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MSU president inadvertently implicated

Story originally written Oct. 31, 2022*, published Nov. 21, 2023

HOPKINSVILLE, KY – Testimony given during a misconduct hearing brought against a western Kentucky circuit judge by the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission (JCC) in October (2022) implied that the administration of Murray State University (MSU) used its budgetary authority to penalize its public radio station, WKMS, over the content of news stories.

JCC attorney Jeffrey C. Mando called former WKMS Station Manager Chad Lampe to the stand on day one of the four-day hearing to testify regarding the seventh count of misconduct against Judge Jamie Jameson. That count centered around conversations he had with Lampe regarding an open records request filed by one of the station’s reporters.

Last spring (2021), the WKMS newsroom received a tip that there was video surveillance footage of the judge walking around the courthouse in his undergarments very early in the morning. The station submitted an open records request to the Administrative Office of the Courts for that footage, which was denied. 

In April, the judge contacted Lampe about the records request. During the conversation, he advised that he had already spoken to MSU President Bob Jackson and told Lampe that Jackson “was not happy” about the situation. In his defense, Jameson maintained that he only called the president of the university to find out who to talk to at the radio station. 

By Lampe’s account, the judge explained what was on the video and wanted assurance there would not be a story about it. Lampe advised that, although it did not sound like a news story, because the news director maintains editorial control of the WKMS newsroom, not the station manager, he would let the news director know what the judge said about the video and get back with their decision. Lampe noted shielding the news director from knowing the judge had contacted Jackson because it would have “complicated matters for them.” 

Regarding the newsworthiness of the story, Lampe’s testimony was consistent with a statement released by WKMS following the announcement of Count VII in early October (2022).

“We want to clarify that the incident the station reporter requested footage of – when explained by Jameson – was not deemed newsworthy because of its personal nature,” the statement said. “Editorial decisions are made by the news director who works to shed light on issue-based stories that impact lives in our communities. The WKMS news team has not and would not compromise its editorial integrity for any person, in any position.”

After speaking with the news director, Lampe contacted the judge to let him know there would not be a story and said he would appreciate him letting Jackson know “this isn’t an issue.” 

Within days of the conversation, Lampe testified, he received an email from David Eaton, dean of the Bauernfeind College of Business, which houses the radio station within the university structure, requesting that he send an accounting of his conversations with the judge to Provost Timothy Todd. Lampe assumed Todd’s inquiry was prompted by the judge’s call to Jackson as he did not divulge having the conversation with anyone other than his limited conversation about it with the news director, wherein he intentionally did not mention Jackson’s involvement.

Jameson’s attorney Richard L. Walter questioned Lampe about the timing of his complaint to the JCC. Lampe advised that he never would have contacted the JCC while he still worked at WKMS; after that, he was settling in at his new job.

“It was a moment of conscience,” Lampe said. “I had been reading the recent reports (about the Jameson case) and I thought, ‘I believe what the judge (did) was intimidating or unethical; and I believe that, if the public employs a judge to do a certain job, then he should be acting in a way that is ethical.’ I think the public has a right to know.”

The commission investigated numerous complaints related to the judge pressuring people to do things as well as engaging in retaliatory tactics; therefore, discussion around any potential retribution Lampe could have endured as a result of not doing what the judge wanted was necessary to understanding the context of the charge, which was complicated by the fact that Lampe left his position at WKMS within two months of his conversations with the judge.

From the beginning Lampe made clear that, while the incident with the judge “precipitated” his departure, it was by no means the only factor that played a role in him leaving the university. During the JCC’s cross-examination, Court of Appeals Judge Glenn E. Acree sought to clarify how the incident with the judge did factor into Lampe’s resignation.

“Would it be fair to say it wasn’t so much somebody who was the subject of the story trying to stop it – you said that’s regular – but what was affecting to you was that the administration was letting (the judge) affect them?” he asked. Lampe called that a fair assessment.

It was clear by Lampe’s account that the interactions with the judge came on the heels of budget decisions for the upcoming fiscal year, which he said were likely already made prior to his conversations with the judge. His testimony implied that WKMS’ allocation was reduced because other sources of news stories had complained directly to Jackson about the newsroom’s editorial choices.

On April 13 (2022), Lampe, in his role as station manager, sent an email to the station’s members informing them that the university administration cut $50,000 in funding to the station in the upcoming fiscal year. Late that afternoon, Lampe sent another email to say the university “had already identified other sources of funds so that WKMS would be held harmless in the new fiscal year” and apologized for not making that point clear in his previous email.

During the hearing, Walter first confirmed Lampe left the university on his own accord then asked if he had been subject to any disciplinary actions resulting from the incident with the judge. Lampe advised that he had not but added that the administration’s inquiry felt like a punishment, noting the request for information was unusual and “based on comments from an elected official.”

“There was no direct punishment to me,” Lampe said upon further questioning, “but the public radio station had received changes in their budgetary allocation as you would see lawmakers contact university officials. … I can say that the station – not necessarily me, but the station – could receive some negative blow back from the administration.”

Pushing for clarification, Walter asked if anyone in the administration informed Lampe that the radio station’s budget cuts were made to punish the station.

“If you were in the meeting that I was in, you could read between the lines,” Lampe answered, presumably referring to a budgetary meeting he had with university administrators around the time of the conversation with the judge.

In a follow-up question, Walter noted that drafting a budget is a process, not something that is changed on a whim.

“In some cases, yes, but in other cases it can be pretty simple,” Lampe noted. “In this scenario, things happened quite rapidly related to the budget changes at the station that were surprising. Again, I’m not saying (the incident with the judge) is the particular instance that precipitated a lot of things; I don’t want you to misinterpret that.” 

Court of Appeals Judge Jeff S. Taylor asked how many times, over the course of Lampe’s tenure, did a president of the university contact him regarding a story the station was about to report.

“In 15 years of working at WKMS,” Lampe said, “I recall the president being involved, or having some level of, not necessarily direct input, but attempted influence on three different stories in the last few years.”

Upon follow-up from Taylor, Lampe added, “I believe sources may have contacted the president directly, without my knowledge.”

About Jackson, specifically, Taylor asked if he had been involved in inquiring about news stories. Lampe said he would not call it “routine” and noted, “The president has no editorial control over the newsroom. Now, control and perceived control are two different things.”

During his time for questioning, Jefferson Circuit Judge Mitch Perry asked Lampe to explain what he meant by actual versus perceived control.

“Newsrooms operate independently, and they should,” Lampe said. “… I believe that, in some cases, administrators feel as though they may have control over the content of the newsroom; but if it’s truly a newsroom, they should not have control of the content that comes out because journalists are working in the public interest.” 

*This story was originally written and submitted by this reporter in October 2022 after covering the final hearing in the JCC’s proceedings against Jameson for the Murray Ledger & Times. The Ledger & Times declined to print it. Permission for another media outlet to publish the story was offered but only in exchange for this reporter’s resignation. As of September 2023, this reporter has no affiliation with that organization. 

Portions of the foregoing were included in a Murray Ledger & Times story printed in March 2023 about a lawsuit filed in Calloway Circuit Court by Paducah television station WPSD-TV against MSU over open records requests, presumably motivated by the above-referenced testimony. The preceding is the original story, only edited to add date references for clarity. 

Sentinel Staff

Jessica Paine
I’m Jessica Paine, founder of The Murray Sentinel. You may know me from my time as a citizen journalist, running the Calloway Covid-19 Count page on Facebook, or you may be familiar with my more recent work for another local news outlet. Being that I’m “from here,” you may have known me since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although you knew me as Jessica Jones. But whether you know me or not, I’m glad you found your way here.

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