Kentucky station offers staffers counseling after lawmaker’s suicide

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Louisville Public Media is providing counselors to its journalists after a Kentucky lawmaker who was the subject of a major investigative report killed himself.

The report by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, part of LPM, uncovered allegations that State Rep. Dan Johnson had sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl in the church where he worked as a pastor. The five-part story and accompanying podcast, which posted Monday, also reported on inconsistencies in Johnson’s accounts of his experiences following the 9/11 terror attacks and pointed to evidence of possible insurance fraud.

On Wednesday night, LPM reported that Johnson, 57, had killed himself. A note Johnson posted on Facebook erroneously cited NPR coverage of the allegations.

At a staff meeting Thursday morning, “lots of people shared their feelings,” LPM President Michael Skoler told Current. “They expressed support for one another and pride in the organization. Many people expressed their support for the journalists involved. They’re on the front line of these investigations.”

Of 56 full-time station employees, some 20 are journalists, Skoler said. Management is arranging for counselors to be available Thursday afternoon, and a hotline will be set up for staffers so they can talk with counselors “at any time,” Skoler said.

“We’re touching base with all our journalists, making sure everyone is safe,” he said, adding that the station also is “taking precautions in the building” due to the nature of the reporting. “We’ve had that security here all week,” Skoler said.

The station had “quite an extensive team” involved in the investigation, he said, including reporters R.G. Dunlop and Jacob Ryan, three editors, an audio producer and a social media strategist.

Dunlop and Ryan will not be involved in coverage of Johnson’s suicide, Skoler said.

Skoler said there’s been a “tremendous outpouring of support” from listeners, members and other supporters nationwide, as well as community advisory board members and trustees.

“One of the most important things for us is, this now becomes a story about consequences of harassment claims,” Skoler said. “This is about the failure of institutions to follow up on these accusations.”

A “diminished press corps” in Kentucky and entities such as law enforcement, the alcohol control bureau and political parties “failed for a variety of reasons to look into these allegations and fact-check the candidate’s statements,” Skoler said. “This is a broader story.”

Skoler issued a public statement that LPM staffers “are deeply sad” at Johnson’s death. The statement said that reporters contacted Johnson “numerous times” during the seven-month investigation, but he declined to respond.

Prior to his death, Johnson posted a note on Facebook that said in part “accusations from NPR are false.” NPR responded in coverage of his suicide that it had “neither investigated the story nor aired or published it.”

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