Tom Lutey and the Gazette Play News, Not News Again

When I read the headline “Businesses to Daines: Cut government regulations” in my Billings Gazette feed, I confidently predicted two things: that the piece would be a news-free puff piece and that it would have been written by Tom Lutey. Lutey is the Gazette’s sometimes political reporter and tends to follow Republican Senate candidates to PR events with the kind of starry-eyed intensity you’d expect from a new intern at Capitol Hill.

This piece didn’t disappoint on either count. In it, we learned that Republican businessmen do not like regulations placed on them and that Congressman Daines is offering this bold policy proposal to address their concerns:

“I think in Montana we’re all in agreement that we all believe that Washington, D.C., should look more like Montana, not the other way around.”

Call the Pulitzer people. That is reporting.

The story doesn’t mention who was invited, if the event was public or private, or quote a single voice in favor of government regulations—you know, those things that protect our health, water, air, and working conditions. Maybe Mr. Lutey could have run a Google search to learn that the host of the even, the National Federation of Independent Business, received more money from the Koch Brothers than any other source last year or that NFIB was investigated by Congress for violations of its tax-exempt status.

Hell, the story doesn’t even mention that one of the “regular folks” businessmen cited in the piece was a Republican candidate for Secretary of State just last year.

You know, that context stuff that makes news news.

I’m not foolish enough to believe that mocking the puffery that passes for reporting will ever change it, but it’s astonishing to see how just easy it is to get some of these reporters to function as campaign staff for these candidates. Seven years ago, Stephen Colbert described what’s happening to the press as well as anyone has, a description that’s only more true today:

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!

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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  • Step back from it all for a clearer picture. Why does Lutey work there? Who supervises him? Has he passed his initiation period now? Is he considered dependable? Is it understood that he’s so incurious that he’ll never ask the wrong questions? Dull and unquestioning facial expressions, coupled with smug condescension, are the hallmarks of American journalists.

    Journalism is not bottom-up. Reporters don’t decide what is news. The very worst of them are promoted to editor. The publisher runs the show, and he/she is embedded in the community power structure. Just as teachers don’t teach truth because they don’t know truth, reporters don’t report truth even as they are sure they are doing their jobs … are quite good at their jobs dammit!

    Colbert (and Stewart) present a contradiction, but it is a tradition from medieval times – they are court jesters. It should come as no surprise that some of the most challenging journalism we have comes from comedians, but they act as pressure relief valves. Nothing more.

    But that evening, standing before all those powerful people, mocking them, never being invited back, Colbert did teach us a lesson: True journalists were not allowed in that room. That is still true today, even after supposed regime change.

  • I really don’t disagree with what you are saying Don, but I guess I just fail to observe and witness that such reporting of politicians PR events is a one-way street where only the GOP politicians are highlighted.

    Couldn’t we also find dozens and dozens of other news articles or TV spots where, say, Sen Tester or Sen Baucus’ scripted PR events are also covered positively by the Montana media?

    Do you honestly only see the MT media covering such events for the GOP and not for Dems?

    • Two things. I do think Mr. Lutey is especially bad about this and tends to give this kind of coverage to Republican candidates, as my links suggest.

      As for the partisan issue, I think it’s a non-issue. When someone comes to my site (or reads the tagline), they know they are getting a viewpoint. This isn’t a media criticism site.

      I also Republicans do get more of a free pass. I think some parts of the media have been so cowed by claims of liberal bias that they bend over backwards to avoid the perception of it, even when none exists.

  • It’s not that it’s openly partisan, per se, but will you EVER read an article that seriously challenges the idea that regulation holds back the economy? When Democrats get PR pieces like this, it’s for doing conservative things – increasing logging, or funneling money to Malmstrom. So while individual Democrats can survive on this kind of reporting and even use it to their advantage, the entire effect is to move the dialogue to the right.

    • Yes, and when Dem Party types, and even some progressive types, call for “streamlining” regulations and wholeheartedly rally around politicians increasing resource extraction on America’s public lands through the use of Congressional riders attached to unrelated spending bills “the entire effect is to move the dialogue [and public lands policy] to the right.”

      I too would love to see “an article that seriously challenges the idea that regulation holds back the economy.” Yet again, take Tester’s mandated logging bill as an example. Lumber consumption in US is down 50%, new home construction is still down 50% and just today I saw that 18.5 million homes in the US sit completely vacant. Seems like those are serious economic forces and realities, which just might have some type of an impact on businesses that sell lumber and other wood products.

      • “streamlining” regulations and wholeheartedly rally around politicians increasing resource extraction on America’s public lands through the use of Congressional riders attached to unrelated spending bills “the entire effect is to move the dialogue [and public lands policy] to the right.”

        Which do you suppose moves the dial further to the right – a conservative Democrat beating an extreme Republican, or a liberal Democrat losing to an extreme Republican? Democrats are forever on a tightrope, and when Tester is winning elections with less than half the votes, and the remainder is split between Rehberg and a Libertarian, I think we can agree that he has pushed about as far ‘left’, as far as gov’t regulation goes, as a winning politician can (Baucus has no such excuse). From GMOs to FISA, Tester is moving the dialogue in a far more reasonable direction than Rehberg wold have, and so I don’t regret rallying to him even when he disappoints progressives in entirely predictable ways.

        • So Tester is your unsalted potato chip, your unsweetened lemonade, and you’re happy with the snack. Your statement sums up Democrats – you don’s ask much, don’t get much, and seem OK with it. You just want to win elections.

          Party politics is grist for the mill, and merely sets their table. They report within the narrow confines of Party differences, usually minuscule, and know they are safe in doing that. It’s not complicated. They are recruited, evaluated and advance based on their ability to live, as you do, without spices and sugar. God what bland lives you live, what incurious minds, what an unsatisfying existence, never wanting to know more than you are told!

          • The problem with people like you is you have no alternative except negativity Mark. No Bright Ideas, no solutions, no intelligent dialogue….Only distain.

            Can you murmur anything except bile????

        • “Which do you suppose moves the dial further to the right – a conservative Democrat beating an extreme Republican, or a liberal Democrat losing to an extreme Republican? ”

          With the current make up of the House, the Senate and who is sitting in the White House your question/proposition isn’t as easily answered as you might assume.

          While I agree you have a point RE: Tester and GMO/FISA, I also hope you clearly see I have a point with Tester RE: mandated logging, ESA wolf riders, etc.

          Heck, just look at the type of logging bill Oregon Dem Senator Ron Wyden just unveiled yesterday. Took a few pages right from Tester’s mandated logging bill. Of course, the difference in Oregon is that every single forest/wilderness group in the state is blasting Wyden’s bill, not doing Wyden’s bidding and cheerleading. Anyway….

          I’m also not suggesting that Tester push “far left” I’m just requesting that when these types of (largely) western Dems start pushing so far to the right, as that only moves the right further right.

          Thanks for a good discussion, PW.

            • Huh Larry? Fact is, increasingly forest-based biofuels have been exposed for the false promises and economic folly they actually are…and I’m proud to say our activism against them during the past 15 years is a small part of the reason why. Thanks for the support as always.

                • Yes, Larry, I’m well aware of the USDA grant program. I’m also well aware that none of these efforts end up going anyway, because they end up running into ecological and economic realities.

                • Mathew’s is partly right Larry. and yet Mathew… None of the trees in our state for the lumber industry, are gonna be missed if they reforest quickly and keep logging roads to a minimum.

                  Lets face it the trees i see here on logging trucks are tiny in diameter, there scrub compared to the west coast and the south, and not really good for anything else but Biofuel.

                  I agree we must be vigilant for air quality’s sake, but there are there are years of pine beatle infested trees that need to go. Testers Bill will help achieve it, and help our tiny timber industry. I say let the bill Pass, and tweak it wherever necessary if we see problems.

                  After all we have scientists in the federal government. and people like you to keep a watch once the dead wood is out of the way.

                • Not to get all technical on you Norma, but….a growing body of science and research is shinning a light on some of the ecological, emissions and economic truths behind cutting down forests and burning trees for energy. Also, keep in mind that those dead trees you seem to want removed from public lands would need to be located less than 50 miles from the biomass energy plant to make it pencil out economically.


                  SNIPS: Yesterday, 41 leading scientists sent a letter to the EPA calling on the agency to protect our forests from the growing sucking sound created by biomass power plants. The scientists urged the agency to put in place a regulatory system that is both science-based and takes into account the key recommendations of the science panel the agency itself commissioned.

                  And the latest science tells us that burning whole trees for energy results in more carbon emissions than burning coal for decades. That’s because trees are less energy dense than coal, so you have to burn a lot more of them to produce the same amount of energy.

                • The denser the stand the more water is sucked from aquifers then transpired into the atmosphere yielding methane as the resultant. Why not level the carbon playing field constraining the oxidation while introducing low temperature fire after harvest and leaving wildfire to restore the most remote areas to historical biomes?


  • Any news proffered by a politicians stance that isn’t already Law, Should be called anything but opinion, and should not be anywhere on the front page, but in the opinion Section.

    Voting for a law is News, talking about voting for a law is Opinion. Plain and simple…. like newspapers used to handle it.

    I watch news stations then I watch opinion shows. there is a difference, that apparently is being blurred purposely by a few TV companies.

    The only two left after CBS bumbled Benghazi that still seems to separate Opinion from fact on a regular basis is ABC and NBC for news, their cable affiliates play for opinion.

    Fox has always been opinion monster almost devoid of real news and fact, and so has CNN…. it is a shame CBS has fallen that far as well. So I just picked up AL jazeera America and started watching BBC again since they have separated themselves from Murdock over the last couple of years.

    I stopped reading our papers in print it is a waste of money, they have become Ad Rags! The real news seems less and less in printed form.

    Lets face it lee papers are so broke now they will sell space for fluff pieces now Don. Its that and masquerading news, or Bankruptcy….which will probably happen anyway. Leaving the door open for the Koch brothers to buy them up, and skew the news more to the right then it has ever been in Montana.

  • In my view Lee is streamlining for a sale. The Missoulian and the Lincoln (NE) Journal Star remain the last of the left-leaning papers in our region.

    Don nailed it, expect either a rebellion in the Lee ranks or sale to someone like the Kochs: these are red state papers after all.

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