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The Lee Newspapers Double Down on Defending Dissembling Daines

Photo by Don Pogreba.

I didn’t want to write this. Honest.

You and I both know that my criticism of some of the Lee coverage of Montana is about as effective as asking Troy Downing how to legally get a hunting license, but some stories are so bad, so one-sided, and so poorly edited, that I just can’t help myself.

Just how bad was today’s Lee story about Senator Daines?

  • It was so bad that even though Daines is in the midst of a historically bad week, the story was so one-sided that the National Republican Senatorial Committee retweeted it to help raise money for Republican candidates. I’m no journalist, but that’s not exactly a great sign that the story was balanced.
  • It was so bad that it’s very headline “socialism versus freedom” is how Fox News covered the story and how Daines was fundraising earlier in the week.
  • It was so bad that it included a monstrous chunk of presumably uninterrupted text from Daines that reads like he was badly paraphrasing the form letter he sent to Montanans explaining why he defended the President’s racist tweets. See the images at the end of the post to compare the Gazette story and the Daines form letter to get a sense of what I mean.
  • It was so bad that, despite clearly being a political story, it afforded exactly zero column inches to either of Daines’s announced opponents for the Senate race or any other Democrat for that matter.
  • It was so bad that even though the central dispute is whether President Trump was being racist, it did not quote a single expert on racism who might have offered a contrary view, nor even ask Daines to explain how he can defend the tweets as anything but racism.
  • It was so bad that, even though the Daines wall of text impersonating news wandered off to discussion about attacks on ICE centers, there was no explanation offered or context provided.
  • It was so bad that, even though the Gazette editorial board condemned Daines’s remarks just days ago, noting that “to characterize those with whom you disagree as hating America seems like a return to the red scare of the McCarthy era and witch hunting at its best,” today’s story let Daines repeat the same “indefensible” claims that some fellow members of Congress are un-American without offering their spokespeople the chance to respond.

Montana newspapers have done an admirable job in the past week editorializing against Senator Daine’s choices to defend the indefensible in the past week, but strong editorials like that are badly undermined by news coverage that offers a megaphone for the views those very editorials condemned. And for many readers, the news coverage will, despite its manifest flaws, be seen as the objective take.

Of course, the Billings Gazette (and the Lee papers that later ran the story) should give Senator Daines the chance to explain his position, but not at the expense of full reporting that provides context and demands answers. Today’s story about Senator Daines was worse than a puff piece; it was propaganda from a reporter who has repeatedly offered cover for Senator Daines and Congressman Gianforte over the past few years.

In one of its editorials condemning President Trump’s tweets, the Gazette proudly recalled the moment when Billings rightly and proudly said “Not In Our Town” to reject anti-Semitism. Isn’t it about time for the Gazette to say “Not in Our Newspaper” to reject this kind of coverage?

Update: I wrote so quickly that I forgot the include the actual images. This link is the Daines form letter, and this one is the Gazette story.

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6 Comments

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  • If anyone who disagrees with President Trump is, by Senator Daines compass, correctly characterized as unAmerican, then let’s remember the group of MT Legislator who voted to support a resolution (can’t remember what session) which would allow Montana to secede from the United States. That seemed to me to be outrageous, but it was put forth by GOP. I don’t remember anyone calling these folks UnAmerican. Nor did folks label Tea Party supporters un American. So…why the double standard?

  • As you said, you are no journalist. The Gazette did not “double down on defending” Daines as your headline on this article said. The paper reported what he said in an interview with the newspaper. The article did not “defend” Daines. It reported what he said. It also offered a bit of other views and some historic perspective from a college professor who said that Trump would like to turn this election into an argument about “socialism and freedom” rather than a referendum on himself. (The Gazette headline was “Meant To Be Polarizing” which was a pretty good clue.) Personally, I despise Trump (look for my letter to editor in the Gazette soon) and think he is a real danger to our country. I also really hope Daines is defeated. But I was a freelance journalist in several places in the US and abroad for several decades, and I know what journalists do, and that’s what the Gazette did in the article you objected to. They ask questions, get answers, and put them in some context. This article did that. What the Gazette editorial board thinks of Daines has been made very clear in recent editorial comments. That’s where opinion belongs. So far as I know, in previous campaigns all candidates were invited to talk to the Gazette and their views were similarly reported. Go back and read that article again and tell me whether the Gazette “defended” Daines, and whether the article offered some context and perspective. You might learn something about what journalism is, or used to be.

    • Thanks, Lorraine. Would love to have more of your expertise.

      Is it typical for a newspaper to print almost verbatim wall of text that parallels the form letter a politician sent to constituents? I think even that massive wall of text was atypical. There’s no suggestion that Daines was even asked a follow-up question.

      Is it typical in a story that the reporter identified as a political question not to get comment from either of the announced opponents to the politician in question? To not ask for comment from a Democrat when the story is about a Republican?

      Since the point you ascribe to the piece is providing more information, shouldn’t the reporter have given the members of Congress who Daines attacked a chance to respond? I don’t see any quotes from their offices, nor any indication that the reporter asked and didn’t receive a response.

      I never suggested this news story should express an opinion, but by only citing one side of the political question, isn’t it?

      More fundamentally, given that Daines offered nothing new in this response, what was the news value of amplifying his remarks again?

    • What bothered me about the Lutey article was the lack of thoughtful followup questions (you can look at the comment I just posted, below). What does Daines mean by “socialist?” “Freedom?” “Anti-American?” “Anti-Semite?” Lutey basically let Daines ramble on for paragraph after paragraph without calling out any of Daines’ fact-free, divisive rhetoric. It was the classic reporting style of “he said” (Daines) followed by the counterpoint “but then he said” (which was offered by some college professor), without really examining Daines cliche-ridden talking points. Some other questions Lutey could have asked the senator: “So, how would you propose we deal with the immigration problem?” “What’s your solution to the Israeli/Palestinian situation?” “How can you condone a president who tells members of Congress to ‘go back’ to where they came from?” To me, that’s real journalism.

  • Someone (perhaps a reporter?) should require Daines to define “socialism.” Is he talking about Scandanavian socialism (you know, the countries with a higher standard of living, better health care outcomes, higher quality education systems… )? Or is Daines referring to some sort of Communist state, like Russia and China used to be (which is absolutely not what A.O.C. and others are advancing). Then this certain someone needs to ask what Daines means by “freedom.” Freedom to criticize a president who locks kids in cages and tweets racist comments? Freedom to criticize Israel for its treatment of Palestinians without being called “anti-Semite?” I’m sick of Daines and the GOP using two-bit catch phrases and dog-whistle sound bites to make them seem more “patriotic” than the rest of us.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, 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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