Public examination of individual or governmental misdeeds can be rough and troubling; but if government and those who run it can choose what’s said and reported about them, we are lost.
And that’s why it’s important to set the record straight — despite the tragic circumstances of her husband’s suicide last week — on Rebecca Johnson’s attack on both a potential political opponent and the careful reporting of a legitimate news organization.
Early last week, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting published the results of a well-documented investigation into Rep. Dan Johnson, an unconventional preacher who last year was elected despite losing the support of his Republican Party over racist postings of images of President Barack Obama and his family with ape-like features.
The most explosive of the allegations in KyCIR’s report was that he had sexually molested a teenager staying overnight with his daughter after a drunken New Year’s Eve in 2012. The accuser allowed her name to be used and had filed a police report at the time.
But there was much more, based on documentary evidence that the report links to and/or extensive interviews with named sources. There were detailed accounts of two arson cases, alcohol-beverage violations involving his church and big and small inaccuracies in his account of his own history.
Johnson publicly denied the findings on Tuesday and killed himself the next day, last Wednesday.
A day after his death, his widow repeated the denials and called KyCIR’s report “trash,” alleging it was the work of political opponents, specifically former Rep. Linda Belcher, whom Dan Johnson beat last November. Both Rebecca Johnson and Belcher have indicated they will run in a special election to fill the vacancy created by Dan Johnson’s death.
KyCIR reported that Maranda Richmond, who alleged the molestation, emailed her story to Belcher during the 2016 campaign. Belcher took no action other than to pass the information on to Democratic Party leaders, who also did nothing. This belies Rebecca Johnson’s claim that the reporting was politically motivated, paid for by what she called “liberal organizations.”
No one can fault Rebecca Johnson for honoring her husband’s memory.
But that is not a license for a would-be lawmaker to spin paranoid fantasies or dismiss as “trash” important reporting that raised legitimate, serious questions about an elected official.