With a few outside nudges in the direction of actual news, the Montana media came around today to report that it might just be a little suspicious that new Congressman Ryan Zinke, under fire for a farcical, unethical, and probably illegal relationship with the Special Operations for America SuperPAC, hired the person who co-founded SOFA with him and who served as its treasurer until just a few months ago, as his chief of staff in Washington.
Roughly twelve hours after this blog first criticized Congressman Zinke for his decision to hire a former henchman from personal Super PAC as his new chief of staff in Washington, a Montana AP reporter “broke” the story, detailing some of the financial transactions between Zinke, Hommel, and SOFA. Another four hours later, the Montana Lee Newspapers finally reported on the relationship between Zinke and Hommel, while still leaving out a few critical details.
I’ll be honest. It’s a bit frustrating not to have been given credit for first writing about the hire in the press release, but the real frustration is that newspapers in this state ran the Zinke press release yesterday and somehow didn’t pay enough attention to notice Hommel’s name or its singificance. If a full-time teacher and occasional blogger has the ability to remember a figure like Hommel, surely the full-time press covering the one member of the U.S. House from Montana should be able to, or at least have the energy to run a Google search before printing a press release. That they ran the piece without question is disappointing statement about the state of media in the state, but hardly news.
What’s most frustrating about this coverage is that, because the media failed to do its job yesterday when running the press release, today’s coverage looks like Democratic partisanship. In fact, the headlines for the new story all emphasize that the Montana Democratic Party was critical of the hire, not that the hiring itself was incredibly questionable, given the relationship between Zinke and Hommel. And that’s what is most broken about political coverage in this state: instead of investigating the relationship between Zinke and Hommel and writing an objective story, the narrative gets reduced to a spat between the two parties in which the truth vanishes from consideration. Readers aren’t likely to come away with new questions about Zinke’s brazen disregard for campaign finance laws, but will shake their heads at the bickering between the two political parties.
That story, not the real story here, is easy write and doesn’t the risk of offending anyone: a perfect non-story piece of reporting with quotes from both sides.
A final frustration about the reporting comes in the final line of the Lee story today, which reads:
Hommel joined Zinke in helping to form SOFA PAC, but later resigned, as Zinke did, the congressman said.
That line implies that Zinke and Hommel left SOFA at the same time, and certainly doesn’t say that Hommel stayed on as the treasurer until at least August of 2014, months after the Montana primary and nearly a year after Zinke left the organization–precisely when the coordination prohibited by law would have taken place.
For his part, Representative Zinke retreated into his typical defense, saying of Hommel that “he’s well-qualified and a former Marine. He’s very capable and a veteran.” That’s the classic Zinke non-sequitur: whether or not Mr. Hommel served in the military surely has no bearing on whether or not his relationship with Zinke and Special Operations for America violated the law, but Zinke seems to have learned in the campaign that saying the word “veteran” is some kind of talisman that protects him from criticism.
Something tells me it’s going to be a long two years.