Montana Politics The Media

The IR On Its Debate Coverage: We Rock!

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Okay, I lied.

The Independent Record posted an editorial  (link added) this morning congratulating itself and the rest of the media in Montana for their coverage of the Tester-Burns debate. Basically, readers should apparently be thankful for the incisive coverage that included such critical analysis as:

Republican Burns said Tester has a ‘‘liberal mind,’’ and has voted for tax increases as a member of the Montana Legislature and is wrong on his ideas about fighting terrorists.

Tester blasted Burns’ support of the U.S. Patriot Act, and what he characterized as the erosion of freedoms under the current administration. He also took Burns to task a number of times for his role in record federal budget deficits.

As long as the role of the media is transmission of information without critical insight, it will be no better than paid advertising in terms of spin. The story shouldn’t be the message or talking points of candidates, but useful analysis of what was said, and that should include looking into misstatements and falsehoods. I’m not asking the IR or any other paper to endorse Tester, or to give him a free pass, but to scrutinize both candidates. If one of them was less honest than the other, reporting that isn’t bias; it’s analysis.
The IR writes of the coverage:

All major daily newspapers responded with front-page stories above the fold, and their Web sites provided quick and balanced coverage.

It’s not balanced to depict the debate as an exchange of ideas between two candidates; it’s not balanced to depict the candidates as equally trustworthy. One candidate repeatedly lied in the debate–about his own record, and about past Congressional/Presidential action. Because newspapers are so afraid of appearing biased, they don’t analyze anything, giving politicians who lie a free pass.

From Senate races to global warming, the press is simply too willing to present two sides to an issue as equally true, when they are demonstrably not. At what point did the role of the media transform from informing the public to merely providing a megaphone for each partisan side? At some point the media’s pious invocations about the importance of a free press ring awfully hollow when the Fourth Estate seems more like a servant to the interests and lies of the others.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

5 Comments

  • I sent my little contribution of fact checking to all the major dailies and the independent weeklies. I doubt the majors will be asking for any more input. 🙂

  • Perhaps most humorously, that story you quote is the AP story. From what I can tell, the Lee reporter who covered it was Michael Jamison of the Missoulian. None of the state bureau appears to have written about it.

    I really need to write more posts lauding the coverage the blogs have given this race.

  • Yeah, exactly. Unless there was something in the printed version of the IR that I missed, the AP was all they offered.

    The part I don’t get is that Lee has some talened political writers who can write critical analysis–I just don’t seem them getting used too often.

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