Public Records Request Reveals A Reporter Playing Errand Boy for PACs. Montana Deserves Better

There was a moment in Stephen Colbert’s 2006 speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner that has stuck with me since. In a speech panned by the media at the time for being too biting, Colbert offered this savage and spot on critique of the press:

But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works. The President makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ’em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!

All too often, it seemed, during the Bush Administration and still seems today, coverage of policy and politics is dominated by merely transferring what those in power want to be said. Here in Montana, that’s all too often the case, as reporters run to stage political events and treat them as news, or worse yet, become little more than errand boys for the political elite, treating their steaming piles of opposition research as newsworthy for little reason other than that it makes easy to write copy.

In the last week, national and international reporters have broken three stories about Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte:

And none of these stories have been covered by the Montana press.

Instead, readers of the state’s largest newspaper chain were treated to front page coverage of the history of fishing and hunting licenses obtained by the two candidates for office. In my years reading about Montana politics, there has never been a similar story, despite public lands being a central concern in race after race.

What, I wondered, made Gazette reporter and Gianforte errand boy Tom Lutey write the piece? It turns out that, much like I guessed, he was fed another story by Republican operatives and PACs.

A public records request shows that Mr. Lutey requested the hunting and fishing license records of Mr. Quist and Mr. Gianforte on April 26, bizarrely the very same day his story appeared. It turns out, though, that Lutey wasn’t even the first journalist who requested those records. As a reporter at KTVH requested the records on April 25 and another requested them a few hours earlier than Lutey on April 26.

What, I wonder, would prompt those media requests, all within twenty-four hours?

The first requests for the hunting and fishing license records came from Republican operative Scott Yeldell from Marathon Strategic Communications and the America Rising PAC on April 6th, 2017. A brief Google search of Mr. Yeldell would have revealed some of his part work and anyone vaguely familiar with politics knows all about America Rising.

Lutey’s story never indicates that the source of the nakedly political attack was a Republican PAC.

I suppose it’s possible that all of these people had the same idea to cover this “story” at precisely the same time, but it’s certainly much more likely that PACs and people working for Greg Gianforte decided to drop another negative attack, perhaps precisely to divert attention from the latest troubling incident in Mr. Gianforte’s past.

There’s a dangerous precedent here. If Republican operatives know they can wrap up a piece of trivial nonsense into a story and send it to Mr. Lutey to “report” on, why bother with expensive ads? Why not simply use the press as a conduit for partisan attacks if you know that the press won’t thoroughly vet the story nor even evaluate how newsworthy it is?

Think about how bizarre this situation is. Mr. Lutey eagerly ran a story fed to him by partisan operatives with almost no lead time, but refuses to mention or acknowledge work being done by actual reporters writing actual stories across the globe.

I’m not sure what makes Mr. Lutey so eager to carry water for Republicans in this race. It’s hard to say whether it’s personal animus against Democrats, profound laziness, or simply no sense of what makes something news, but the state’s largest newspaper chain probably should start asking itself whether a person who can’t seem to cover this race fairly should be entrusted with leading its coverage.

Being a reporter has to mean more than spell checking a packet of opposition research and slapping a breaking news story on a web page. It has to mean understanding what stories have value, vetting those stories, and doing real reporting on them. It can’t mean simply running errands for the political class and letting them continue to subvert our democracy.

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.

Subscribe to our posts


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.


Click here to post a comment

Please enter an e-mail address

  • WASHINGTON, D.C. — (Aug. 30, 2017) Montana U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte today endorsed the Trump-Zinke plan to auction off the first 43 million acres of federal lands to help finance other projects, according to Gianforte spokesman Tom Lutey.

    • “A rancher with a Kalispell address. Can some one explain this?”

      Bill, It’s called “All Hat and No Cattle”

      • Never had to put nuthin’ in someone else’s name to hide it? Geez yoy’re leading a charmed life……or stupid one! Look, when you get old, you start hiding stuff in case you have to go medicaid, which we all do sooner or later. Why work your azz off you entire life only to have the gubbermint take it all while you slowly die? If everything is in you kids’ names, you can die happy! Rich man poor man. Makes no difference. Go out of this world the same way you came in, with only you birthday suit to you name. I plan to.

        p.s. Cadastral can be wrong. For ten years they showd me owning my neighbor’s place and he mine. My kid pointed this out one day. Heck, I didn’t even know what cadastral was, but I sure didn’t want to be paying my neighbor’s taxes too! Well, they eventually fixed it, but they said that they don’t update too often.

    • If he does, it will only marginally make the country worse, so I think I’ll be okay. And I can comfort myself by saying I didn’t abet the ascension of the worst President in history. Can you?

  • Pete – Yes he does live in Creston. I was just responding to Bill’s comments. It’s 10 miles from Kalispell. I recall driving past Rob’s home on occasion when I visited friends in his neighborhood a few years ago.

    Bill does have a point though. While Quist’s wife and daughter own a lovely 20 acres of ground, it is being more than charitable to call it a “Ranch” at least from the perspective of anyone who has ever worked on, grew up on or owned a working ranch.

    Bill is also right that most people who own working ranches usually talk about sections rather than acres. They also talk about AUs (Animal Units) a lot too. Depending upon range site, grazing technique and conditions, the average carrying capacity in Montana for one AU is probably between 15 to 40 acres. In simple terms it means you need between 15 to 40 acres to feed one cow and calf for a season. The Quist “Ranch” can raise one horse or one cow/calf pair. My ranching friends on the eastern side of the state just laughed when Rob Quist showed up in his hat and cowboy costume in their town and told them he understands them because he owns a ranch.

    Bottom line, Quist’s wife and daughter own a pretty piece of rural residential land where they used to keep a couple of riding horses. But they don’t own a “ranch” at least in the eyes of Montanans who make their living from ranching.

    • Pogo, your rancher friends also have CRP payments, subsidies and bottom basement price Montana School Trust land leases. Throw in the way they scam the state on the Block Management Program along with leasing the best hunting lands to wealthy out of staters and I see why they don’t consider Quist a rancher. You really need to know how to rig the system to be a big time rancher in this state, and that is why they have a disproportionate number of them in the legislature and why they all support Gianforte. They need more people like themselves in government so that they can all get richer at the average Montanan’s expense.

    • Quist never owned a ranch or farm! His mother inherited a farm north of Cut Bank and the sister and husband now own it with a last name of Eney! IAnd from many locals have told me he never worked on that farm! I would like to know what Quist will do with the left over monies in his war chest! Will he do the right thing and donate them to a worthy cause that would benefit ALL Montanans? Is his money being monitored or dies he get to do what he chooses with it? I would be willing to bet his fans who have donated to his campaign will be watching closely!! Will his son Jethro be given a high paying job again if Quist runs?

  • You know whats totally weird. Gianforte has more rights to claim himself as a rancher because he owns land and Rob doesn’t. It is in his wife’s name.

  • Let’s keep measuring dicks here, guys. Love the rancher lingo: animal units, range site, sections… Quist never said he was a rancher. He did grow up on one outside of Cut Bank. He wears a cowboy hat just like your buddies Denny Rehberg and the late Conrad Burns — it’s part of the job description and has little to do with how many cows they wrangled.

    Speaking of Rehberg, his ritzy subdivision on the Billings’ Rims is called Rehberg Ranch, but you won’t find a cow on the place.

    So let’s cut the crap. Maybe talk about something substantive: health care, climate change, Citizens United, more tax breaks for the rich. Can we come up with something more than the manly flexing and tabloid gossip?

  • But, Pete that’s kind of boring. Gianforte will support Trumps platform and Quist will do as he is told to do by Pelosi, Schumer, and Tom Perez. So who will have a voice and vote that will count for Montana.

  • Since you brought it up. What is Quist’s position on Syrian refugees in Montana and extreme vetting? What committees does he plan to be on if elected? What effort has he completed with the DNC to be assigned to committees? What chance does he have to be assigned to a committee as a dem? What is his position on Sanctuary cites in Montana. What is the Montana Sportsmen Alliance that supports Rob? What are his plans to save the Colstrip coal plants. What is his position Keystone pipeline? What is his plans for the Montana Rainy Day Fund?

    • What is Gianfortes stance on white Christian racists shooting up schools, shopping centers and movie theaters. How about his stance on global climate change killing all the native cutthroat in Montana’s rivers. How about his opinion of whether the trump administration should be investigated over collusion with russia, he was asked this in both debates and failed to give any answer at all. And just for the record the Montana rainy day fund is a state issue that has nothing to do with being our congressman, it is the Governor and legislature that makes decisions regarding it.

  • Doesn’t seem like all this tit for tat back and forth on Quist and Gianforte is getting very far. I doubt one person will change their mind. Neither one of these two candidates seems particularly strong to me. Of course that’s just my opinion.

  • I’d like to just make a quick comment about the hunting/fishing license issue. I am a fourth generation Montanan, with ranching and farming grandparents and great grandparents, who raised my kids here and they are raising thier kids here. I used to hunt but probably haven’t in the past 15-20 years. We no longer need that much meat for the 2 of us. We still love to fish but probably only get out once or twice a year. Just don’t have the time. So what’s the big deal if Quist isn’t the great white hunter like Giant ***. He has enough money to pay people to do the work we “commoners” have to spend our weekends doing (like yard work, laundry, cleaning, etc.) What it comes down to, basically, is that as a Montana voter, I certainly identify more with Quist, not Giant ***.

  • Guys, let’s get real for a second here. For the record, I hate Giantfarte’s guts, and Rob will get my vote. The Gun registry has nothing to do with Giantfarte’s company. They are simply using Oracle’s (the company which bought Giantfarte’s company ‘Right Now’) database technology. They could have use SAP HANA, Sybase, or Microsoft SQL, or any other scalable database out there. Nothing to see here, move on. To get to the ‘Russian investments’…heck, I might have some of that stuff in my 401K. I don’t check which of the 457 companies making up my retirement portfolio is pro-LGBTQ, anti-Trump, etc…you get my point. Let’s stick to the real issues here. Giantfarte is a Drumpf-yes-‘man’, a climate-change denier, a ‘young-earth-creationist’, etc. He’s got a lot of attack surface, without making up stuff. Thanks for listening.

Send this to a friend