What do a concerned citizen, candidate for county attorney, beloved high school teacher, magistrate candidate, dedicated doctor, County Attorney of the Year, and a Judge Exec candidate have in common?
All women; all targets of a rural Kentucky newspaper editor bent on teaching them a lesson.
In answering a recent question, I said, “Because of the tabloid focus of this newspaper and its Facebook page/comments section, I believe many (if not all) of our elected officials often remain silent or are overly cautious, when what is most needed is candor. Our newspaper is crippling this county.”
Unfortunately, you have to look no further than Editor Ben Carlson’s column last week, “Revisiting 1984 here in Lawrenceburg,” for proof of that statement.
Using phrases like “Big Brother” and “Ministry of Truth,” Mr. Carlson used his powerful position to punch down on Ms. Akers, a regular citizen who dared — dared — to speak in a Fiscal Court meeting.
He wrote, “Akers does what she usually does and wove this newspaper into her remarks. ‘Often what is printed in The Anderson News is not verified,” she said. ‘Therefore it is misleading to readers.’ Verified by who, Ms. Akers? You? The same person who during the past week had to submit several versions of an opinion piece to this newspaper…”
I do not know Ms. Akers personally, which is to say I could not tell you her address, if she is married or has children, what she does for work, etc…. But as regular attendees in Fiscal Court, we exchange the usual pleasantries. She is a kind, smart, thoughtful person. And I can tell you that when Ms. Akers speaks in court, she is respectful and prepared.
That Mr. Carlson would use his platform and endless supply of ink to make fun of a citizen for speaking in a public meeting, for writing letters to the editor, was not only beyond the pale, it was excessively vicious and cruel.
And yet, his words came as no surprise.
Mr. Carlson has honed his reputation for using his pen to punish, to teach a lesson to those who disagree with him ideologically or personally, and it is my observation that his targets are often women.
There was the county attorney’s race, in which Mr. Carlson’s overt bias against Tiffany Azzinaro was an embarrassment to journalism.
He does not like her. We get it. But regardless of political party, we are tired of being beaten over the head with his disdain for her.
There were the constant reminders this election season about those of us who changed our party registration, which Mr. Carlson could have used as an opportunity to inform the public. A professional journalist would have conducted interviews, would have come with a list of sincere, well-thought-out questions about why, and why now.
This did not happen.
There are our hardworking teachers, mostly women, whom Mr. Carlson continually disrespects, like Rebecca Potter who wrote in a letter to me last fall, “Mr. Carlson misrepresented what we teach, erroneously tying CRT to social emotional learning (SEL), which has been around for decades. Teaching our students to be kind to everyone in the classroom, regardless of race or gender, is hardly CRT. We believe every student has value. We do not tolerate racism in the classroom. We teach the truth of history, science, literature, and humanities. We teach our students how to think, not what to think.”
Ms. Potter, a beloved teacher, has left not only our school district but our town.
There was the woman doctor who dared to give her professional, medical opinion during the pandemic. This respected, local physician worked 15 years in the ER and 3 years before that in public health; went on to be the medical director for Anthem’s Healthy Woman program; is a hero who has volunteered numerous times in disaster areas. And yet Mr. Carlson, who personally disagreed with her medical opinion, wrote, “we can thank people like this authoritarian-loving doctor who, and I hope this is true, is retired.”
He continued this storyline, attacking her reputation, for weeks. He never spoke to the doctor.
There was the February 2021 headline about our former county attorney, a woman who honorably served this community for 28 years — she was Kentucky’s Outstanding County Attorney of 2017 — that read in bold, black letters, “Former county attorney’s private business reaped benefits from child support deal.”
There were no benefits reaped. Mr. Carlson said so himself, deep and hard-to-find in his subsequent column, where he wrote, “Never did the column come close to alleging wrongdoing; it was simply to inform the people who paid that rent they had done so.”
Tragically, Mr. Carlson’s disclaimer of his own front-page story is not what appears when you google the former county attorney who, along with her family, has to live with this falsehood, forever on the internet.
There was the headline last November that read, “Magistrate’s allegations fall flat: Attorney sides with Wiedo after Lewis claims ethics violations, breach of attorney-client privilege.” Everyone who heard Magistrate Lewis read her statement — including me — knew she meant that she assumed confidentiality when speaking to or writing to the court’s attorney, as anyone speaking to their attorney would.
Mr. Carlson surely knew this. But there was damage to inflict, a story to spin, newspapers to sell.
I could go on, but there is no need.
Because of the way the editor uses his newspaper, our elected officials — and especially our citizens — often remain silent. And who can blame them?
We are all Ms. Akers. And Mr. Carlson owes Ms. Akers and every citizen he enthusiastically hurts to sell newspapers, an apology.
We all went to school. We read “1984.” And what I know is this: Mr. Carlson is the powerful person George Orwell warned us about. The only Big Brother or Ministry of Truth in Anderson County is our newspaper editor.
I am running this article as a half-page ad in The Anderson News on May 18, 2022.