W. Va. journalist fired after exposing alleged abuse of disabled individuals at foster care, state facilities

West Virginia journalist Amelia Ferrell Knisely was fired in December after she purportedly exposed alleged abuse of disabled individuals in foster care and psychiatric-run state facilities following being warned not to report on it.

Knisely claims she was let go from her part-time job at West Virginia Public Broadcasting after she refused to be censored over her reporting, according to the New York Post.

“I was let go from my job at WVPB last week following threats from DHHR about my reporting on DHHR’s treatment of people with disabilities,” she tweeted on Dec. 28.

That tweet was followed by another that stated, “I am deeply concerned about the state of WV media. It is our job as reporters to watch & report on decision makers. In our state, one of the poorest, not everyone can drive to the Capitol where decisions are being made. Not everyone has internet access to stream meetings.”

Knisely wrote in December about an advocacy group accusing the state of failing to properly institutionalize disabled persons. The group accused the state of “‘patient dumping’ or ‘warehousing patients’ by allowing them to remain unnecessarily institutionalized.”

She also noted a letter that Republican Senate President Craig Blair sent to Gov. Jim Justice which requested a formal investigation into the allegations.

According to the journalist, leaders at the health department “threatened to discredit” WVPB, a publicly funded television and radio network over the issue. Instead of allowing that to happen, the network reportedly terminated Knisely.

“It is crucial for the press to hold government agencies accountable,” Knisely declared in a statement on Tuesday. “It must be emphasized that these events followed my reporting on the mistreatment of people with disabilities, who are in state care.”

The reporter asserts that the order to terminate her came from WVPB executive director Butch Antolini, the former communications director for Gov. Justice. He took the position in 2021 after his predecessor was booted following an overhaul of the agency’s governing board. The governor has also previously attempted to eliminate the annual $4 million in state funding for WVPB.

Antolini has not commented on the firing but other officials are denying that there was any effort to influence coverage.

West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority chairman William H. File III is asserting that Knisely was not fired and is still on the station’s payroll. He flatly stated that Antolini “was not coerced or pressured by anyone.”

For Knisely’s part, she says that the state requested from her a “complete retraction” on a story she wrote in November, one month after she was hired at WVPB. It never happened but her news director, Eric Douglas, told her she couldn’t cover the state health department anymore because the state was threatening to discredit the network.

The journalist went on to file a human resources complaint on Dec. 15 over the alleged ongoing censorship of her reporting. She was informed five days later that part-time positions were being eliminated at the network. Her email and key card stopped working soon after that.

After Knisely’s termination from WVPB, both Republican Senate President Craig Blair and Democratic Party Chair Mike Pushkin called the circumstances around her departure “disturbing,” according to the Associated Press.

Pushkin asserted Knisely’s coverage of “the glaring issues at DHHR” was “detailed, in-depth, and most importantly true.”

“There’s a very clear difference between not liking what the media reports and actively working to silence them,” Blair wrote on Twitter.

The Register-Herald has since hired Knisely to cover the legislative session.

Republished with permission from American Wire News Service

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