Sue Wylie made the powerful squirm
‘Fearless’ Kentucky broadcast journalist created a platform for holding government and its officials accountable
Sue Wylie and Ronald Reagan on “Your Government” in 1976. (WLEX)
Sue Wylie was a top-flight journalist. She was smart, intuitive, well-read, always prepared, and fearless. Sue was unfazed by someone’s title, political influence, wealth, or social position.
Most of the guests who appeared on her “Your Government” program fell into one or more of those categories.
I became a regular panelist along with Lexington Herald editor Don Edwards shortly after Sue inaugurated the public affairs program in the mid-1970s.
Later Carl West, the editor of the Frankfort State Journal, replaced Edwards as the lead panelist.
Carl always had the first question and he never pulled a punch. It was clear to guests from the get-go that “Your Government” would be no cascade of softball questions.
“Your Government” quickly became “must-see TV” for Kentucky’s political community.
Long-time and well-known government officials, high-profile business and social figures, as well as those aspiring to elected office or social prominence occupied the guest’s chair next to Sue on the set, Sunday after Sunday.
The program always began with a detailed introduction from Sue regarding the background and current status of the guest.
Much to the chagrin of some, Sue’s introduction included not just the good, but also the bad and the occasional ugly.
Several guests were visibly perspiring by the time she had concluded her introduction; while reflecting a “what have I gotten myself into?” demeanor.
Of the hundreds of “Your Government” programs I participated in, a number are memorable.
Sue invited two of the top officials of the Ku Klux Klan. Both showed up in full Klan regalia, including the cone-shaped headgear.
It was somewhat hard to keep a straight face, sitting across from Sue (always impeccably dressed) who was flanked by the Imperial Wizard and his aide-de-camp, attired in “all white” garb.
Then, there was the night civil rights activist and presidential hopeful the Rev. Jesse Jackson came to Lexington.
As part of his lengthy agenda while in Kentucky, Jackson had agreed to a quick interview with Sue. But she had her own agenda.
She had the stage set up for a 30-minute “Your Government” program, not just a brief, shotgun interview as the Jackson camp had scheduled and expected.
When he arrived, Sue guided the unsuspecting Jackson to the guest’s seat on the makeshift set and began the program. Jackson appeared flummoxed and kept glancing at his aides.
Thirty minutes later, after parrying some pointed questions, he was thanked by Sue for his time and patience. Jackson left, still appearing somewhat puzzled as to what had just occurred.
There was the Sunday morning Sue got stood up on a live broadcast of “Your Government” by a veteran state politician, who had gubernatorial aspirations.
Sue did not take kindly to the snub.
As the clock approached airtime, the floor director asked Sue if they should go directly to a rerun of some old sitcom.
“No,” Sue replied. “Open up live on me, then focus the camera on the empty guest’s chair. Then we can join the sitcom in progress.”
When the red camera light came on Sue explained the guest had failed to appear “without even having had the courtesy to call in advance to cancel.” The station then joined the fill-in program.
The guest who ghosted Sue eventually ran for governor of Kentucky but was soundly defeated. During the gubernatorial campaign, he was not invited to appear on “Your Government”.
Although Don Edwards and Carl West always had the first question, it was Sue who always had the final one, and it was often the most poignant and personal of the entire program.
And it usually came with less than a minute left in the program.
One guest was the relative of a prominent elected state official. As she was receiving the one-minute wrap from the floor director, Sue looked Guest X directly in the eyes and said, “There are rumors in Frankfort….”
Guest X became ashen-faced and started fidgeting and stuttering.
Before they could articulate a coherent response, time expired. The program ends. The guest leaps from his chair and stomps off the set.
Sue Wylie’s “Your Government” program was one of a kind due to her outstanding journalism skills and the force of her personality.
Like many of our colleagues in Kentucky, Sue and I shared a belief that it was the fourth estate’s duty to hold government and its officials accountable. The “Your Government” platform she created was an excellent vehicle for doing so.
Sue, rest in peace, and thanks for the memories.
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