The Gazette Can’t Explain Covering for Jason Priest

Jim Romanesko, the best media blogger you’ll read, recently posted a story about the decision by the Billings Gazette to not publish affidavits from the Jason Priest arrest, despite telling print readers the documents would be made available.

Gazette editor Darrell Ehrlich explained the decision not to run the affidavit:

First, the case involves children. And to the extent that we can, we try to shield them, although in many instances that’s impossible or difficult.

More importantly, I believe the court documents could paint Priest in a harsh light. And, just as much as I am a fervent supporter of the First Amendment, I am also a big believer in the due process that says it’s up to the courts to decide Priest’s innocence or guilt.

This is a newspaper that every month runs a recap of mug shots from local arrests. These mug shots do not represent convictions or admissions of guilt, but get featured at the top of the Gazette’s web page on its carousel of most important stories each month.

Unlike Mr. Priest, the people featured in those photographs are not public figures, nor are they likely to be moralizing blowhards who repeatedly criticize others for their lack of responsibility. Unlike Mr. Priest, they are not sitting senators in the Montana Legislature.

Like Senator Priest, though, I suspect most have families and reputations in their community. That those people might be depicted in “a harsh light” apparently doesn’t matter to the Billings Gazette’s editor, but when it came to the delicate sensibilities of someone who happens to be a Republican state senator, suddenly, there’s is a new found respect for discretion.

Surely, after all, it makes sense that on February 23rd Ehrlich was writing about the need for “taste, decorum, practice and most of all, judgment” to justify not publishing the charging documents, but ran February’s mug shots on March 2nd. I guess “decorum” and “judgment” take a back seat to page views, when it comes down to it.

Former Gazette reporter Ed Kemmick also addressed the Gazette’s hypocrisy before posting the affidavit:

I say troubling because the Gazette routinely posts charging documents stuffed to the gills with horrific allegations, stomach-churning descriptions of violence and appalling tales of depravity. But then a state senator is charged with several felonies and the Gazette is suddenly too dainty to burden its readers with allegations that could paint the alleged perp in a “harsh light”? In a word, bullshit.


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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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  • The attempted justification of hypocrisy seems to be the norm moving forward in GOP politics. If it’s not bigotry, it’s flat out racism. If it’s not civil rights, it’s the (in the case of Bridget Kelly) “slut shaming” of women. And the neat communicative wisdom of the speech writers who spin words to persuade the reader the GOP policies are not bigoted, or racist, or chauvinistic. Rather, they are just abiding by the will of the voter’s voices. Are the readers really on the side of bigotry, racism, and the dissolution of women’s equal rights? If they are, then this country certainly isn’t as strong as it would like to think. I hope, beyond all hope, that the rational voter makes their way to the voting booth in November. Please…I am begging you.

  • If the Gazette really was squeamish about some of the language used in the affidavit, it could have published a bowdlerized version, blacking-out the words it feared would ruin women and children.

    Kudus to Kemmick for publishing the document.

    According to the affidavit, Priest agreed to a recorded interview without his attorney present instead of lawyering-up and keeping his mouth shut. That’s probably not the smartest thing he ever did.

  • Priest is not the only person who might not want a lot of people to read the affidavit. His estranged wife might also want to limit the affidavit’s distribution, for she is not depicted in the affidavit as a paragon of virtue.

  • The problem with ‘affidavits’ in Montana, is they are often hearsay and bullshit, as in my case. Unfortunately, once published, they are out there forever, despite that fact that the police lied, the prosecutor suppressed the witness interviews, and despite the fact that the State concedes that they lied on the affidavit- the press runs with the lies, because they are so much more exciting that the truth, in most occasions.
    It should be enough that he is charged with a crime, why do you thirst for details which may or may not be the truth? What happened to responsible investigative journalism? Do your own homework, and don’t rely on minimum wage tweeters, and mainstream media, as they can’t or won’t differentiate between fact and fiction.

    • I don’t think the issue is necessarily the affidavit’s content. The issue, as I perceive it, is the choice the Gazette made by NOT publishing the affidavit and the reasons the paper cited for this choice. They (the reasons for not publishing the affidavit) do not coincide with the paper’s actions of the past in which they chose to publish affidavits that were relative to the crime committed, and often was the case, the crime committed was much more heinous. So, based on what Mr. Pogreba is saying, it stands to reason that the Gazette WOULD publish the affidavit based on the paper’s willingness to do so in regard to past crimes.

        • I’m not quite sure if your last comment was intended as a joke, but ultimately I wouldn’t put it past anyone, especially an editor of a newspaper, to acquiesce to the demands of a politician. However, I think that’s getting off point somewhat. The issue, as I stated before, and as I perceive it, is the hypocrisy of the editor’s choice to publish the same documents used as public evidentiary ruling against one (or many) suspect(s) while NOT publishing the same documents relative to Mr. Priest’s (a politician’s)case. I think Mr. Pogreba has a very good point in bringing the question to light: why do you, the Billings Gazette, choose to publicly print the alleged evidence of one’s crime and choose not to publish the very same alleged evidence for another? I believe the question is certainly fair to ask.

          • yes, it is fair to ask. And no, it is not a joke, it is the truth as I know it, after being part of the media for years. I am not aware of which ‘party’ the Gazette is affiliated with, but I know they are afraid to buck the system, they merely print what they are given via AP. Mainstream media has lost much of its advertisers with the exception of
            1) lawyers who run foreclosures factories and legally have to post those ‘notices’
            2) politicians, who still spend the majority of their ad campaign money in newspapers, inserts and TV
            3) Banks and Real Estate, who still use their media.

            Of course they don’t want to alienate them. I would be amazed if they admitted it. You see it as hypocrisy, we see it as normalcy.

            • Your last point is my main focus of the comments I offered. Hypocrisy is the norm for the GOP, and it seems the Gazette acquiesced to the demands of a politician.

              • You sourced a right wing, conservative website to “prove” your accusation that the media has a liberal bias. That, in and of itself, is a direct contradiction to your statement that the “media” is “liberal”. That smacks with irony Mr. Swede. If your intent was to be ironic, then you win. However, if your intent was to “prove” you’re comments true by sourcing a conservative website, then you have failed miserably. By listing that website as a source that the media is bias toward liberals, you have effectively disproved your own theory by providing a media source that is conservative.

                • Who to believe then? Actually I thought the facts spoke for themselves. The post did give numerous examples.

              • In my opinion, the heart of this matter doesn’t revolve around one party or the other, the real issue is ‘are our newspapers and television ( mainstream media ) biased, and controlled by politicians, corporations and big business, and if so, what can we do about it? How can we demand equal treatment for all? How can they justify publishing criminal affidavits on all cases but not this one? They can’t justify it, and they don’t have to. There are no ‘newspaper’ police, and the FCC hasn’t done a review or broadcasting ownership in 6 years.

                • You make some very excellent points Mary. Who are we to trust these days? I find myself asking this question over and over when it comes to what is published in our newspapers. Especially during an election cycle that we’re in right now. Good comments Mary. I really think you have some great questions. In regard to Mr. Swede’s comments below, don’t sweat him. He’s trolling and I encourage you to not respond to his ignorance.

  • A general analysis of why Lee behaves the way it does would be useful, not just now but going back to the copper collar and High Wide and Handsome. Historical perspective. An editorial decision here and there (the editor position is nothing but a gatekeeper function) is meaningless. Usually the least curious among reporters, the most sensitive to where power lie, advances to that position.

    It’s structural. It serves both parties and the power behind them.

  • What did my sweet old Grandma used to say?

    “What goes around comes around”.

    It’s a big old round world out there and for numerous decades print media has championed liberal causes and demonized the right and middle America with repeated brow beating guilt trips.

    And what has this monopoly led to? Paper boy routes that used to cover blocks now cover miles instead.

    The Jason Priest non-coverage is symptomatic of a dying industry trying to grasp the last straws of relevancy in a manner so extreme that the act itself foretells its doom.

    • I normally don’t reply to people who don’t use their real name when making comments. However, your words struck a chord with me. I am amazed at how many people refer to the media as either “liberal” or “conservative”. In an effort to justify an argument, why do we feel it’s necessary to insert a “biased media explanation”? Yes, there are liberal media outlets, but there are also just as many conservative media outlets as well. None of them can claim they “monopolize” the market, so I ask again, why is a biased media explanation necessary to justify one’s argument?

      • The Gazette is no longer a regional paper but instead a mouthpiece for the Associated Press.

        See my above comment.

        • I read your above comment. It begged the question that I asked of you of which you chose not to answer. Your initial comment does not answer my question regarding the justification with which you call the media “liberal”.

          • Simply stated Mr. Stone (real name?) papers like the Gazette pick up nationally syndicated stories. Stories which in the Gazette’s case make up the overwhelming majority of print.

            Those nationally generated pieces seldom represent a more rural conservative view they often reflect a more urban collectivist philosophy.

            Now you can be flippant and prejudge my source but I agree with their examples and I find the arguments against their findings in the comments weak.

              • Then let me take each one example separately Mark.

                “Since the last government shutdown 17 years ago, temporary funding bills known as continuing resolutions have been noncontroversial, with neither party willing to chance a shutdown to achieve legislative goals it couldn’t otherwise win. But with health insurance exchanges set to open on Tuesday, tea-party Republicans are willing to take the risk in their drive to kill the health care law.”-AP

                This is revisionist history; the truth is that “shutdowns” have been common over the years, usually precipitated by Congressional Democrats, and there have been several recent occasions when shutdowns have appeared imminent. But now, the AP tells us, it is “tea-party Republicans” who are “willing to take the risk.” What about Harry Reid and the Democrats? Are they “willing to take the risk”? Apparently they have nothing to do with it.

                And what is the significance of the AP’s reference to “tea party Republicans”? The House passed its continuing resolution by 231-192, with 229 out of 231 Republicans voting in favor. (Two Democrats also voted for the House CR.) So are all Republicans “tea party Republicans”? Apparently so, yet the AP is obviously trying to make some kind of point with that description.

                Content enough for you. Need I continue?

                • Anecf******dotal. I’ve suggested to you for years now that when you look for evidence to support your pre-formed (via suggestion ) views and ignore everything else, you are doing nothing but confirmation bias. Though we all do this, a modicum of self-awareness on your end would be reassuring. You never show even a glint of understanding of the word anecdotal.

                  PW and Don do this too on the other end of the extremely narrow spectrum of allowed viewpoints, from your far right to their center-right perspective.

                  This is not Intelligent Discontent. That is such a misnomer. This is Studied Ignorance, all around boys. All around.

                • Really, then couldn’t we say that your plane flying into the WTC building was “anecf******dotal?

            • I think you’re trolling and lend no credence to your opinions. If you really believe in the things you say, then I feel sorry for you, truly sorry. But, since you haven’t used your real name, then you have the opportunity to make any sort of outlandish comment you want and can hide behind your alias. You no longer are relevant to this discussion.

              • May I call you Tony?

                You know names are so important in establishing one social status and intelligence.

                In fact your shortened name came to be in the receiving lines of Ellis Island.

                Concerned Italian moms took charcoal and printed TO NY on their foreheads.

    • “Liberal media” does not exist, and is nothing but a product of the power of suggestion, Swede. You think it’s there because e it has been suggested to you by your authority figures that it is there, so you look for evidence to support the idea.

      Your opinion makes no sense Swede, from a structural point of view, the media owned by corporations owned by right wing investors and supported by advertisers who also tend to learn right wing. IN your bizarro world, ins spite of the structural restrains put in place, newspapers run around putting a liberal slant on everything.

      Nonsense. Can’t be. You have not thought it through.

      • Oh, we’re conversing now?

        Mark, you ever read what you write? For the last month you’ve been trashing news sources as agenda driven propagandists.

        But I see. the propaganda bar doors only swing one way.

          • No such thing as “liberal corporations”, Mark?

            Just because business has money and wants to advertise does that automatically mean we attach the cursed “R” to their nameplate?

            The government is advertising Ocare, the post office sponsors Lance, Planned Parenthood has billboards, CA welfare runs ads in Mexico.

            Top 5 liberal companies which advertise profusely are Chrysler, Progressive Ins., Capital One, Starbucks, AARP.

            Your the one not thinking.

  • craig, Craig, CRAIG! Your peeps have JUMPED the rails and gone off the crazy train tracks in a big way! Puh LEEZE justify this crazy person and her wacky hubby! Jeebus, dude. You’ve got some ‘spainin’ to do ’bout your peeps.

    There’s crazy and then there’s CRAZY scary! That’s where you peeps have taken the country!

  • Mary – again, excellent observations. I think you’re right on point with your questions about “who to trust” these days. I think it’s a good start to at least ask the question. However, I hope the question is taken seriously and some thought is put into the answer. Too often, and (in my opinion) based largely in part to the country’s polarized views on effective government, the “gotcha” moment is worth more to someone than actually finding knowledge and truth…and then further demonstrating truth by one’s actions.

    • Yes, ‘investigative journalism’ has take a back seat to sensationalism. Sometimes the ‘gotcha’ moment is used to convict the defendant, in the eyes of the public, and/ or to deflect viewers away from other possibilities. It doesn’t help when journalists are no longer able to protect their sources, and in some cases their lives. If we focused on what we have in common, instead of our differences, the world would be much more fun.

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