I got into blogging just over nine years ago as a bit of a media scold. I was troubled that the Montana press didn’t seem to cover stories that needed to be covered and that often the stories took a predictable approach of letting both sides (Democrat and Republican) speak with equal authority, even when one side was clearly not telling the truth. Voices outside of the two parties were largely marginalized.
Since that time, I’ve had moment of sympathy for the press. They’ve seen jobs cut to pay for executive bonuses and have struggled with the transition from the world of print media to digital media. That sympathy fades a bit when I read editorials like the one in today’s Great Falls Tribune, which ends its moralistic broadside with a line like this:
Our preference for this race, as it is for all state races, is to see a genuine horse race featuring two strong major-party candidates on the November ballot.
That horse race mentality is why American political coverage is broken. Instead of focusing on issues that inform voters, the press wants a horse race, so they can fill inches with quotes from political analysts and the latest poll numbers, because those stories write themselves and generate drama. That a candidate wants to gut Medicare or believes that climate change is a natural phenomenon? Not as interesting as the latest poll which shows the race tightening—or the latest “scandal” which can sustain itself with truly terrible stories and analysis.
But I’ve covered all of this before. Instead, let’s talk about the Great Falls Tribune and its political coverage. If you were to visit its Montana Politics page today, you’d see this.
The top stories in Montana politics? The latest one is from three days ago and the bottom story? Ten days ago. But perhaps I am being unfair. Surely the stories listed below, in the “Headlines” section are more recent, with detailed coverage about what’s happening across the state with candidates running for office, in an election that is only 100 days away.
Not so much, I guess. Who doesn’t enjoy firing up their favorite online news source to research political campaigns and coming across stories from 17 days ago? There’s an old saying rocks and glass houses that comes to mind here: it’s easy, I guess, to throw around words like “reprehensible,” but harder, I think, to do one’s job.
The Tribune’s editors can moralize all they like about what kind of people candidates for public office should be. That’s certainly their right. But it’s also their obligation to cover the political stories that permit the best candidates to run. How many people are going to run for public office in Montana when they know they can’t get any press attention for public policy?