Far too late to matter, the Independent Record has issued an editorial condemning the last minute smear campaign that was waged against a few Montana Republican legislators during the primary. While the headline in this incoherent mess suggests that the tactics ought to backfire, the article suggests that voters should be smart enough to ignore the message. Along the way, the piece inexplicably includes a reference to Christine Kaufman, who certainly didn’t send any illicit mailers,and concludes that the mailers had no impact in Ed Butcher’s race, even though he only won by 20 votes.
Then the piece argues that the attacks had an impact on three races.
Get that? In five paragraphs, the piece argues that the mailers worked, voters will ignore them, and that they should backfire. Once my head stopped spinning, I thought a bit more about the piece, and realized that the main issue is not an incomprehensible, well-meaning editorial. It’s about journalistic responsibility. While the piece that ran earlier this week about the questionable nature of the sleazy organizations that ran these ads was great, where was this story in the days before the election? Where was the indignant editorial condemning the mailers before the election? The one that would have given voters a chance to understand the nature of these dirty tricks?
Yesterday, the Missoulian ran one of its most frequent editorials, the defense of the critical role of the press in democracy piece. It’s a valid point, but not if the press only acts as a scold after the fact, rather than as a vital provider of information before voters act.