If it’s been some time since you read George Orwell’s 1984, you may have forgotten one of its powerful passages, in which the protagonist Winston does his most troubling work at the Ministry of Truth, tossing inconvenient documents about the past into memory holes so that they—and the truth they carried—would be forgotten forever:
Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.
The contemporary version of the memory hole is the parade of non-stop scandals that plague the Trump Administration. Who can remember, much less keep track of the fact that Trump officials were ignoring subpoenas days ago when a former Trump official refused to answer questions before Congress
And don’t get me started on Trump’s sexual assaults (admitted and alleged) or his mockery of a disabled reporter?
All lost in the haze of the 24-hour news cycle, our collective memory hole. We’re certainly still aware of the scandals, but the details fade into a haze, obscuring just how bad each incident was and perversely giving Trump cover to act badly again and again.
And that’s exactly what Greg Gianforte and Matt Rosendale are counting on: that the press, dominated by the manufactured political news of the moment, will fail to revisit and remind voters about the very real scandals, misdeeds, and missteps of their past as they seek office one more time.
Each has scandals aplenty that deserve renewed scrutiny and attention, whether it’s Gianforte’s support for discrimination, his exploitation of a tax loophole to devalue his land in Gallatin County, his decision to close off public access to public land and many more, or Rosendale’s votes against firefighters, veterans, and public lands, his Maryland tax dodge, or his failure to attend work as State Auditor and his corruption when he did.
Some of these stories received extensive coverage in previous races and some received none at all from the mainstream press, but all need to be referenced in stories about these two as they campaign once again.
Some members of the Montana media have argued this point on social media, suggesting that having previously covered an issue, they don’t need to return to it again. This was the certainly the case for Gianforte: in his first bid for the U.S. House, there was almost no coverage of his closure of public lands and during his second bid, there was far less coverage of his assault of reporter Ben Jacobs than was warranted, especially given his refusal to ever explain why lied to the police and press the night of the assault.
And so the details fade, while new allegations against new political rivals, real or trumped up, will take center stage, obscuring the truth about Rosendale and Gianforte.
To suggest that a story doesn’t deserve renewed attention because it was previously covered ignores both the short attention span of the audience for political stories and the power of the 24-hour news cycle. Rosendale actually hired the guy who lied about Gianforte’s assault as a campaign spokesman, confident that such a brazen move would get little coverage. And he was right.
I understand that the avoiding the memory hole competes with filling the newshole and that not every story about Rosendale and Gianforte can mention their past misdeeds, legion as they are, but they’re counting on winning these elections by having the public forget the past. Already news coverage in Montana has, for instance, referred to Rosendale as a rancher, even though he was so thoroughly shamed away from that claim in 2018 that he scrubbed it from his campaign materials. Another story quotes Greg Gianforte claiming he’ll oppose a sales tax in Montana without mentioning that he championed one before a legislative committee for the sake of executives at his company who were making $300,000 a year.
And that’s what the memory hole does: it lets candidates reshape their identities by reshaping the past, smoothing its edges, and deleting its worst moments. And it keeps voters dangerously under-informed.
Perhaps Montanans will finally want to send Matt Rosendale back to the Maryland area and even give Greg Gianforte the power to remake our state into his Randian nightmare, but let’s make sure that if Montanans make those choices, they make them fully informed of the whole truth, not the hole truth Rosendale and Gianforte hope for.