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The Gazette Continues Its Ugly Smear Campaign Against Governor Bullock in a Despicable Editorial

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.

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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  • My understanding is for privacy, the health department doesn’t publish location of a publicly reported infection, illness or disease, if there are fewer than five people involved. If you were the only HIV or syphilis case in town, would would want your location reported in the press?

  • I understand your concern about this, but why no concern about Tester not supporting building the wall. Increase choke points to make it easier and safer for the border patrol to do their job. You said you want more technology for the ports of entry. How many human/drug sniffing dogs can you get? Technology, what more are you going to do, put GPS chips up the dogs butts. Unfortunately, Tester is clueless Polesi and the elites are stopping the 2010 census Non-Us citizen identification and flood of illegals so they can get more seats in the House. Let me know how Montana person that dies from Mexican fentanyl lace meth or Chinese opioids whether got to Montana, via a US sea port, land port of entry on the Mexico / US border or a dozen Mexicans with 40 to 60 pound backpacks crawling over a 4 wire fence? Plus the demand is hurting our great Mexican neighbors allowing the cartels to flourish. Please help them too. Imagine the average Mexican makes 4 dollars a day. Can you imagine the temptation. We did it in Columbia so lets help our brothers and sister in Mexico.

    • This comment makes almost no sense. It has nothing to do with the post and contains a number of serious factual errors.

      More importantly, I’d prefer that you not use the term “illegals” when you are commenting on my site. It’s unnecessarily offensive.

          • The State of Texas keeps statistics and here is a sampling;

            According to DHS status indicators, over 302,000 criminal aliens have been booked into local Texas jails between June 1, 2011 and September 30, 2019, of which over 205,000 were classified as illegal aliens by DHS.

            Over the course of their entire Texas criminal careers, these 205,000 illegal aliens were charged with more than 502,000 criminal offenses which included arrests for 1,090 homicide charges; 56,524 assault charges; 15,684 burglary charges; 64,389 drug charges; 783 kidnapping charges; 30,474 theft charges; 43,795 obstructing police charges; 3,722 robbery charges; 6,057 sexual assault charges; 7,399 sexual offense charges; and 7,212 weapon charges. DPS criminal history records reflect those criminal charges have thus far resulted in over 228,000 convictions including 511 homicide convictions; 24,321 assault convictions; 8,136 burglary convictions; 32,965 drug convictions; 304 kidnapping convictions; 14,319 theft convictions; 21,823 obstructing police convictions; 2,053 robbery convictions; 3,179 sexual assault convictions; 3,905 sexual offense convictions; and 3,196 weapon convictions.

            • From the right wing CATO Institute:

              The second strand of research from Cato looks at criminal conviction rates by immigration status in the state of Texas. Unlike every other state, Texas keeps track of the immigration statuses of convicted criminals and the crimes that they committed. Texas is a wonderful state to study because it borders Mexico, has a large illegal immigrant population, is a politically conservative state governed by Republicans, had no jurisdictions that limited its cooperation with federal immigration enforcement in 2015, and it has a law and order reputation for strictly enforcing criminal laws. If anything, Texas is more serious about enforcing laws against illegal immigrant criminals than other states. But even here, illegal immigrant conviction rates are about half those of native-born Americans – without any controls for age, education, ethnicity, or any other characteristic. The illegal immigrant conviction rates for homicide, larceny, and sex crimes are also below those of native-born Americans. The criminal conviction rates for legal immigrants are the lowest of all.
              The Texas research is consistent with the finding that crime along the Mexican border is much lower than in the rest of the country, homicide rates in Mexican states bordering the United States are not correlated with homicide rates here, El Paso’s border fence did not lower crime, Texas criminal conviction rates remain low (but not as low) when recidivism is factored in, and that police clearance rates are not lower in states with many illegal immigrants – which means that they don’t escape conviction by leaving the country after committing crimes.

              • If legal immigrants are creating these problems too, it’s obvious that the southern border be closed to immigration completely, and deportations taken back up to the Obama era levels. Thank you Mr. Pogebra, good idea.

                • I know reading is hard, but maybe you can give it another pass: “illegal immigrant conviction rates are about half those of native-born Americans – without any controls for age, education, ethnicity, or any other characteristic. The illegal immigrant conviction rates for homicide, larceny, and sex crimes are also below those of native-born Americans. The criminal conviction rates for legal immigrants are the lowest of all.”

                  Sounds like we’d be better off bringing more immigrants.

              • Pogie you are making the same (wrong) argument that the pro cannibas crowd uses.

                “Alcohol is illegal, and lots of those people drive impaired, so might as well make cannibas legal too”

                Which is lunacy because if we already have x-number of drunks on the street, why open the door to even more impaired drivers? Even one more.

                So you got your ass handed to you by the Texas statistics, and ignore the hundreds of thousands of crimes, saying that those people are no worse that those already here. What in the world does that have to do with it?

                I’m willing to bet that the Texans would love to have 200,000+ less felonies in their State, regardless of where they are coming from.

                • Happy to move the discussion to the benefits of immigrants: they have huge economic benefits for the people of Texas and the US as a whole.

                  But there’s little point in opening that discussion if you won’t recognize the claim that people who come to the US illegally are crime-prone. That’s little more than a racist lie.

                • By your logic Texas should not allow anyone into the state, citizen or not. After all more people equals more crime. See how that works out for them

            • This is fishy. You are providing info on “charges” not convictions. Also this is for people “booked into local Texas jails”. What a shocker, people in jails are “charged” with lots of crimes! How many of the booked into jail are never convicted? We can see that 502,000 charges ends up being 228,000 actual convictions but still have no indication of how many people are in fact convicted of a crime let alone how that compares to the population at large. There is no context here.

    • The is quite the word salad but I think I can make out the gist of it.

      I say good for Tester for not supporting the wall. It wont accomplish much. Despite the imagery you paint of drug smugglers pouring across the border with backpacks more than 90% of the drugs come through ports of entry. I also find it funny how you pretend to care about Mexicans only making $4 dollars a day. Then you go on to refer to those same human beings as illegals when they try to do better for their families.

      Scapegoating a population might make you feel good but it wont solve any problems. Here are some facts about immigrants you may not know:

      Immigrants , here legally or not, are more law abiding than native born.
      Illegal immigrants pay into social security but never get those benefits.
      Immigrants increase our productivity

      • Ok, next Montanan dies from Meth you tell me how it got into the country. Have you done all you can to stop this? How can you say 90%, no one knows what is coming over the border through the deserts. If the foot mules makes in 30 miles into the US do they have checkpoints where the have to stop declare it? The next citizen get killed from a DUI or gun shot by an undocumented scum (will this work Don) have you done all you can?

        Where is Nancy Pelosi’s new immigration laws. Like anyone entering the country illegally can not apply for immigration.

        When you get time head to the local federal court house for the next new citizen swear-in and explain this to those new citizens that have done migration legally and see what they think of you.

        • I wonder how many people are ignorant and confuse those that enter the US illegally vs. those that come here legally year to year to help us using the E-Verify system and work visas.

          • Brandon and Don, thanks for support, as a business person I love the undocumented immigrants. I don’t have to pay workers comp., social security, minimum wage or overtime. I can underbid on jobs a little bit and make a awesome profit. If they drop due to heat stroke they just call an ambulance and off to emergency and the tax payers pick up the bill. No problem with low wages they can supplement by mugging, breaking into homes and cars. If arrested, no problem they love me when I go the bail and no worry of deportation as in a sanctuary area. Only issue is a high turn over due to profitable drug dealing, but lots of replacements.

              • Elitist intimidation through writing technique. Recommend that you should not take a knife to a gun fight. Dems are very good at proving almost every day now they are not sharpest knife in the drawer. Are you ready to lose your health plan for medicare for all?

        • The vast majority of illegal drugs come through border checkpoints.

          And you should really do some research into the crime rates of those who enter the U.S. It turns out that both those who come here legally and illegally have lower crime rates than U.S. citizens.

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