Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Politico’s Terrible Montana Coverage

John Walsh may step down from the Senate campaign. He may not. I’ve heard equally passionate arguments from people close to him and his staff assuring me that one of those things will happen. I don’t know what Senator Walsh will decide, but I know two things: 1) he’ll make a decision that he believes is best for Montanans and 2) the reporting about his decision has been abysmal, but no story is worse than today’s piece in Politico by Manu Raju and James Hohmann.

You might remember Raju from the terribly-sourced attack piece he wrote about Governor Schweitzer’s decision not to run for the Senate. In it, Raju combined anonymous smears with a lack of knowledge about Montana that was truly astonishing.

Today’s piece offers the same formula: conventional wisdom + terrible anonymous sourcing + some Google searches repackaged as analysis. This paragraph best captures the feel of the piece:

Another Democratic source said Walsh has been resistant to stepping down, and some expect he can weather the political storm by pointing to his long military record. But some top Democrats in the state fear that his remaining a candidate will cost them dearly in down ballot races. They worry that Walsh’s vulnerabilities could hurt, for instance, Democratic House candidate John Lewis, who has a real shot at winning the seat opening up with GOP Rep. Steve Daines running for Senate.

That paragraph is gold: in it, Raju refers to “another Democratic source,” “some,” “some top Democrats,” and “they.” Not bad for three sentences, but certainly not good for the credibility of the piece. What constitutes a “top Democrat” in Montana, much less a collection of them? Is it really the consensus of “top Democrats” in Montana that the Walsh candidacy will hurt John Lewis? No one could possibly know the answers to these questions—least of all reporters in D.C. who think Butte is still “a copper mining city.”

Later in the piece, Raju and Hohmann tip their hands to people who actually follow Montana politics, when they assert that Democrats might consider John Bohlinger to replace Walsh. There is no scenario under which Montana Democrats would even, for a moment, consider John Bohlinger as a Walsh replacement, given his record and completely toxic campaign in his quixotic primary bid.

I’m sure Politico talked to at least four people before writing this piece, some of whom might actually be in a position to comment on the future for John Walsh and the Montana Senate race. Something they might consider in the future, though: just because someone is online all the time and has unlimited time to talk doesn’t make him a “top Democratic source;” it probably just means he’s someone with an axe to grind or an agenda to promote.

I know everyone interested in Montana politics is desperate to know what’s going to happen, but please don’t pass around this terrible pieces of “journalism” as if it adds anything true to the narrative.

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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