While I appreciate the fact that the Lee Newspapers here in Montana belatedly offered editorials and even news coverage of Congressman Zinke’s effort to protect coal companies from paying their fair share of royalties for coal taken from public lands, those same papers undermined this moment of integrity by allowing Congressman Zinke, who refused to speak to their reporters about the issue the chance to publish an opinion piece defending his effort.
That the Gazette and Missoulian published his piece without even including a disclaimer, as the Standard did, that Zinke refused to answer their questions, is another egregious black mark, especially for the newspaper that condemned Zinke’s opponent in the Congressional election because Zinke joked about having tortured people while in the military.
Printing Zinke’s “response” sets horrible precedent. What incentive does a politician have to answer questions about a scandal, a vote, a meeting, or an agenda if the newspapers will turn over the opinion pages to let him present a one-sided view not subject to the scrutiny of a reporter asking a critical question or two? Given that the newspapers control what gets printed in their papers, it hardly seems unreasonable to demand that a politician return your reporter’s phone call before turning over your opinion page to him.
That Zinke refused to answer questions at this moment of turnover for the Lee Newspapers is especially telling. Of course, he didn’t want to subject himself to the scorching scrutiny of Lee’s experienced political reporters, many of whom have covered politics for as long as six weeks. If he couldn’t answer the questions they’d ask–and handle that kind of pressure–it’s easy to see his argument simply doesn’t hold water, no matter how much the Gazette seems to want to carry it for him.
I’m hardly the person to defend the honor of the state’s largest press chain, which seems to have abandoned political coverage for profits and clickbait, but shouldn’t they care about it? Shouldn’t they have the courage to demand that politicians are held, in the smallest way, accountable for their votes?
Those periodic editorials about the precious value of the Fourth Estate ring ever more hollow, don’t they?