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.

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Jim OlsenPublius IIptalbotGreg StrandbergLK Recent comment authors
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LK
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LK

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… Read more »

LK
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LK

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!

Publius II
Guest
Publius II

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?

LK
Guest
LK

Hey, Paddy “quitter” wms., can we call them nazzzis yet? Look folks, YOU all did this to yourselves by NOT fighting back! And electing wussy Dims! You have NO one to blame but yourselves! I do NOT feel sorry for you, and my conscience is clear, for I tried like HELL to warn the Dims and paddy quitter some twenty odd years ago!

http://crooksandliars.com/2016/03/violence-begets-violence-just-way-they-it

Enjoy your fascism!

Pete Talbot
Admin

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.

LK
Guest
LK

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… Read more »

LK
Guest
LK

A history lesson. Mad Dog O’Billivich is a tough as they come! Paddy O’Fuckiquit is the new Dim party! True story. Check it out. Mad Dog was so tough it was said that he could run straight into a pickup truck! Paddy wms. was said to be able to run into a child’s hot wheels!

http://portlandtribune.com/component/content/article?id=75269

The dude quit, petey. why?

Greg Strandberg
Guest

I find it interesting that it took about 2 days to get the approval to boot you, LK.

Pete Talbot
Admin

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.

LK
Guest
LK

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… Read more »

Pete Talbot
Admin

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… Read more »

Greg Strandberg
Guest

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… Read more »

LK
Guest
LK

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… Read more »

Greg Strandberg
Guest

I’m not turning the state over to anyone; Bullock and his team are.

LK
Guest
LK

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!

Greg Strandberg
Guest

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.

LK
Guest
LK

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.

Greg Strandberg
Guest

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… Read more »

LK
Guest
LK

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.

Publius II
Guest
Publius II

boring is right…they need hands ON, working class with brains…

Jim Olsen
Guest

Is this a Donald Trump blog? I must have got lost somewhere. This thread does not meet my test of “Intelligent.”

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