Gov. Mike Parson had some harsh words for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in a press briefing Wednesday.
He said the newspaper’s editorial board had produced “one of the most disgraceful things” in a paper that day when it “referred” to all residents outside the St. Louis region as “simple-minded rural Missourians.”
Parson, who was born in Hickory County and now calls Bolivar home, said he couldn’t believe the paper would say something like that “at a time of crisis when people are dying, when everybody is trying to work together to make this state better.”
But that “simple-minded” descriptor was nowhere to be found in the paper Wednesday.
It did not appear in Post-Dispatch editorials online, in an electronic version of Wednesday’s print edition, or in a physical copy of the paper obtained by this reporter's father in St. Louis County.
Editorial writers said that’s because they didn’t use the phrase.
“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” Tod Robberson, the Post-Dispatch’s editorial page editor said in an interview. “I’m flummoxed.”
A spokeswoman for the governor did not immediately respond to a text message or an email asking where the governor had seen the descriptor.
There was an editorial in Wednesday’s paper urging rural residents to heed warnings about the threat of the novel coronavirus as it spreads there.
It said the early prevalence of the virus in cities fed a belief among many rural Americans that it would not affect them.
The editorial also said rural America would “face some unique problems” with the virus, “including older-than-average populations, lack of hospitals, lack of medical insurance" — concerns shared by experts across the country — "and a sense of complacency or tough-it-out self-reliance that too many rural-state political leaders have encouraged.”
The editorial also criticized “rural-state governors,” including Parson, for being slower to issue stay-at-home orders “than their urban counterparts, further signaling to their citizens that this wasn’t a threat.”
But Robberson said nothing in it insulted rural Missourians’ intelligence.
“We didn’t imply it. We didn’t hint at it. And that’s not how we feel,” he said.
Gilbert Bailon, the paper’s executive editor and another member of the editorial board, said the same thing.
“It’s unfair, it’s inaccurate,” he said of the Parson’s comments. “And I would challenge the governor to produce where we said that.”
A cursory search found one place it may have come from.
John Combest, a conservative blogger who aggregates links to Missouri political news each day and often critiques stories with rewritten headlines, prefaced the editorial, “Simple-minded rural Missourians vulnerable to ‘seductive voices of uninformed pundits.’”
The headline referenced the editorial’s last sentence, which urged rural residents to listen to warnings from Parson and other governors rather than conservative pundits who have downplayed the pandemic.
Robberson said nothing about that sentence or listening to conservative pundits meant rural residents are “simple-minded,” though.
He added that if Combest’s blog is where the Parson got the phrase, the governor "needs to go to the source instead.”
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.