Sam Youngman

Sam Youngman: When it comes to Matt Bevin, what's a reporter to do?

Kentucky Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin, left, looked on as Democratic candidate Jack Conway responded to a question during a debate Oct. 25 in Richmond.
Kentucky Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin, left, looked on as Democratic candidate Jack Conway responded to a question during a debate Oct. 25 in Richmond. Associated Press

For about the last two years, Matt Bevin, the Republican candidate for governor, has angrily lashed out at anyone who questioned whether he has had tax problems in the past.

When voters have asked him about it, Bevin has called the claims bogus and bunk. And if you own a television, you've probably seen the clip of him saying "I have no tax delinquency problem, nor have I ever."

So it was pretty remarkable earlier this week when Bevin admitted to the Associated Press in an interview that he had, in fact, been late in paying his taxes at least 30 times.

"Sometimes you do pay it late and you pay interest on having paid it late. But you pay the taxes," Bevin said. "That's a cost of capital. You do this all the time in business."

So that takes care of that, right? Mystery solved?

If only.

On Thursday in my hometown, Owensboro, I started to ask Bevin about these inconsistencies on the tax issue, citing the AP story and mentioning the 30 times he has been late on his taxes.

After initially ignoring me, Bevin said, "That's actually not true."

So I asked: "The Associated Press has that wrong?"

"They sure do," he said.

For Bevin, this confusing and contradictory kind of reply isn't the exception. It's a pattern that started when he was running for the U.S. Senate and has continued through this election.

It has given his opponents and their supporters — from Mitch McConnell to Hal Heiner to Jack Conway — ample material to question Bevin's honesty.

And it has created a nightmare for Kentucky's political reporters.

On his taxes, his positions on health care and early childhood education and his problems with his own party, just to name a few examples, Bevin consistently shoots from the hip with statements that just aren't true.

And when he is confronted, often with video evidence of him saying something different, he gets mad, putting those reporters on his enemies list and ignoring their questions or, as he did with me and a few others this week, calling them "an embarrassment to their profession."

That last statement, made to Kentucky Public Radio, came just days after Bevin refused to answer my questions after the debate at Eastern Kentucky University.

When Bevin wouldn't take my questions, other reporters asked why, to which Bevin responded that he'd had a "private conversation" with me to explain why.

The problem? That conversation never happened.

Seriously. It never happened.

After he said that, I admit I was flummoxed, asking Bevin when that conversation supposedly happened.

He didn't answer.

I am under zero illusions about the current standing of the media in this state and this country, and I won't pretend for even a second that anybody is going to weep for political reporters.

Frankly, I think the media deserves some of the criticism that is coming its way.

But I'm not a moderator at a CNBC debate. I'm a Kentuckian. I was born and raised here. My family lives here. It's my home.

I also have two functioning eyes and ears. When somebody says something, then turns around and says they "never ever" said that very thing, I tend to regard that as a break from the truth and worthy of a news story.

I'm not out to get Bevin, and I'm not trying to elect Jack Conway.

I will not vote in this election, just as I have not voted in any election that I've covered for more than a decade.

But I also won't be intimidated into ignoring obvious and consistent patterns of a candidate saying things that are demonstrably untrue.

I've covered more candidates and elections than I can remember. I've been doing this — from school board elections to presidential campaigns — about as long as Bevin has been a Kentuckian.

If he wants to attack me and other reporters for questioning the veracity of his statements, that's fine.

It's nothing new to me, although I will admit that he takes it to a level I've never experienced before.

And if this column seems self-serving or defensive, I apologize. Maybe it's both.

But Kentucky voters deserve the truth. And it's my job to do what I can to get it for them.

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