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No, Tom Lutey. No. Eric Olsen and Patty Lovass Are Not Credible Sources

I’ve been critical of Tom Lutey’s questionable reporting in the Billings Gazette before, but I think the story posted last night might be the worst yet. While there have been no actual cases of fraud in Montana elections, Mr. Lutey allowed conservative conspiracy theorists to raise the fear of it happening here, with no evidence or support for their claims.

In his piece, Lutey allowed Eric Olsen (without mentioning his affiliation with the TEA Party) to pass along unsubstantiated, hearsay claims that might have been offered by former Secretary of State candidate Patty Lovaas (without mentioning her frequent, irrational, legally unsustainable challenges) that dead people have been casting ballots in Montana.

No, really:

There’s also been a lot of talk about “dead voters” this year. Rutherford said he had been contacted by a former legislator and another woman asking to see the vote scanner printer log from the primary. The elections administrator didn’t know why, but Eric Olsen said he had heard the request was part of an effort by Missoula Republican Patty Lovaas to ferret out fraudulent votes.

Lovaas, who lost her party’s secretary of state nomination to Brad Johnson in the primary election, could not be reached by phone or email Friday.

Does the Billings Gazette even employ a news editor? I’m fairly certain that passing along second-hand claims that someone might have “heard” isn’t recommended journalistic practice.

More importantly, giving credence to these unsupported claims just fuels the conservative conspiracy theories that dominate the TEA Party fringe of the Republican Party. They’re terrified of voter fraud (but can’t prove it) and that Obama’s going to take away their guns (even though it’s Mitt Romney who passed gun control legislation).

Make them prove their claims before handing them the megaphone to repeat them more loudly.

Given credence to wild accusations isn’t journalistic balance; it’s malpractice.

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.

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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