About the Bullshit Lee Papers Story on Governor Bullock’s Plane

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As anyone who has read this blog knows, I’ve called out some truly excremental political writing from the Montana press over the years, but if someone asked me to list the absolute worst, I’d be tempted to include today’s “expose”in the Lee Newspapers about the manufactured controversy of a sitting governor using his state plane to travel to events across the state. Under the pretense of investigative journalism, the Lee newspapers ran a steaming pile of partisan bullshit that was neither supported by actual reporting nor justified by actual events.

The story is incredibly thin: a handful of Republican legislators are upset that Governor Bullock used his official plane on days when he both attended official functions and campaign events. That’s it. No smoking gun, no independent sources, no analysis to suggest that anything the governor has done is different than anything any other governor in Montana has ever done. It’s a non-story, splashed across the front page of the state’s papers as if it’s a story of any real significance.

What did the reporter of the story not do in his front page story? He didn’t research the actual cost of flights from Helena to the locations listed. Instead, he relied on estimates from the very partisan critics who were the source of the story. He didn’t provide budgetary analysis comparing the number of and cost of flights during the Bullock Administration to that of previous governors. He didn’t even provide the total annual cost of Bullock’s flights, instead letting a paid staffer for the Montana Republican Party suggest with overheated rhetoric that something scandalous was happening. For a news story, it was awfully short on news, and long on the kind of partisan whining and posturing that so often characterizes the Montana GOP and their enablers in the media.

In short, he didn’t do any reporting. He let the Republican Party cry foul in a partisan attack, used those people for his sources, and then ran their criticism as if it were some kind of scandal. That a governor would combine campaign and official events on the same day is a some sort of scandal worthy of front page coverage only in the minds of Republican operatives and credulous, inexperienced political reporters 1 who don’t have the background to understand the issues they’re covering.

Even the rationale for the story is suspect. The justification for the story, introduced in its third paragraph, is that there was buzz on “social media” about the issue following a Bullock campaign event that coincided with a flight on official business. That social media attention came from the same sources quoted in the story, partisan Republican operatives, completing the circle.

Update: It gets worse. Although the story claims “criticism of the flights surfaced on social media…” it doesn’t mention the origin of that criticism: the Twitter accounts of two paid communication staffers for the Gianforte campaign, Aaron Flint and Ron Catlett, as well as the Twitter account of the Montana GOP.

So not only did the Lee Newspapers run a political hit piece against Governor Bullock, they didn’t even report that the source of the attack was his likely November Republican opponent.

While the Lee Papers are diverting attention to this issue, it’s interesting to think about the issues they’ve not seen fit to cover. There’s been a great deal more social media attention about the fact that the Republican candidate for governor, Greg Gianforte, was recorded telling an audience that he wouldn’t express his real opinion on right to work laws because he was afraid of being recorded. Did the Lee papers even run a story on that, much less splash it across the front page? Not a chance.

Even more significantly, a few Lee papers have run an analysis opinion piece by economist and legislator Dick Barrett about the impact of Mr. Gianforte’s budget proposals for the state. Barrett, a professor of economics, concludes that, if enacted, Gianforte’s plan would eliminate Montana’s budget surplus and put the state in the red. Did the Lee papers even run a story on that, much less splash it across the front page? Not a chance.

The press should have a powerful role to play in helping the public select the next governor—and they should be aggressive investigators when they do that. That power, though, comes with profound responsibilities, though: to ensure that the stories they cover are actually important ones and not merely to serve as a conduit for partisan attacks that lack substance. Once again, though, the Lee newspapers have manufactured controversies not supported by solid reporting in yet another attack against Governor Bullock. A hard-hitting press is good for elections and democracy; one driven by animus and sloppy reporting is anything but—and the Lee newspapers need to take a hard look at how they’re covering the governor and this race.

Right now, the coverage isn’t just unfair. It’s embarrassingly bad.

  1. Following a Twitter discussion, I should point out that I am referring to relative inexperience covering politics, not reporting in general.
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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.

21 Comments

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  • Aaron Flint is GeeyanFARTey’s campaign spokesman…………….BWHAHAHAHAHAHA!
    Enuff said. A Aron fancies himself a political pun DITZ! I’m sure it was his doing. Wonder if ol’ flinty is the one that SEE lected that woman from Phillips Co. to be Gigi’s running mate? Wonder if MOST Montanans even know where Phillips Co. is?! Jesus. No really, just Jesus! For you see, Gigi’s gonna NEED Jesus to pull THIS one outta his ass! Media bullshit aside, Gigi looks for all the world to be what he is, an outta state techny christofundiwackmentalist inbred MORON! I’m just not sure that there’s enuff inbreds that have moved here yet for Gigi to pull it off. But who knows. We got Herr Slinky the Barking Seal and lil’ Dipshit Daines! And with flinty runnin’ his campaign, who knows! Maybe flinty can grab holt of that Big Kockh money and give her a good shake! He’s like that you know. Dude’ll do anything to get a head! A BIG head of Kockh that is!

    All I can say is that I’m luvin’ this!

    • Here’s out own Montana Pun Ditz, A Aron flinty, organizing a GeeyanFARTey rally that din’t go as planned! Too funny. Flinty finally went a bridge to far! Or, a Kockh too far! Like Will Rodgers, he never met a Kockh he didn’t like! I THEENK that’s his retirement plan!

    • Is the governor going to have to WALK to the funerals of our Montana warriors across the state, dying for neocon wet dreams and oil?

    • What’s the “Paddy ‘quitter’ wms,” reference about, LK? What have you contributed to our state besides rant on websites? I’d like to hear about it.

      • Simple. I never QUIT! Paddy the quitter did! When the going got tough, Paddy the quitter QUIT! Not MY idea of a tough dude from Montana. Look, if you want a frickin’ job, DO IT! That’s all, just like everyone else I know from Montana.

        I have a good friend who will soon turn eighty. He has fought his ENTIRE FRIGGIN’ LIFE for this state. (Mert Freyholtz) And now, he’s suffering from some terrible diseases. (cancer) But you wanna know sumthin’? Last time we chatted, he was STILL ready to kick some fascist ass. THE DUDE NEVER QUIT! When he was SEVENTY-FIVE I had to pull him off some fascist bassturds at a public meeting. He used to regularly attend public meetings as the ONLY enviro in the room full or miners! THAT IS MONTANA BALLS!

        Paddy the quitter put his tail between his legs and quit! No nice way to put it. He gave his seat willingly to the Pubes, and they willingly TOOK IT! Oh sure, he could’a fought. But that wasn’t paddy. We gave the dude a job to do, but he wimped out. And THAT is why the Montana Dim party is in the shape that it’s in today! We elected wimps when what we really needed was fighters! What I tell folks is that when Schweitzer stops fighting and goes home, you can too!

        We Montanans should be made of sterner stuff! Look, if you ain’t in it to the finish, DON’T RUN! That’s all. And paddy just wasn’t in it!

        I can’t forgive the dude. Maybe you can, but I can’t. For you see, MOST of us here in Montana don’t have the f*cking OPTION to quit! If we quit, we starve! But paddy the quitter achieved elder statesman status with his quitterdom, and that just BUGS THE SH*T outta us every time we hear him on the lost dog report radio!

        Look, we produced guys like Mad Dog O’Bilivich, a true bohunk football legend from Butte. They didn’t come any tougher than Mad Dog. But paddy was poodle dog O’fuckiquit! Now, WHICH one was the true Montana hero?

        But since you ask about me, ask around! As I previously mentioned, I don’t toot my own horn. Seriously, ask around. I don’t get paid to educate any more. And that’s all I got to say about that!

            • Not sure what to make of your comment, Greg. I would probably ask Don’s approval to have LK banned from the site. It is his blog after all. I figure I can do what I want with my posts, which is exactly what I’m doing. Don is free to do as he likes with his stuff.

              I’m tired of suffering fools, which puts you on the short list.

            • Greg, I theenk that ol’ petey is having another jealousy moment. He wants like HELLl to be me, a REAL writer! But poor petey just isn’t up to it. People LOVE what I write. Always have. Petey, wellllll, no so much. He’s boring. I can spice things up with an anecdote, a REAL anecdote based upon my own experiences. Pete, he HAS NONE! If I write it, I’ve lived it. If petey writes it, he’s thunk it up in a Mizzoola latte bar or farmers market!

              Ya see, Greg, in order to be a real writer you gotta pay your dues. I have, and petey hasn’t. It’s that simple. And it shows. You’ve gotta write what you know, and petey, well, he needs to get out and live a bit to pad his resume of anecdotes! I’m Bitter Bierce, and he’s Twitter Tweet Pete! BIG difference. I come by my cynicism honestly. Petey hangs on every word that comes outta paddy’s mouth!

              I don’t like to engage in internet spats, but for some reason, petey feels the need to continually criticize me and attempt to get me banned. And who the hell knows why? I could care LESS what he writes. Why does he feel the need to attack me? I simply don’t get it.

              And look, Pat Wms. QUIT! Hey, I’m not makin’ anything up here. I heard him shortly before he quit, and he stated how hopeless things were in D.C. Well HELL BELLS, that is NOT the time to quit! It’s the time to fight back! And that is all we asked of pat!

              We had to PRY sen. cornhole burns and dopey reehburp outta Washtington D.C. I expect my Dim politicians to be at LEAST as tough as a couple’a drunkin’ Repubed inbreds!

              But he wasn’t. We didn’t have to pry pat at all, for he quit. End of story, petey. Pete forgave him, but I never will. Burns and Reeburp he ain’t! Repukes had NO quit in’em! And that’s the way I like my politicos!

              And for that, petey wants to ban me again. Go figure.

              p.s. And remember, there was talk of runnin’ ol’ paddy again. Too funny. Why? So he could QUIT again when the going got tough? And now, the party is so bankrupt that they’ve dusted off Larry Jent, a guy I think is fantastic. But seriously, there’s GOTTA be someone out there that AIN’T in Depends yet to take on the Pubbies! Hell, Jent is MY age! And that’s just too damn old to be fightin’ every day for Montana! And seriously, it’s gettin’ to the time that we pass the torch! It’s their state now.

        • Pat Williams is a friend of mine and I take friendships seriously — much more seriously than I take you.

          Williams served 18 years in Congress; before that, two terms in the Montana House. And you call him a quitter. He continues to do progressive work in Missoula. You know where the first fundraiser for Denise Juneau was held after she announced her candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives? Pat and Carol Williams’ home.

          Let’s look at your hero, Brian Schweitzer. He served two terms as governor and then bailed on Montana politics. He could have run for the Senate but instead we got Daines. I don’t see you calling Schweitzer a quitter.

          I’m tired of your bloviating. Lord knows why Don continues to let you comment and trash threads with your childish rhetoric but I’ll have none of it at my future posts. Adios.

  • Flint might pull it off, LK. Perhaps it’ll be Bullock’s incompetence more, however. The guy, or at least ‘his’ staff just can’t seem to stop shooting themselves in the foot. I say ‘his’ because we know Bullock isn’t paying anyone, is going through the party to hire out of staters. At least Gianforte has a few Montanans working for him…right?

    Actually, I think the woman he pays the most might be from Wisconsin. Since that’s negated by Hyers and Pitt being from Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, non-respectfully perhaps, as I can’t keep the two straight, that doesn’t really matter.

    I don’t really see how my life will get any better or worse whomever’s serving as governor.

    Can you tell my why?

    • Easy answer. Just go back and look at all the crazyazzed bills vetoed by Schweitzer and Bullock. The Repubbies in this state have for the most part gone over the edge. Years ago, there were still a few that hadn’t gone full on corporate nazzi or christofascist, but now, they all either belong to the Big Kokch brothers or Nazi Jaysus! Just look at the bills they get passed, and then, imagine Montana on crazy!

      And GeeyanFARTey is the worst of BOTH worlds. He’s James Watt on steroids! He’s one of them jesus jumpers that thinks that since Jesus is comin’ back real soon anyway, it don’t MATTER if we take a yuuuge dump on our environment. Ever been up to Zortman/Landusky or Whitehall? If you have, imagine pits like that all up and down the Blackfoot. Hell, they had about five of them same mines planned for the Big Belts too. You see, you can basically put a heap leach gold mine anywhere.

      In conclusion, the way that these corporate fascists can hurt Montana are too numerous to mention. You’re a historian. Just take a look at the legislatures of the last fifty years in Montana. And then think of what the outcome would have been with the nazzzis in charge! I’m not ready to turn the state over to the crazies, and you shouldn’t be either.

        • Greg, maybe you were still in China, but THIS is why we must keep good Dems in power! My pal, Brian Schweitzer, kickin’ nazzzi ASS!

          • Montana Democrats don’t have people like that anymore. And remember, the Party never much cared for him anyways.

            Who’s going to run against Zinke in ’18? Who would run in ’18 should Tester step down? Who’s going for governor in ’20, and all the other statewides that year?

            Montana Democrats have neglected their bench just as much as they’ve neglected the rural counties.

            They want to win…but they can’t.

            • Greg, you’re a leetle on the young side, but THIS is the kind of television I grew up with. Can you even imagine something like this today?! Of course not! Not enuff titties, guns, or violence! Ain’ that Merica!

              And we took this all for granted.

              • I might have seen that one, but I don’t recall it. I was lucky enough to have an 8th grade English teacher at Helena High that showed us many of those old episodes.

                Anyways, I like your 10 PM comment above much better.

                And that Blues Brothers video is nice. I grew up watching that, lucky enough to have seen it for the first time when I was about 7. Boy, there are a lot of lessons in that film for those that want to look.

                I’m not sure if a lot of Dems want lessons, however.

                Something else I heard today that worries me is the talk that some of the trade members of the unions are beginning to rebel against some of the policies of union brass.

                Maybe I’m thinking of MEA-MFT. How much pull does Feaver have? Usually around filing deadline we think about this, for really, who’s going to find a warm body to run in those rural areas?

                Retired teachers and retired state workers – that’s who the Dems rely on today and they are boring. No one will get excited about them.

                The Dems need to find talent and cultivate it and caress it and keep it happy. Surely there are people besides old bones and gray hairs to run for the legislature.

                It’s depressing.

                • I agree. And I hope like hell that you are right! It’s gonna take the young folks like yourself to get this party started.

                  But I will say, when I look at all those young faces protesting Trump, I’m greatly encouraged.

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