Helena Independent Record Bans Planned Parenthood from “Health” Fair

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The Helena Independent Record has, unfortunately, once again put ideology ahead of information. This time, they jeopardized health at the same time.

The Independent Record hosted its 5th annual Health Fair today at the Civic Center, but disinvited a critically important local health care provider to meet an ideological agenda. The Independent Record invited Planned Parenthood to attend the fair, but subsequently, weeks later, sent a staffer to Planned Parenthood to return the organization’s check and disinvite them.

When asked for an explanation, Planned Parenthood staffers were told that the IR has decided not to invite groups on “either side of the issue.” Apparently, Cervical Cancer Advocates of America were not available to defend the disease.

Planned Parenthood, despite the overheated rhetoric from the Montana GOP, provides a wide variety of health services in our community and state. In 2010, Planned Parenthood served 1685 patients, with services ranging from STI/STD screening to birth control.

I’m also told that reporters were told  that they could not cover Planned Parenthood’s protest of the event, which drew a crowd of advocates for women’s health. This rally, of almost exactly the same size, drew front page extensive print and web coverage, one assumes, because guns and tri-corner hats were involved.

As Planned Parenthood’s press release notes:

“Anti-choice sentiment and politicization should not weaken our ability to advocate for our patients or have access to the only newspaper in Helena. The IR seems perfectly content to accept our advertising dollars for healthcare services or events, yet denies us entry into a community-wide health fair that it organized and promoted. Despite seeking our participation in this event, someone in the organization made an executive decision to ban us from the health fair.”

It’s worth noting that the the Independent Record took a much different approach in 2005, when Carroll College disinvited the organization from an ethics conference.The college’s decision was reported and there was discussion from both sides, even if the piece was a bit of apologia from/for the college.

Clearly, the IR has a new ideological bent, almost undeniably ushered in by Publisher Randy Rickman, who introduced himself to our community with a truly offensive argument about abortion rights and who has influenced editorial coverage in the past.

Rickman certainly has the right to his opinions, but being the publisher of a newspaper in a one-paper town carries certain responsibilities and ethical obligations. You’ve got to cover all of the news, even if it reflects negatively on your organization—and you’ve got to put aside your ideological blinders to be a voice for the community.

Newspapers are wont to wax poetic about the role of the press in a free society. When personal interest trumps accuracy and fairness, however, just how critical is that role?

I’d suggest contacting the IR’s publisher, Randy Rickman and asking him to explain himself. It’s sure unlikely that his newspaper will be able to.

Randy Rickman 406.447.4002 or [email protected]

Correction: I’m told that the story about the TEA Party rally did not appear on the front page of the paper, inside. The corrected text appears above.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-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.

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