s problem. And until we address it as a community, our understanding of the world will be nothing more than a reflection of our own prejudices, rather than an informed perspective based on facts and truth.