I try so hard to be understanding of the major newspapers in Montana, which are undoubtedly under economic pressure from the corporate overlords who are stripping the company of assets. I do. When I read Pete’s new post about about the state of the Fourth Estate in Montana, I found myself nodding sadly, thinking about a time when the the Lee papers had a Washington Bureau to cover Congress and the votes there. I’ve even written sympathetic pieces about how difficult it must be to work in understaffed newsrooms.
In short, I’m trying to be more empathetic. Honestly.
And then I read pieces like this one, spread out across the Lee Montana empire, offering an in-depth look at how Congressman Ryan Zinke feels about a Hollywood movie controversy and giving him another chance to talk about his military biography and simplistic foreign policy perspectives without opposition or context. I’m not sure what news function that serves, but it certainly serves the agenda of a politician who is making votes that hurt Montanans without that getting media attention while he’s able to offer his campaign biography unchallenged in a news story once he’s been elected. A search of the Missoulian doesn’t reveal that Congressman Zinke just voted to increase taxes, prevent health care for women, and deny servicewomen who have been sexually assaulted abortion access, but it had time to talk Hollywood.
Think I’m being too hard on the Missoulian, which put this story on the top of its Sunday edition web page? How about if I tell you that they had Zinke weigh in on the New England Patriots football deflation controversy in a sidebar. Because he played football 30 years ago.
But that’s not all. In the course of the story, Zinke criticized the Obama administration for leaking that Navy SEAL Team Six was responsible for the killing of Osama bin Laden:
I still have old cards and different covers. We were absolutely very careful to never expose who we were. That is a significant change in the last few years. The rescue of Private (Jessica) Lynch, bin Laden, Captain Rogers – there’s a number of events that occurred recently. With the killing of bin Laden, within a few hours it was disclosed that SEAL Team Six was responsible. It should have been U.S. special forces. I don’t think the administration should have identified the specific team that conducted the specific operation.
I’ve covered this topic repeatedly, and will do so again, but Zinke is lying. Within twelve hours of the announcement of bin Laden’s death, he had spoken to local, regional, and national news outlets, identifying Navy SEAL Team Six and reminding people that he had once been a member. It’s one thing for the major Montana media to ignore the story that it was Zinke himself, a man who called for criminal penalties for having done so, who outed Navy SEAL Team Six, but years later, is it too much to ask for reporters to challenge his unfair and specious claims against the administration to to unchallenged—in what is billed a news story?
So when critics go after the Montana media, it’s just not much of a defense to talk about shrinking newsrooms when this is the coverage that happens with that limited staffing. Montanans received wholly inadequate coverage of the two candidates in the Congressional race of 2014, but it’s not too late for real coverage of first Congressional term for Ryan Zinke.