Guest Post: Helena IR Owes Amanda Curtis an Apology for Sexist Clickbait

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by Alison James and Nik Griffith

On September 16, the Helena Independent Record ran a letter to the editor written by Helenan Joe Morgan, headlined “What did Curtis Need Planned Parenthood For?”

In a debate with Steve Daines in 2014, Rep. Amanda Curtis of Butte recounted the critical services offered by Planned Parenthood and stated that she accessed health care there as sixteen-year-old.

Two years later, Mr. Morgan is still thinking about this and wondering why Daines didn’t inquire further into the reasons why a young woman would need to access health care at Planned Parenthood. Morgan uses some rough prose to imply Curtis probably got birth control or an abortion and therefore is not fit to run for office or have an opinion. You can read the entire appalling letter here.

Okay.

Let’s stop for a second to play the following public service announcement for the seven millionth time: Planned Parenthood does more than abortion.

In 2013 alone, abortion made up approximately 3% of the 10.6 million services offered by Planned Parenthood clinics across the country. Other services offered that year consisted of:

–       4.5 million tests and treatments of STDs and STIs,

–       3.6 million contraception (condoms, IUDs, birth control, etc.) related services,

–       935,573 cancer screenings including breast exams and pap smears, and

–       1.1 million pregnancy tests and other prenatal services.

But it doesn’t matter if Amanda Curtis used Planned Parenthood for an abortion, a cancer screening, or the bathroom. As a Montana woman, it’s her right to make private healthcare decisions at any time in her life without being pilloried in the public square.

Regardless of how big a case of the sads Mr. Morgan and others get at the thought of a young woman exercising agency in her healthcare decisions, the Montana State Constitution (Article II, Section 10) guarantees all Montanans the right to privacy that “shall not be infringed without the showing of a compelling state interest.” Additionally, multiple decisions by the Montana Supreme Court and actions by sitting Legislatures and Governors alike have reinforced that those privacies explicitly mean a woman’s decisions in healthcare are between herself and her medical provider(s)–and that includes minors.

For now, let’s ignore the obviously creepy undertones of an adult man still wondering after the one-time healthcare choices of a female senate candidate two years after her candidacy. Let’s even set aside the troll-ish attempt by Mr. Morgan to divert attention from the point of Rep. Curtis’ original letter (Melissa Romano’s qualifications for Superintendent of Public Instruction). We’re left with the lingering question: “Why would the Independent Record publish such an asinine letter?”

Surely the IR receives ugly, rude, racist, sexist, homophobic letters to the editor all the time.But the IR published this letter and gave credence to the views expressed by featuring it in print. Mr. Morgan’s letter should have hit the trash can the moment it was received, based on the truly offensive material it contained, directed at a public figure who’s done nothing worse than support a fellow teacher running for office and go to the doctor as a teen.

It seems to us that there are two explanations, and either or both could be true (it’s probably both). First, editors at the IR share Mr. Morgan’s views and don’t mind vulgar, sexist attacks directed at female public figures. Second, the IR was trying to stir up controversy and get more hits by publishing the offensive letter. Either way, the IR has once again failed in the ethics of journalism by legitimizing a sexist attack and undermining the voice of a hardworking public servant simply because she’s a woman.

The good news is that Amanda Curtis and Planned Parenthood are accustomed to dealing with wingnuts and sexist attacks and this one won’t faze them. They will both continue serving the people of Montana, in spite of the vitriol of bullies and the clickbaiting of editors desperate to remain relevant, no matter the cost.

If you’d like to demand that the Helena Independent Record apologize to Amanda Curtis and start publishing news, not sexist clickbait, you can email the editor atmailto:editor@helenair.com

To donate to Planned Parenthood, who continues to provide necessary, comprehensive care to thousands of families a year–including, but very much not limited to abortion services, you can do so here.

To help elect Amanda Curtis to House District 74, donate to her campaign here.

Alison James occasionally accesses women’s health care, because she is a woman, in Missoula.

Nik Griffith is a Helena-based consultant with a chip on his shoulder and a need to share.

If you appreciate our efforts to hold Montana Republicans accountable and the independent journalism here at The Montana Post, please consider supporting our work with a small pledge.
Join a discussion of this (and all of our post) at our Facebook community page.

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.

14 Comments

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  • I’ve read Morgan’s letter. He may be a couple of years late writing it, but Amanda Curtis did volunteer that she’d used Planned Parenthood at 16, so his question is fair. I think his tone is reasonably civil. I cannot fault the IR for running the letter.

    Incidentally, don’t donate money to Amanda Curtis. She doesn’t need it because she’s running unopposed. Instead, donate money to Democrats who do need it, such as Zac Perry in HD-3.

    • His question is fair, James? She should reveal her teenage medical history to Joe and the media? Is that the state of political discourse these days?

      • She volunteered that she used Planned Parenthood as a teenager, Pete. That makes Morgan’s question, which is partly rhetorical, fair. She initiated the debate.

        Is he entitled to the details of her experience as a patient at Planned Parenthood? Of course not — and I’m not suggesting, and did not suggest in my comment, that she should reveal her medical history against her will (she’s not running for President). But he is entitled to ask the question.

        And that’s what he did, using language far more temperate than the screed by Griffith and James, and the diatribe below by Roni. His letter may be in poor taste, at least by some standards, but it’s not even faintly libelous.

        James and Griffith have the right to disagree with both Morgan’s letter and the IR’s decision to publish it. Possibly, they’re fearful that their fellow Montanans may agree with Morgan if exposed to his thinking. I have no such worries.

        It is far better for newspapers to publish letters and start a debate that might get a bit rough around the edges than to suppress mischievous letters because they might initiate a discussion that makes some uncomfortable and infuriates others. Let the truth emerge from competition in the marketplace of ideas and open discussion.

      • I took a look at the debate, James, and it was reporter Mike Dennison who broached the Planned Parenthood subject. I don’t believe Amanda would have “volunteered” such information otherwise.

        I agree with you that Joe Morgan has the right to ask the question, as despicable as it is. And, because Ms. Curtis is a public figure, that no libel occurred.

        To me it’s a matter of common decency. No sixteen-year-old’s medical history should be questioned in a print or electronic public forum. Even Daines respected Curtis’ right to privacy in his follow up statement at the debate.

        Maybe I’m a bit more sensitive than others, having a grown daughter and now a seventeen-year-old granddaughter. I’m very pleased that Planned Parenthood is there for them if some medical need arises. But that is entirely their business — no one else’s.

        The Helena IR showed extremely poor judgement in printing the letter. As a follow up to a Melissa Romano endorsement letter from Curtis, it’s completely off topic. And it should be noted that Curtis isn’t even running in a Helena-area legislative district. What was the IR editor thinking? I’m starting to wonder if the authors of the above post aren’t on to something: sexist clickbait.

        • Morgan’s letter is not faring well in the marketplace of ideas. So far, 70 people have commented on it, most if not all disagreeing with him, sometimes with pithy language.

          Curtis ran for the U.S. Senate. She’s a fairly well known political figure statewide. I think the IR’s decision to run Morgan’s deplorable letter is defensible.

    • Nope. Mentioning than you’ve been to a health clinic that offers abortions as one service doesn’t mean you now have to explain what you did at the health clinic to every angry man who demands an explanation. Could have been absolutely anything. No one has a right to know that private medical business and she didn’t “open the door” to explaining her medical history because she said she’s been to a Planned Parenthood. Absurd to assume it was an abortion because that’s all he can imagine, and also a disgusting attempt to try and “out” her. Also 100% irrelevant to an endorsement of Mellisa Romano.

  • As a women’s health care professional with 23 years experience, I take great offense to this “journalists” article. You sir have no idea of how Planned Parenthood affects the lives of those women in our state. I remember a ranchers wife, 1 year after the birth of her child, she couldn’t afford our office charge, yet had a lump her breast. I referred her to our local PP office . Not only was she seen, but set up for testing to diagnose her Stage II breast cancer! How dare you judge a then 16 y/o who utilized PP for her health care!
    It obvious you no NOTHING about the program. SHAME on you! And the bottom line is this… Stay the hell out of our reproductive health issue!!!! Regardless of what they are.. Regardless of my reasons. It’s my my choice, it’s my body. It saves lives.. It provides care. Amanda and women just like her want nothing from you., an apology.. Nope! We want you to continue your ignorance so it becomes translucent to all those who will be voting.. And hopefully cancelling their subscription to the IR!

  • I emailed the IR and said this:

    I know you like to present different views, but that cannot include insinuating that someone had an abortion in the past and trying to “out” them — without any basis, since it is obvious that Planned Parenthood does much more than just abortions. No editor worth their salt would view this as being a proper thing to elevate in an LTE. Disgraceful.

  • Regarding decisions of newspaper editors, ‘free speech’ and on-line comments (which were also recently discussed at this blog)…what do folks think about this comment posted to the Flathead Beacon 4 days ago?

    bruce lancaster • 4 days ago
    Log it. Graze it. Or, watch it burn. The eco-terrorists spiked trees, burned logging and mining offices, murdered and maimed loggers, threatened the families of miners… The 70s, 80s, and 90s are full of those stories. Why we didn’t prosecute, convict, and send to the electric chair the perpetrators and jail their followers forever is still a mystery. Here they are again in court rooms and in front of pipe line workers…. Let’s not make the same mistake twice. These psycho eco-terrorsts will get violent the exact moment they don’t get their way. Be ready this time.

    SOURCE: http://flatheadbeacon.com/2016/09/13/kootenai-forest-project-blocked-days-logging-begin/

    The Flathead Beacon editor, Kellyn Brown, and Beacon reporters Dillon Tabish and Molly Priddy were alerted to the comment on Wednesday via email, and it was flagged via their on-line comment section. But the comment remains up and Brown, Tabish and Priddy never bothered to even respond to an email request which simply said, “I’m not sure what your on-line comment policy is, but this one seems to cross the line, right? I’d like to request that it be removed.”

    As someone who has been called an “eco-terrorist” or “environmental extremist” and has had environmental friends’ face violence, death threats and bullet holes in their buildings, this comment appears to say that “eco-terrorists” should be sent “to the electric chair” and their follows should be jailed. At the end the comment clearly says that “These psycho eco-terrorsts will get violent the exact moment they don’t get their way. Be ready this time,” which to me seems like a call to arms of some sort.

    I agree that the LTE about Curtis seems in poor taste, so I’d be curious to know what folks think about this one directed at environmentalists? Perhaps people should also call for the Flathead Beacon to offer an apology and remove the comment. Thanks.

    • The comment is absolutely inappropriate, though I would argue there is a degree of difference between approving and publishing a LTE and failing to moderate a comment. It’s surprising that they haven’t taken it down.

      It sadly makes the case that perhaps we just can’t have comment areas. News staff lack the time and resources to police them, so they quickly become dumpster fires of deplorable comment.

  • Certainly an apology is appropriate!
    Maybe two apologies.
    Did not Mike fly in same plane with Daines,
    to and from the debate with Amanda Curtis?
    Seems to me that his set up disguised as a question,
    is also out of order.
    However unlike episodic IR,
    Mike Dennison has a history of professionalism.

  • Why the surprise a d outrage? I would expect no less (or more) from the IR. However, if the LTE had been addressing a male politician who had expressed opinions regarding certain reproductive health care venues that he had patronized in the past would the IR print an opinion suggesting that said politician’s prostate was hanging to his knees? I don’t think so, well maybe. It is the IR after all.

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