Public Records Request Reveals A Reporter Playing Errand Boy for PACs. Montana Deserves Better

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There was a moment in Stephen Colbert’s 2006 speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner that has stuck with me since. In a speech panned by the media at the time for being too biting, Colbert offered this savage and spot on critique of the press:

But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works. The President makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ’em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!

All too often, it seemed, during the Bush Administration and still seems today, coverage of policy and politics is dominated by merely transferring what those in power want to be said. Here in Montana, that’s all too often the case, as reporters run to stage political events and treat them as news, or worse yet, become little more than errand boys for the political elite, treating their steaming piles of opposition research as newsworthy for little reason other than that it makes easy to write copy.

In the last week, national and international reporters have broken three stories about Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte:

And none of these stories have been covered by the Montana press.

Instead, readers of the state’s largest newspaper chain were treated to front page coverage of the history of fishing and hunting licenses obtained by the two candidates for office. In my years reading about Montana politics, there has never been a similar story, despite public lands being a central concern in race after race.

What, I wondered, made Gazette reporter and Gianforte errand boy Tom Lutey write the piece? It turns out that, much like I guessed, he was fed another story by Republican operatives and PACs.

A public records request shows that Mr. Lutey requested the hunting and fishing license records of Mr. Quist and Mr. Gianforte on April 26, bizarrely the very same day his story appeared. It turns out, though, that Lutey wasn’t even the first journalist who requested those records. As a reporter at KTVH requested the records on April 25 and another requested them a few hours earlier than Lutey on April 26.

What, I wonder, would prompt those media requests, all within twenty-four hours?

The first requests for the hunting and fishing license records came from Republican operative Scott Yeldell from Marathon Strategic Communications and the America Rising PAC on April 6th, 2017. A brief Google search of Mr. Yeldell would have revealed some of his part work and anyone vaguely familiar with politics knows all about America Rising.

Lutey’s story never indicates that the source of the nakedly political attack was a Republican PAC.

I suppose it’s possible that all of these people had the same idea to cover this “story” at precisely the same time, but it’s certainly much more likely that PACs and people working for Greg Gianforte decided to drop another negative attack, perhaps precisely to divert attention from the latest troubling incident in Mr. Gianforte’s past.

There’s a dangerous precedent here. If Republican operatives know they can wrap up a piece of trivial nonsense into a story and send it to Mr. Lutey to “report” on, why bother with expensive ads? Why not simply use the press as a conduit for partisan attacks if you know that the press won’t thoroughly vet the story nor even evaluate how newsworthy it is?

Think about how bizarre this situation is. Mr. Lutey eagerly ran a story fed to him by partisan operatives with almost no lead time, but refuses to mention or acknowledge work being done by actual reporters writing actual stories across the globe.

I’m not sure what makes Mr. Lutey so eager to carry water for Republicans in this race. It’s hard to say whether it’s personal animus against Democrats, profound laziness, or simply no sense of what makes something news, but the state’s largest newspaper chain probably should start asking itself whether a person who can’t seem to cover this race fairly should be entrusted with leading its coverage.

Being a reporter has to mean more than spell checking a packet of opposition research and slapping a breaking news story on a web page. It has to mean understanding what stories have value, vetting those stories, and doing real reporting on them. It can’t mean simply running errands for the political class and letting them continue to subvert our democracy.

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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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DroidalyzerWendy SimantonHolger MeyerTrudy HoehnePete Talbot Recent comment authors
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Pat Dawson
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Pat Dawson

WASHINGTON, D.C. — (Aug. 30, 2017) Montana U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte today endorsed the Trump-Zinke plan to auction off the first 43 million acres of federal lands to help finance other projects, according to Gianforte spokesman Tom Lutey.

Larry O Copenhaver
Guest

I have been appalled at Tom Luteys lack of journalistic diligence and professionalism… every time I see his by-line, I find more of the Right-wing prevarication. It disgusts me.

Bill
Guest
Bill

A rancher with a Kalispell address. Can some one explain this? I won’t go into the hunter part.

Quist believes women’s health care decisions should be made by women, not by the government. And, as a rancher and hunter, Quist believes in Second Amendment gun rights.

http://flatheadbeacon.com/2017/04/01/quist-will-represent-montana-well/

Pogo Possum
Guest
Pogo Possum

“A rancher with a Kalispell address. Can some one explain this?”

Bill, It’s called “All Hat and No Cattle”

Pete Talbot
Admin

His home is in Creston, Bill and Pogo.

Bill
Guest
Bill

FYI, Montana Cadastral lists no Quist land ownership in Creston. Only Bonnie at 581 in Kalispell.

Merv
Guest
Merv

Never had to put nuthin’ in someone else’s name to hide it? Geez yoy’re leading a charmed life……or stupid one! Look, when you get old, you start hiding stuff in case you have to go medicaid, which we all do sooner or later. Why work your azz off you entire life only to have the gubbermint take it all while you slowly die? If everything is in you kids’ names, you can die happy! Rich man poor man. Makes no difference. Go out of this world the same way you came in, with only you birthday suit to you name.… Read more »

Tim A
Guest
Tim A

Will you take another “sabbatical” when Gianforte wins, Don?

Bill
Guest
Bill

What stocks are the Montana Teachers Retirement Fund invested in?

Bryan
Guest
Bryan

There’s only one thing a Lee newspaper is good for, wait two things. Wiping you’re ass and starting a fire.

Pogo Possum
Guest
Pogo Possum

Pete – Yes he does live in Creston. I was just responding to Bill’s comments. It’s 10 miles from Kalispell. I recall driving past Rob’s home on occasion when I visited friends in his neighborhood a few years ago. Bill does have a point though. While Quist’s wife and daughter own a lovely 20 acres of ground, it is being more than charitable to call it a “Ranch” at least from the perspective of anyone who has ever worked on, grew up on or owned a working ranch. Bill is also right that most people who own working ranches usually… Read more »

48degreesnorth
Guest
48degreesnorth

Pogo, your rancher friends also have CRP payments, subsidies and bottom basement price Montana School Trust land leases. Throw in the way they scam the state on the Block Management Program along with leasing the best hunting lands to wealthy out of staters and I see why they don’t consider Quist a rancher. You really need to know how to rig the system to be a big time rancher in this state, and that is why they have a disproportionate number of them in the legislature and why they all support Gianforte. They need more people like themselves in government… Read more »

Wendy Simanton
Guest

Quist never owned a ranch or farm! His mother inherited a farm north of Cut Bank and the sister and husband now own it with a last name of Eney! IAnd from many locals have told me he never worked on that farm! I would like to know what Quist will do with the left over monies in his war chest! Will he do the right thing and donate them to a worthy cause that would benefit ALL Montanans? Is his money being monitored or dies he get to do what he chooses with it? I would be willing to… Read more »

Bill
Guest
Bill

You know whats totally weird. Gianforte has more rights to claim himself as a rancher because he owns land and Rob doesn’t. It is in his wife’s name.

Pete Talbot
Admin

Let’s keep measuring dicks here, guys. Love the rancher lingo: animal units, range site, sections… Quist never said he was a rancher. He did grow up on one outside of Cut Bank. He wears a cowboy hat just like your buddies Denny Rehberg and the late Conrad Burns — it’s part of the job description and has little to do with how many cows they wrangled. Speaking of Rehberg, his ritzy subdivision on the Billings’ Rims is called Rehberg Ranch, but you won’t find a cow on the place. So let’s cut the crap. Maybe talk about something substantive: health… Read more »

Bill
Guest
Bill

But, Pete that’s kind of boring. Gianforte will support Trumps platform and Quist will do as he is told to do by Pelosi, Schumer, and Tom Perez. So who will have a voice and vote that will count for Montana.

Pete Talbot
Admin

Quist just rejected a visit to Montana from Tom Perez, so you’re wrong again, Bill.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/rob-quist-turned-down-dnc-bernie-sanders_us_5904e8c6e4b05c39767ff02d

Bill
Guest
Bill

Yes, if he was a republican he would be called a racist.

Pete Talbot
Admin

Huh?

Carla Augustad
Guest

Here is an add onto the Intercept article you linked to above-did Oracle just get a new lowest tax bracket passed for them?
http://laws.leg.mt.gov/legprd/LAW0203W$BSRV.ActionQuery?P_SESS=20171&P_BLTP_BILL_TYP_CD=&P_BILL_NO=&P_BILL_DFT_NO=LC0072&P_CHPT_NO=&Z_ACTION=Find&P_SBJT_SBJ_CD=&P_ENTY_ID_SEQ=

Bill
Guest
Bill

Since you brought it up. What is Quist’s position on Syrian refugees in Montana and extreme vetting? What committees does he plan to be on if elected? What effort has he completed with the DNC to be assigned to committees? What chance does he have to be assigned to a committee as a dem? What is his position on Sanctuary cites in Montana. What is the Montana Sportsmen Alliance that supports Rob? What are his plans to save the Colstrip coal plants. What is his position Keystone pipeline? What is his plans for the Montana Rainy Day Fund?

48degreesnorth
Guest
48degreesnorth

What is Gianfortes stance on white Christian racists shooting up schools, shopping centers and movie theaters. How about his stance on global climate change killing all the native cutthroat in Montana’s rivers. How about his opinion of whether the trump administration should be investigated over collusion with russia, he was asked this in both debates and failed to give any answer at all. And just for the record the Montana rainy day fund is a state issue that has nothing to do with being our congressman, it is the Governor and legislature that makes decisions regarding it.

Jeff Phillips
Guest
Jeff Phillips

Doesn’t seem like all this tit for tat back and forth on Quist and Gianforte is getting very far. I doubt one person will change their mind. Neither one of these two candidates seems particularly strong to me. Of course that’s just my opinion.

Trudy Hoehne
Guest
Trudy Hoehne

I’d like to just make a quick comment about the hunting/fishing license issue. I am a fourth generation Montanan, with ranching and farming grandparents and great grandparents, who raised my kids here and they are raising thier kids here. I used to hunt but probably haven’t in the past 15-20 years. We no longer need that much meat for the 2 of us. We still love to fish but probably only get out once or twice a year. Just don’t have the time. So what’s the big deal if Quist isn’t the great white hunter like Giant ***. He has… Read more »

Holger Meyer
Guest
Holger Meyer

Guys, let’s get real for a second here. For the record, I hate Giantfarte’s guts, and Rob will get my vote. The Gun registry has nothing to do with Giantfarte’s company. They are simply using Oracle’s (the company which bought Giantfarte’s company ‘Right Now’) database technology. They could have use SAP HANA, Sybase, or Microsoft SQL, or any other scalable database out there. Nothing to see here, move on. To get to the ‘Russian investments’…heck, I might have some of that stuff in my 401K. I don’t check which of the 457 companies making up my retirement portfolio is pro-LGBTQ,… Read more »

Wendy Simanton
Guest

Wearing a. Ownoy hat is NOT “part of the description”!!! Burns was a puke too!!

Droidalyzer
Guest

Wowah what’s this? . This doesn’t sounds good at all

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