I’m really trying to lay off the press a bit, but yesterday’s decision by the Lee Papers in Montana to give prominent, top-of-the-page coverage to Steve Daines’s theatrical proposal to amend the Constitution to prevent flag desecration simply can’t pass without comment.
One glaring factual error aside, the story passes the test of objective journalism, including quotes from those in favor of and opposed to the proposal. But the reporting attention given the story and its status as a “featured” “editor’s pick” at the top of the page demonstrate a more important failure of judgment: this simply wasn’t a story worth covering on the front page.
Rolling out a proposal to “protect” the flag from the First Amendment has been a reliable part of the politician’s toolbox since the 1989 Texas v. Johnson Supreme Court case affirmed the idea that flag burning was a protected form of speech.
With a President in legal trouble threatening his tenure in office, health care reform deeply unpopular and being conducted in secret, and a Senator so afraid of his own constituents that he won’t meet with them, the Daines proposal offered the Senator a chance to make some news without actually doing anything. And it’s a damn shame that the media here fell for it. And it will be an even greater shame when they run the inevitable op-ed piece written for Daines about the proposal.
Coverage of Important Daines Votes Missing
It’s frustrating that the Lee papers gave this story so much play for a number of reasons. The first is simply that they have not covered other important votes Daines has made in the Senate. Back in March, for instance, Daines was a critical vote on the bill that will allow ISPs to spy on and sell personal data from users. Despite helping Daines get elected on the untenable narrative that he is some kind of Internet guru, the Lee papers never covered this vote, which surely matters more to Montana consumers than the theater of this proposal to “protect” the flag.
Daines Among the Least Effective Members of the Senate
The story also leaves out important context about just how ineffective Daines has been as a member of Congress. As I noted back in April after the Lee Papers ran another story about a bill Daines sponsored, “A look at Govtrack shows that Senator Daines is even less effective than most members of the Senate, with zero laws enacted in 2015, 0 bills co-sponsored by a chair or ranking member, and one of the worst “leadership scores” in the entire body.”
While the story today asserts that the last effort to amend the Constitution to prohibit flag burning was in 2006, that’s simply not true. In 2011, for instance, Montana’s own Max Baucus and Orrin Hatch introduced an amendment to protect the flag from freedom. If those two Senate stalwarts couldn’t get the issue to a floor vote, it’s hard to imagine how one of the least influential, least effective members of the body could do it.
It would be a mighty big swing for Senator Daines to make an amendment to the Constitution the first thing he accomplishes in Congress.
Senator Tester Passes Actual Legislation
Most important perhaps is the missing contrast with Senator Tester, who rather than spending his time huddled up with Matt Rosendale thinking up political stunts, gets things done. Just this week, the House passed Tester’s VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act after the Senate unanimously voted for it. Working with Republican majorities in the Senate and House, Senator Tester passed legislation that will make it easier to fire the very few bad workers in the VA system and to protect those who call out their misbehavior.
Perhaps it’s his experience as a legislator or his belief that the government should serve the people, but Senator Tester gets that our representatives in Congress should do the job they’ve been elected to do, not grandstand to hide an empty ideology devoid of policy ideas that will improve the lives of Montanans.
Senator Daines should know better than to wrap himself up in the flag to hide from Montana voters, and the Montana press should know better than to pretend like his proposal is front page news.