It’s taken me a couple of days to write about the latest editorial piece from the Billings Gazette smearing Governor Bullock because it’s just so absurd. On Sunday, Darrell Ehrlick, the editor of the state’s largest newspaper ran an editorial piece accusing Governor Bullock of politicizing the death of a teenager because his Health Department issued a news release indicating that a teenager had died from a vaping-related illness.
From the editorial:
By the looks of it, when a teen dies, the most important thing is whatever boilerplate quotation our presidential hopeful can muster. Clearly, informing the public with good, specific information took a backseat to a political opportunity.
It’s a desperately ugly editorial centered around the apparent belief that the state should have released enough demographic information about the kid who died that s/he could have been identified individually. And lest you think I am exaggerating, the editorial literally calls for identifying the victim by name even though one presumes a family is grieving the loss of their teen-aged child:
It’s easy to discount statistics or a nameless person who died in one of 56 counties. It’s a lot harder to ignore it when it’s a neighbor, friend, or even an acquaintance.
But that wasn’t even the worst of the editorial. Ehrlick, who, mind you, wants to identify the person who died so he can sell some newspapers, claimed that Governor Bullock was somehow putting public health behind his presidential ambitions:
The state is hiding behind its own interpretation of privacy laws. Public health, which it is charged with guarding, obviously is not as important as the health of a man whose candidacy for president only one man, Bullock, is taking seriously.
Even for a newspaper that has an embarrassing history of taking cheap shots at the Governor that have been unsupported by reporting, this was a new, despicable low. Perhaps a person could make the argument that Governor Bullock decided to temporarily block the sale of flavored vaping juice because it’s reasonable to assume that all politicians consider policy and politics, but to suggest that Governor Bullock is somehow politicizing the death of a teenager because the state is protecting that kid and family is repugnant—and like most of the Gazette editorials targeting Bullock, unsupported by fact.
It’s also worth noting that Mr. Ehrlich once offered a very different view about children, privacy, and politicians.
I’m reminded that Mr. Ehrlich had a very different standard for protecting kids when former Republican State Senator Jason Priest was arrested for assault. Back in 2014, Ehrlich made the decision not to publish the arrest affidavit in that case. For the children. From a 2014 editorial:
First, the case involves children. And to the extent that we can, we try to shield them, although in many instances that’s impossible or difficult….We followed some of the oldest and best journalism advice out there: Just because you can print something doesn’t mean you should.
I don’t know exactly what drives the animus between the Billings Gazette and Governor Bullock, although I suspect some early interactions between the paper and Bullock’s press people is at the heart of it. What I don’t understand, though, is how the Gazette—a paper that has lacked the courage to condemn President Trump or his Montana enablers, Steve Daines and Greg Gianforte, despite the President admitting he put politics ahead of national security—can continue to justify running editorials attacking the Governor on such thin grounds and with such venom.
It smacks of personal hostility and peevishness, not a legitimate effort to hold government officials accountable. And when a reporter who covers politics at that very same paper posts a line from the editorial on his Twitter account—again, without any supporting reporting—it extends the damage to the paper’s credibility from its editorial pages to its news coverage.
Governor Bullock should face scrutiny from the press. Hell, anyone who reads this blog knows we’ve taken some hard shots at him, but he deserves fair criticism, whether that criticism is on the front page or the opinion page. And the Gazette seems incapable of pulling that off.