Rehberg’s 14 Minutes and the Media’s Response: Which Was Worse?

Initially, let’s review Representative Rehberg’s stance on the Republican Potemkin Congress this week. According to his taxpayer-funded web site on August 6th, Rehberg feels that the Potemkin Congress is incredibly important. His press release makes the case:

“America needs a Congress that will act now to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and work to lower gas prices,” said Rehberg, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “Speaker Pelosi closed up shop, left town, and is now on vacation signing autographs for her book, instead of displaying true leadership and helping to pass an energy plan.”

Because of this critical issue, Rehberg then spent a whole six hours in Washington on Wednesday, shooting amateurish videos and listening to a Republican kind of debate on energy. Montana’s media, no doubt frustrated by the lack of a legitimate gubernatorial campaign, jumped all over the story. The Great Falls Tribune gave Rehberg prominent coverage, quoting him as saying:

“If you were to go out and ask the general public in Montana today should Congress be on a five-week vacation or should they be in Congress trying to solve the energy crisis, they would tell you overwhelmingly that they want us in Washington solving this issue,” Rehberg said.

The Lee State Bureau gave Rehberg the opportunity to let us know that the energy issue demands attention now:

“Folks in Montana are suffering from a constant strain on their pocketbooks,” Rehberg said. “They’ve asked me to come back and tell those stories.”

Through a spokesman, Rehberg also said he’s disappointed that the Montana Democratic Party is politicizing the issue rather than looking for solutions.

“Denny isn’t interested in politics; like all Montanans, he wants results,” said Bridger Pierce, communications director for Rehberg. “He’s going to continue to roll up his sleeves and work to solve the problem.”

The Missoulian loved the story so much that it offered an editorial that was a barely reworded version of the original Rehberg press release, criticizing Congress for taking a vacation and commending Rehberg for giving up campaigning time…you know, in race against an opponent who isn’t raising money or campaigning.

All in all, it was a great week for Rehberg. He received a great deal of positive press, and was able to play to the base, claiming to be working on a pro-drilling energy solution. Everyone wins, right?

Well, everyone except for the battered corpse of the media’s credibility and the people that Rehberg promised to help. It turns out that Representative Rehberg went to do the “people’s work” for exactly one day. Let’s ignore the fact that news stories about the Republican faux Congress ignored the past recess practices of these members, their trips, and their justifications for leaving. Let’s ignore the fact that the Montana media left out any context about the nature of these show debates.

How could they not notice that Rehberg wasn’t even there the rest of the week?

He certainly wasn’t there on Thursday, when 17 Republicans came to play debate. So, despite claiming that Congress should not be on vacation, that suffering Montanans were asking Rehberg to come tell their stories, and that real leadership would mean staying in Congress, Rehberg went on vacation, after speaking for 14 minutes.

The suffering on Montanans who want their voice heard? Worth less than a TV sitcom’s worth of time for Representative Rehberg.

That’s the kind of leadership that Representative Rehberg believes in—and the Montana media let him get away with it. Where is the follow-up story, asking what he did Thursday and Friday?

Ultimate responsibility for the superficiality of the political debate in this country rests on many heads, but until the media stops treating press-release driven drivel as front page news and letting politicians get away with stunts rather than substance, the quality of the debate—and more importantly, the solutions engendered from them—are unlikely to change.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a 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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