The Helena Independent Record Practices Some Hard Hitting Journalism in the House District 80 Race

While I’ve been off focusing on my day job for the past couple of weeks (as essays don’t grade themselves), the good folks at the Independent Record have been hard at work covering political races in their inimitable fashion. Today, readers of the Independent Record were treated to a story about the House District 80 race, a story in which most of the quoted material about the incumbement candidate, Mike Miller, was little more than quotes lifted from his campaign web site.

No voting records, no analysis, no difficult interview questions to ask him what he meant when he wrote a series of nonsensical talking points that manage to say nothing at all. Instead, the worst form of stenography passing as journalism.

The talking points from Miller’s web site, of course, don’t even tell the truth. Without evidence, the IR writes:

He also pushes hard against “radical elites” who he says would place public lands off limits.

Except the record tells a different story. In 2013, Miller voted against a common sense “corner crossing” bill that would have “opened up thousands of acres with no costly land purchases by the state,” choosing instead to protect the interests of the wealthy out-of-state landowers he pretends to fight against. In 2011, he voted against  he Montana’s cherished stream access laws, voting to criminalize swimming in side channels of rivers that Montanans have enjoyed for generations.

Did the IR include those details? Nope. Too busy copying and pasting from a candidate web site in a “news” story.

It’s also telling that the story doesn’t mention one other important detail about Representative Miller: that the Comissioner of Political Practices has argued that he should be removed from office for serious campaign finance violations. Commissioner Motl, in a lengtht filing against Miller, argued that he “services from the outside groups associated with WTP on flyers, letters, and other materials and did not pay for (or partially paid for) or disclose those expenses as required. The filing says Miller knew of many of the actions, approved content and provided signatures for scanning”—all clear violations of Montana campaign law.

Back in 2012, Miller even admitted to ProPublica/Frontline that he used the director of the sleazy Western Tradition Partnership at the center of Montana campaign finance violations as an “unpaid advisor”when files from his campaign were found in the infamous Meth House document dump.

As astonishing as it is to learn that a reporter covering a political race would rely on quotes from campaign web sites for a story, it’s even more unbelievable that the same reporter would ignore a major scandal and legal challenge facing one of the candidates in what is likely to be the only story about the race in the newspaper.

The treatement of the other candidates was no better, including references to “online statements” and an interview conducted in March with the Libertarian running for the seat.

I realize that a news story about a legislative race probably doesn’t get as many hits as yet another listing of sad, awful crimes in our community, but doesn’t the IR have an obligation to at least try to cover these races with a shred of journalistic instinct and integrity? Doesn’t the paper of record in our community know it has to do better?

It would seem not.


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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