Politics & Government

Bevin criticizes Herald-Leader for editorial cartoon involving his adopted children

Kentucky Governor-elect Matt Bevin addresses reporters during a press conference held in the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda, Friday, Nov. 6, 2015, in Frankfort, Ky.
Kentucky Governor-elect Matt Bevin addresses reporters during a press conference held in the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda, Friday, Nov. 6, 2015, in Frankfort, Ky. Associated Press

Gov.-elect Matt Bevin strongly criticized the Lexington Herald-Leader Thursday for an editorial cartoon about his opposition to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Kentucky that mentions Bevin’s adopted children.

The cartoon, drawn by editorial cartoonist Joel Pett, depicted a nervous Bevin cowering under a desk with four photos and his nameplate atop it and a map of Syria and a newspaper with the word “Paris” on the floor. An aide is saying, “Sir, they’re not terrorists ... they’re your own adopted kids.”

Bevin and his wife, Glenna, have nine children. Four were adopted from Ethiopia. Their oldest biological daughter, Brittiney, died at age 17 in a 2003 car accident.

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words,” Bevin said in a statement. “Indeed, today, the Lexington Herald-Leader chose to articulate with great clarity the deplorably racist ideology of ‘cartoonist’ Joel Pett. Shame on Mr. Pett for his deplorable attack on my children and shame on the editorial controls that approved this overt racism.”

Bevin added: “Let me be crystal clear, the tone of racial intolerance being struck by the Herald-Leader has no place in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and will not be tolerated by our administration.” He did not elaborate.

Pett, in a telephone interview, said he is “not a racist.”

“When Bevin has time to think about it — and there will be recurring criticism of his administration — I think he will view things differently,” Pett said.

Pett said he would “chalk up Bevin’s reaction to inexperience on his part.”

In a response published by the Herald-Leader, Pett said the cartoon does not attack Bevin’s children.

“The fact that he adopted children from Africa, a continent whose promise and challenges I routinely draw about, is the thing I admire the most about Bevin,” Pett wrote. “I did use the fact that he has children from another country in a piece designed to express outrage over a legitimate hot-button political issue.”

He noted that Bevin’s children played a prominent role in television advertisements touting their father.

Herald-Leader editorial page editor Vanessa J. Gallman said she approved Pett’s cartoon about Bevin.

“I was fine with the cartoon,” she said. “I knew it would be provocative and would generate debate. I did not see in it the issue of race that Bevin has raised. That was a surprise.”

Gallman added: “Often people see different things in cartoons than editors do. That’s what makes democracy work.”

Bevin, who takes office Dec. 8, told The Associated Press on Monday that he would oppose the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Kentucky “until we can better determine the full extent of any risks to our citizens.” In contrast, outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear said Kentucky should do “the Christian thing” and welcome refugees who have cleared an extensive vetting process.

Barbara S. Cochran, an endowed professor at the Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia, Mo., said the media generally do not focus on the children of public officials “unless the children do something that justifies their being in the news.”

Cochran did not comment on Pett’s cartoon but noted that, when she was Washington bureau chief for CBS News, the Clinton administration asked the news media to “leave alone” the president’s young daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

“It generally had to be unusual circumstances for the media to cover her,” Cochran said. “That has been normal practice of the media clear up to President Obama and his children.”

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics