Who’s on Watch? Q&A with BGA Reporter Kiannah Sepeda-Miller
Tell folks about your pre-coronavirus work for the BGA?
I joined the BGA in late 2017 and became our newsroom’s primary fact-checker the following year as campaigns for the midterm elections began ramping up. The BGA is the Illinois affiliate of PolitiFact, a Pulitzer prize-winning national fact-checking organization. In my role as a fact-checker, I watch out for questionable or surprising claims from politicians and gather the evidence needed to determine whether or not those statements are accurate. You can find all of our fact-checks here, if you’re interested.
How are you doing things differently in light of the pandemic?
I’m still on watch for claims from government leaders, but statements related to the pandemic are now a top priority. Earlier this month, for instance, I looked into Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s claim that it was outside his legal authority to postpone the Illinois primary — something critics had called for in light of the outbreak. And while the subject matter may differ, my process remains the same: find out from the speaker who made the claim what he or she was talking about, reach out to experts and review relevant research, documents or data to determine the facts, then present my findings to my editors, who take a vote on how to rate it. (You can learn more about the fact-checking process here and catch up on all of PolitiFact’s coronavirus coverage here.)
What are you looking for in how governments respond to COVID-19?
First and foremost, I am looking for government leaders to seek guidance from the experts here. This is a time to put politics aside to the greatest extent possible and follow what the facts and the public health professionals tell us. Accuracy is everything. Secondly, I am watching for governments to continue operating as transparently as possible. People need to know what is going on now more than ever, and while keeping government accessible to the public is no doubt more difficult under these unusual circumstances, doing so remains critical.
What government responses to COVID-19 have surprised you? Which ones haven't?
We are in such uncharted territory here that I’m not sure any of the responses by state and local governments to date have surprised me. That said, I have a lot of questions — including some I’ve gotten to explore in my reporting. For example, one reader asked us what gave the state the authority to prohibit dine-in customers at restaurants and bars, and how that order was being enforced. Another asked us why the Chicago Transit Authority is still running on normal weekday schedules even though Illinoisans have been ordered to stay at home as much as possible.
Who are you most worried about during this outbreak?
It’s difficult to imagine anyone I am not concerned for at this time. The people in critical condition and their families, certainly, along with our medical professionals and first responders who lack the full supply of equipment they need to combat this virus and save lives without endangering their own. But also older folks or those with preexisting conditions who may not have a strong support system to help them avoid having to leave their homes. People who rely on public shelters, or those who sit in crowded prisons. The tens of thousands of Illinoisans — and their counterparts across the nation — who have lost their jobs practically overnight. And all of the brave folks who are doing what is necessary to keep things running for the rest of us — our bus drivers, bank tellers, grocery store clerks and delivery people, just to name a few.
As the BGA adapts to the growing challenges facing our community. We want to make sure we are covering the stories that matter most to you. If you have questions about the government's response to the outbreak, visit the "What The Gov?" section of the website. You ask. We investigate.
Kiannah Sepeda-Miller is a reporter with the Better Government Association's investigative team. Prior to joining the BGA, she covered state government for The Associated Press while earning her master's in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield in 2017. She also holds a B.A. in sociology from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.