Politics & Government

Jones says McGrath’s campaign got him pulled from TV show. But did she get him fired?

Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones used his radio show Monday to wade into the controversy over LEX18’s decision to fire him last week, saying the campaign of Democratic Senate candidate Amy McGrath got him pulled from his television show last month.

“I knew they had done it,” Jones said Monday morning, adding that he was reluctant to say anything publicly because he didn’t want to appear whiny.

He stopped short of directly blaming McGrath for his ultimate firing on Friday, unlike an article published Sunday by online publication The Intercept that cited anonymous sources who said McGrath campaign manager Mark Nickolas bragged about getting Jones fired.

The McGrath campaign immediately denied any involvement in the firing.

“Despite an unnamed source’s claim, we had nothing to do with this firing,” said Terry Sebastian, McGrath’s spokesman. “Any further comment on this matter should be directed to the station’s general manager.”

When asked if the campaign contributed to getting Jones removed from the show in July, Sebastian said it was a decision made by the station.

“Again, the decision was the management of the station’s which is an independent news outlet,” Sebastian said.

Jones — who has long talked about his ambition to run for public office — was pulled on July 16 from his job hosting Hey Kentucky! until he made a decision about running for U.S. Senate in 2020.

In a note sent to employees at LEX18 Friday, station vice president Patrick Dalbey said Jones was taken off the air to “protect our objectivity” and that he was fired because he was still mulling a run for Senate and because of his decision to write a book critical of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, called “Mitch Please,” which was announced Thursday.

Jones disputed that reasoning Monday.

“I told them about the book in June,” Jones said. “That’s not the reason.”

Kari Wethington, a spokeswoman for E.W. Scripps, the company that owns LEX18, said Monday the decision to fire Jones was not influenced by a political campaign.

“WLEX’s decision to part ways with Matt Jones was made independently, without any influence from political campaigns,” Wethington said.

The will-he, won’t-he game by Jones has cast a shadow on the early stages of McGrath’s campaign for U.S. Senate. McGrath pulled in more than $5 million during the first week of her campaign last month, but Jones was among several early critics who said she appeared inauthentic during her launch. In an early gaffe, McGrath said she would have voted to confirm U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and then quickly backtracked.

“I think she has let the national Democratic Party and the consultants consult her to death. They have literally taken the personality out of her,” Jones said at a Kentucky Chamber of Commerce forum in July.

Shortly after those comments, Jones was pulled from hosting his nightly television show. It was strongly implied at the time that complaints from McGrath’s campaign prompted the decision (Jones said a campaign complained and the McConnell campaign said it wasn’t them) and Jones later said McGrath got him pulled off the show at a rotary club event in Hopkinsville.

Jones was critical of Nickolas during his show Monday, though he didn’t mention the campaign manager by name. Jones said he was not a source for The Intercept story, which he said meant the McGrath campaign must have talked about it.

“You made it public,” Jones said of the McGrath campaign. “Leave aside the vindictiveness, it’s also just stupid.”

The prospect of a hotly-contested Democratic primary to challenge McConnell is appealing to some Democrats, including U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, who said in July that a primary “can be helpful” when preparing to run against McConnell. Others fear a competitive primary could drain resources from the eventual winner, leaving them vulnerable as they face a prolific fundraiser who once said the keys to building a political party were “money, money, money.”

Jones said he has not yet decided whether he will challenge McGrath, but that the decision will come “soon.” He said his decision won’t be affected by the loss of his television show.

“Whatever I decide to do, it’s not because of this,” Jones said.

Democrats Mike Broihier, Steven Cox and Bennie Smith are also in the race.