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Why Would the Lee Newspapers Run a Dishonest, Pro-Gianforte Puff Piece Two Weeks Before the Election?

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

While the editorial boards of major Montana newspapers have been doing admirable work the past few weeks showing just how unfit Greg Gianforte is to represent the people of Montana in Congress, it was profoundly disappointing to read a massive, front page piece today about the Congressman that failed to provide important context and even accurate information about the Congressman’s record.

From the piece’s dishonest framing of a Gianforte event as a “town hall” to its claim that Gianforte is riding for the Trump brand (without mentioning that Gianforte only hopped on the Trump train after he won election), the piece gives an impression of Gianforte that’s just not supported by reality and does a real disservice to the Montanans headed to the polls in the next few weeks.

As always seems to be the case, Gianforte is most dishonest when it comes to the matter of his assault of reporter Ben Jacobs. That Gianforte would continue to lie about what happened that night isn’t shocking, but in a week where we’ve been forced to discuss violence and even murder of journalists across the world, it’s hard to understand why a reporter would let him get away with it. From the piece:

Gianforte’s campaign initially tried to blame Jacobs for the assault, but on election night Gianforte took responsibility for the assault, a misdemeanor, to which he later pleaded guilty. By court order, Gianforte performed 40 hours of community service, paid a $385 fine and attended anger management. He also gave $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists….
“I personally regret what happened. I’ve taken full responsibility. I’m not perfect. I’ll be the first one to say that. It’s been covered extensively and I’ve moved on, and honestly, Ben Jacobs said he wanted to move on, too,” Gianforte said.

Gianforte did not speak to the press or any Montanans about the assault until after he won, as the Billings Gazette reported that night. As for his assertion that he’s taken full responsibility for his actions, the piece does not mention that Gianforte’s campaign put out a dishonest press release blaming Jacobs and only reversed themselves when reporters from Fox News released audio of Gianforte’s unprovoked attack, nor does it mention that Gianforte and his staff gave dishonest reports to the police.

And as for the assertion that Gianforte has taken full responsibility, the Missoulian editorial board had another take today and reported that Gianforte is still lying about what happened that night:

Asked about that discrepancy in a meeting with the Missoulian’s editorial board last week, Gianforte maintained that the police statement accurately reflects his “recollection of what occurred” and said he has taken full responsibility. But he hasn’t — not until he explains why he lied to police and the public, and not until he denounces, rather than embraces, President Trump and others’ ongoing verbal attacks on the press.

Oh, and Ben Jacobs, who is easily reachable via Twitter and e-mail? He hasn’t “moved on,” and is still waiting for the interview Gianforte promised he would give him.

The piece also bizarrely gives Gianforte a free pass for his refusal to have open town halls with Montana voters and ignores his tendency to only listen to people who agree with him:

Gianforte also appeared on three different talk radio programs. Conservative talk radio is a staple of Gianforte’s weekly routine. He takes questions from callers on the statewide program Montana Talks With Aaron Flint almost every Friday morning.

One assumes that a journalist might mention that Aaron Flint was Gianforte’s paid spokesman less than two years ago or that Gianforte refuses to hold town halls with voters outside of private events like the one featured in this piece, something another Lee reporter euphemistically once called “a more curated audience.”

The story offers an instructive example of Gianforte’s unwillingness to meet with Montanans, claiming that Gianforte hopes to increase access to public lands, without mentioning that his actions have been widely condemned for being done without public input:

He talks about increasing access to public lands by opening up 700,000 federal acres of wilderness study areas to multiple use in Montana

Here’s how the Missoulian endorsement of Kathleen Williams characterized Gianforte’s position on public input and Wilderness Study Areas:

This is evident in his use of “tele town halls” and selective appearances in place of open public meetings, in his breezy dismissal of legitimate criticism and in his pushing controversial legislation, such as the proposal to release wilderness study areas in Montana, without bothering to get input from Montanans first. Worse, he has done nothing to build consensus around these proposals.

And the piece lets Gianforte unfairly and inaccurately link Kathleen Williams to California’s Nancy Pelosi:

That last bit about the House minority leader from California sails through the room like a spring-loaded snake from a can, one used by former Rep. Denny Rehberg before being passed down to Steve Daines and then Ryan Zinke. This is MAGA country: The Pelosi trope is ageless.

Nowhere does the piece mention that Gianforte is lying to his to his curated audience, that Gianforte’s opponent, Kathleen Williams, issued an ad early in her campaign saying that she wouldn’t back Pelosi as Speaker, a bold move for a challenger hoping to unseat a quasi-incumbent like Gianforte.

Next, the piece lets Gianforte mislead voters on the prospects of impeaching Donald Trump:

“You know I’ve had to vote twice now on the House floor to not impeach president Trump because every time Nancy Pelosi gets a silver bullet, that’s the bill she puts on the floor.

Another Gianforte lie not fact-checked by the piece. While it mentions that Pelosi has opposed calls for impeachment, the notion that she has brought “silver bullet” legislation to the House floor demanding a vote on impeachment just isn’t supported by the evidence.

The piece moves on to campaign finance:

However, Gianforte told Lee Montana that it’s important that people literally buy into a campaign by donating. His receipts totaled $3.2 million at the end of September to Williams’ $2.8 million.

It doesn’t mention that Gianforte, after less than a few months in Congress, abandoned his pledge to not take PAC money or that Williams outraised Gianforte by $1 million dollars in the last quarter.

Next, after acknowledging that the tax cuts have increased the deficit, though not acknowledging the full impact, the piece offers this fascinating blend of conjecture from the reporter and Gianforte defending what almost every reputable economist says isn’t true about the tax cuts, that they will magically pay for themselves:

Gianforte said backtracking on the tax cuts is not the answer to the deficit. Rather, revenue growth must come from increased economic growth. It’s basically the principle of dynamic scoring, meaning that tax cuts eventually pay for themselves as the economy improves as a result of the cuts. The better the economy, the more taxes paid, even at lower tax rates.
That equilibrium hasn’t happened yet.

While the piece absolutely doesn’t clarify whether Gianforte suggested “dynamic scoring” would lead to tax cuts paying for themselves or whether the reporter just decided to drop that in without a source, the concept is one that is rife with abuse and inaccuracy. From Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in the Washington Post, we learn that dynamic scoring is hardly an ironclad economic principle, but wish projection from tax cut proponents:

“Accounting for the economic growth” allegedly generated by a tax plan is called “dynamic scoring” and it is a practice that is ripe for abuse, which is why I’m trying to warn anyone who will listen about DSA, or dynamic scoring abuse: the practice of pretending that tax cuts generate so much growth that they offset their lost revenue.

Gianforte (and the piece) move on to dishonest discussions about health care, starting with Medicare:

“This is why the proposal of the other side to go to single-payer Medicare for all, if we want the bankrupt the system that would be the fast way to do it.”

The piece doesn’t mention that Kathleen Williams does not support Medicare for All, something I learned in reporting from the reporter who wrote this very story. There’s no evidence or analysis to back Gianforte’s claim about the impact of Medicare for All, which claims that it would “bankrupt” the nation almost exclusively coming from right-wing outlets.

On the broader issue of health care, Gianforte claimed his priority was reducing costs:

What Gianforte and other Republicans support is replacing ACA with a mix of things including Association Health Plans, in which similar businesses team up to buy health insurance, and allowing people to have larger health savings accounts for paying for medical costs out-of-pocket.

“We also have to get the underlying cost down, that’s why in the House we passed medical malpractice reform.

While the piece treats us to a moving anecdote about a rancher who supports Gianforte, it fails to mention that the House efforts to cripple the Affordable Care Act have made coverage more expensive for everyone, as the former Trump Secretary of Health and Human Services told the Washington Times:

“And there are many, and I’m one of them, who believes that that actually will harm the pool in the exchange market, because you’ll likely have individuals who are younger and healthier not participating in that market, and consequently, that drives up the cost for other folks within that market.”

There also seems to be a glaring omission in the piece. Despite its frame suggesting that Gianforte is a Trump Republican, Gianforte is never asked for his take on any of the scandals involving the President, whether they’re as personal as his adulterous encounter with a porn star and subsequent lies about it or the massive number of Trump cronies who have either pled guilty or been convicted of crimes in the first two years of the Administration.

Of course, there is a place for candidate profiles in Congressional races, but newspapers still have an obligation to provide factually accurate information and to check politicians who simply aren’t telling the truth.  Congressman Gianforte has been dishonest or wrong about issues ranging from his assault on a reporter to health care costs and we deserve coverage that makes that clear.

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.

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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