KECI, the NBC affiliate in Missoula, was purchased last month by the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group. The night before Montana’s special election, KECI refused to air the story on Greg Gianforte assaulting a reporter. Coincidence? Or was it just a bad judgement call by news director Julie Weindel?
New York magazine has an article on the decision-making process at KECI. The Gianforte story ran nationally on NBC and nearly every other media outlet. Here’s KECI’s reasoning for not airing the piece:
A well-placed source familiar with communications between KECI news director Julie Weindel and NBC News says that she was unyielding in her refusal to share any footage she may have had access to, or run a report on the incident. According to the source, Weindel said that they weren’t covering the story, though it was featured in outlets across the country at the time, explaining, “The person that tweeted (Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs) and was allegedly body slammed is a reporter for a politically biased publication.” Weindel then added, “You are on your own for this.”
Sinclair is the country’s largest operator of local television stations. It also purchased, in the April transaction, KCFW in Kalispell and KTVM, which broadcasts in the Butte/Bozeman area.
The audio recording of Jacobs being slammed to the ground speaks for itself, one would think. We’ll have to wait and see if this trend — shying away from covering controversies that involve conservatives — continues on Montana’s Sinclair TV stations.
Meanwhile The Intercept, a lefty political blog, adds Lee Enterprises to the mix of Montana media that lean right and may have contributed to House candidate Rob Quist’s loss. From the website:
Quist had to fight off not just an ambivalent national Democratic Party and millions of dollars in attacks from the GOP, but also a local media that was aligned with them.
The Intercept looks at Lee’s board of directors and the contributions board members have made to right-wing candidates and organizations.
And it lists Sinclair Broadcasting as contributing to Montana media’s conservative leanings, too. No surprise there.
It also links to a column written by the former publisher of The World, a Lee-owned newspaper in Coos Bay, Oregon.
I first saw a reference to the column at Last Best News, penned by Ed Kemmick, also a former Lee employee. The World publisher, Chris Rush, lambastes the corporate control that is creeping (dare I say rushing) into local newspapers around the country. It bodes poorly for folks who rely on these smaller dailies to provide them with important local news. A quote from Rush:
I have watched the autonomy of the local newspaper being eroded day by day and replaced with central planning from remote corporate offices. More and more decisions about your local newspaper — from its national news and feature content to how much you pay for your subscription — are being determined in boardrooms far away.
Finally, Jayme Fraser, a Lee state bureau reporter, wrote a lengthly, informative article on voter turnout in the election with a focus on how Gianforte assaulting a reporter played into the results. The problem with the piece were quotes from Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton. I suppose he needed to be asked but I would have added this caveat (written by me):
Montana Secretary of State, Republican Corey Stapleton, downplayed the incident. Stapleton was a key opponent of a Montana legislative bill that would have allowed mail-in balloting, saving counties tens of thousands of dollars. He did this at the request of Republican Party Chairman Jeff Essmann, who said a mail-in election might favor Democrats. Stapleton’s testimony at a committee hearing was at odds with nearly every county commissioner and elections official in the state. Stapleton is also on the short list of potential Republican candidates for future Montana A-list elections.
Montana media need to be held accountable, now more than ever, but alternative options are surfacing so stay tuned.