Charleston, Virginia — A West Virginia journalist lost his job last month after reporting on alleged abuse of people with disabilities within the state agency that runs West Virginia’s foster care and psychiatric facilities.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting reporter Amelia Ferrell Kneisley said her coverage on the Department of Health and Human Resources after the beleaguered agency’s leader “threatened to discredit” a publicly funded television and radio network. She later learned that the part-time position had been removed.
In a statement, Knisely’s news director said he told her the order came from WVPB Executive Director Butch Antolini, former communications director of Republican Governor Jim Justice. Antolini has been executive director since 2021, when his predecessor was ousted after Justice overhauled the agency’s board.
Justice has been accused of unsuccessfully trying to eliminate state funding for the WVPB in the past and appointing partisan operatives to its board. WVPB receives approximately $4 million annually in state funding.
Antolini declined to comment, but other officials denied any attempt to influence the report. West He said that Antolini told the board, “He was not coerced or pressured by anybody,” said William H. Fayle III, president of the Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority. .
In a statement, Files said Knisely was not fired and remained on her WVPB payroll, but said her door keys and email were disabled.
Knisely’s resignation comes at a tumultuous time for the West Virginia media. Days before she left her WVPB, her three reporters for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Charleston Gazette Mail publicly criticized company president Doug, who is a minority leader in the state House of Representatives, for editorial decisions by her Skaff. After that, he said he was fired. Skaff approved and led his video interview with Don Blankenship, a coal company executive convicted of safety violations related to his recent one of the worst coal mining accidents in U.S. history. .
The departure leaves a reduced Capitol corps of reporters to cover the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 11.
Knisely’s story detailed alleged abuse of persons with disabilities under state care. This department cares for some of the most vulnerable residents of one of the poorest states in the United States.
After Knisely’s departure from the WVPB was first reported by Parkersburg News and Sentinel, both Republican Senate Speaker Craig Blair and Democratic Speaker Mike Pushkin called the circumstances surrounding her departure “disturbing.”
Pushkin said Knisely’s coverage of the “obvious problems of DHHR” was “detailed, detailed and most importantly true”.
Blair wrote on Twitter on December 29, “There is a clear difference between disliking the media coverage and actively trying to silence it.”
Knisely was hired as a part-time reporter at WVPB in September. In November, she received a copy of an email from her then-director of DHHR, Bill Crouch, alleging inaccuracies in the article and asking for a “complete retraction.”
That never happened.
A week later, amid mounting criticism, Crouch announced his resignation.
Douglas confirmed to the Associated Press that he was instructed to tell Knisely to stop reporting about DHHR, and that Antolini instructed him to do so.
Regarding threats from DHHR officials to discredit WVPB, he said:
On December 15, Knisely filed a complaint with Human Resources for interference with her report.
Things came to a head later that day over Knisely’s press conference in Congress in 2023, according to emails obtained by the AP and first reported by The Parkersburg News and Sentinel.
Douglas initially told legislative staff that Knisely would “play a key role” in WVPB’s 2023 legislative coverage.
It bothered Senate spokesperson Jack Bland, who asked Douglas about it in an email.
“I find it offensive and suspicious that someone interrupts that one of your reporters won’t have any assignments related to the session,” she wrote.
The next day, Douglas said he was dragged into Antolini’s office and told that “the relationship with Amelia has changed.” He said he didn’t appreciate the WVPB leadership being behind it, but “it’s out of my hands right now.”
“And you’re right, it feels terribly fishy,” he wrote.
Knisely said he was informed that the part-time position would be discontinued on December 20. By that time, her email and keycard had been deactivated.