Senator Daines and Representative Gianforte Get a Free Pass From the Lee Papers for Endorsing Racism

There is no question that the President of the United States is a racist. His public and private statements throughout his life, combined with his business practices and policy choices, demonstrate that Trump is an old-school racist who doesn’t even bother to hide his animus towards people of color.

And yesterday, Senator Steve Daines backed him in his latest racist outburst.  And then the state’s largest newspaper chain let him get away with it in a tepid, inaccurate story that framed a question of racism as another partisan dispute.

Yesterday, Daines affirmed his support for President Donald Trump’s latest racist tweets from the weekend in which the President relied on an old racist trope to tell members of Congress who are women of color that they should “go back” to “the crime infested places from which they came.”

Three, of course, were born here in the United States, with the fourth being a powerful emblem of why our country should welcome refugees.

And for thirty-six hours, waiting to see which way the wind would blow this time, Senator Steve Daines and Representative Greg Gianforte were silent. Given that both men have stood behind Trump while he’s caged children at the border, risked war with Iran, undermined Montana farmers, ballooned the deficit, and admitted to sexually assaulted women, it was fair to assume they’d back him this time, but even so, I was surprised by Senator Daine’s full-throated embrace of racism.

And then the Lee papers let him get away with it, in the kind of story that is emblematic of how the media has failed to understand their role in the Trump era. In a story that could not have been more euphemistically headlined, the Lee papers ran a story across the state that minimized the racism of the President’s remarks, let Gianforte and Daines dishonestly deflect from the central question, and failed to provide useful context for readers not following the breaking news on Twitter.

From the story:

Democrats widely condemned Trump’s tweet as racist, while many Republicans were silent on the issue.

True, but incomplete, and as a result, inaccurate. By the time the Lee Papers ran the story, a number of prominent Republicans, ranging from Senators Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and Jeff Flake to columnist George Will, had condemned the tweets. Failing to note that influential Republicans condemned the President’s remarks put the story in the frame of a partisan dispute, an easy narrative that just doesn’t capture the truth.

And the framing that “Democrats” condemned the tweets as racist might be true, but what prevented the reporter from asking an actual expert on racism instead of the partisan framing? There are university professors in the very city the story was written who could have helped analyze that question. Why not ask?

From the story:

Daines’ tweet had 6,400 “likes”, 2,000 retweets and 9,700 comments within four hours of being posted.

Surely, the writers at Lee Papers understand the concept of being “ratioed.” Of the thousands of comments on the Daines post, the vast majority were incredibly critical and biting. The story didn’t quote a single one of these responses, many of which came from Montana constituents nor even characterize their tone which was apparent. Instead, the one comment the story mentioned was one posted by Daines’s chief of staff within moments of the Senator’s post.

Next, the story let Greg Gianforte get in on the action:

“Greg is concerned less about where extreme liberal Democrats are from and more about their socialist agenda for socialized medicine, open borders, and a national gun registry.

Not only is Gianforte’s statement a non sequitur, but it’s not true. The idea that Democrats in Congress are concocting a plan for “open borders” and a “national gun registry” are the kinds of paranoid fantasies one hears on Sean Hannity and reads on militia web sites, but it just isn’t true. The story makes no mention of the fact that the open borders and gun registry claims are outright lies debunked by other media sources, so why quote Gianforte saying it without correcting the record?

If journalistic objectivity means providing a megaphone for liars, how does the press serve our republic?

The failures of the piece are not limited to sins of commission, but extend to those of omission, too.

By the time the story had been written, both of the two Democrats who have announced they are running against Daines, one a Liberian refugee himself, had offered strong statements condemning what Daines said. From Mayor Wilmont Collins’s Twitter feed:

Neither man was quoted in the story. Given that the Lee Papers framed the dispute as a partisan one, surely the response of those running against Daines would have added useful context for readers.

And the story also failed to provide important context about Daines and Gianforte’s connection to white supremacy. Given that the central objection to the President’s tweet and Senator Daines’s response was the racist tones of each, surely it’s relevant to note that both Republicans have been connected to white supremacists during their political careers, with donations to and from white supremacists in Gianforte’s case and a campaigns staffer in Daines’s case.

In the end, the story served as the two classic propaganda techniques of distraction and disinformation for the two Republicans. Instead of providing analysis about the impact of the President’s racist remarks and giving a voice to those who were personally affected by affirmations of white supremacy, the Lee newspapers once again gave Daines and Gianforte a free pass and even let one flatly lie to the public without contradiction.

I don’t think the repeated failure of the Lee papers to cover stories like this is a matter of bias. I’m not even sure that it’s a matter of overt corporate pressure, though that’s not entirely implausible. I suspect it comes down to some of the worst tendencies of the press: turning every story into a partisan question, giving too much deference to those in power, and ignoring the voices of those who have been marginalized in our society.

It’s too late for Senator Daines—a man who has let his craven support for Donald Trump lead him to back a Senate candidate who abused girls and abase himself before Russian autocrats—to find the courage to tell the truth or do the right thing, but it’s not too late for the press.

It’s not too late to find the courage to challenge the lies of politicians and write objective truth instead of weak, “two sides” pablum like this story. It can’t be, or this Trumpian nightmare is only going to get worse.

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.

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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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  • I made the mistake of going to the Missoulian’s comment section on the article, which was posted on Facebook. More disturbing, to me, than Daines’ and Gianforte’s adoration of the bigot-in-chief, or the shallow reporting of such, were the incredibly troubling comments: “love it or leave it,” “anti-American Democrats,” “Atta boy President Trump, true Americans have your back,” “Best president ever.” (Grammar, syntax and punctuation corrected for clarification.) These are very scary times.

  • It is an embarrassment to be “represented” by the likes of Steve Daines and Greg Gianforte. Fortunately, Gianforte has chosen to make another feckless run for governor. And Daines’s re-election need not be a foregone conclusion.

    • Thanks. Somehow, I don’t think the Lee papers will run it. Between Twitter and Facebook, we manage to hit a lot of people who are hyper-active in politics, but it’s hard to get to people less involved.

  • As usual, like clockwork, we Montanans can count on our pathetic republicans in Congress to back the worst president in American history, no matter how vile and racist his behavior. It’s truly sad to see Montana’s mainstream media give them a pass and so many of our voters re-elect them time after time. They used to have more sense when I was younger. The common expression, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” springs to mind.

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