Having spoken to a number of people who worked for the Lee newspapers in Montana, I found myself being a little less critical of their coverage and a bit more charitable, because reporters talked about staffing shortages and stretched news budgets. I tried to see it from the point of view of reporters who were stretched to the limit.
And then I read nonsense like this. It’s not that Lee reporters lack the resources to cover important political news; it seems to be they have no idea what really matters.
Today, the Billings Gazette and reporter Tom Lutey reminded me that my charity might not be warranted. One of the four top stories listed on the Gazette web page today is a non-story called “Conservative Group Demands Government Spending Cuts,” a puff piece about the collection of 500 signatures in four months by an Astroturf organization.
AFP began gathering petition signatures in July. Through Tuesday, the group has dropped off 550 petitions to congressional offices in Montana.
I’m just an English teacher, but I think that means Americans for Prosperity has gathered fewer than 140 signatures a month in a state of over one million people. For a little context, there were 491,966 voters in the 2012 election in Montana, meaning that Americans for Prosperity collected signatures from .0011% of them.
Not only did the Gazette devote prime web space to this piece, it sent out a reporter to write it and a photographer to capture a picture more choreographed than a Kanye West wedding proposal.
A few details the piece failed to mention include the fact that Americans for Prosperity:
- is deeply funded by the Koch Brothers;
- had a budget of over $40 million dollars in 2010 and planned to spend $125 million in the 2012 Presidential election;
- has been repeatedly charged with violating campaign finance laws;
- received a two (out of four) rating from the Charity Navigator site for accountability and transparency;
- is a “dark money” operation that does not disclose its sources of funding.
It seems like that context might have made the story, such as it was, a bit more newsworthy.
We deserve better political coverage than this in Montana. We deserve reporters who don’t show up for staged political events from Astroturf organizations who can’t even, despite paid staff and four months to organize, collect more than a handful of signatures.
This was neither news nor a story. Instead, it was just another example of a compliant media acquiescing to the agenda of yet another right-wing front group.