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2020 Governor 2020 Senate Race Featured Greg Gianforte Montana Politics Steve Daines The Media

Why Does the Press Keep Letting Daines and Gianforte Get Away With it?

Steve Daines and Greg Gianforte have failed in their jobs to represent the people of Montana. Both eschew the time-honored tradition of facing Montana constituents in town halls and, instead, rely on appearances in right-wing media and scripted, pre-screened telephone town halls where they are lobbed softball after softball by pre-selected audience members. Rather than standing with Montanans against President Trump’s disastrous foreign policy, trade deals, or violation of the norms that hold the republic together, both have put what’s left of their reputations on the line to defend every abuse, every misstep by the criminal President and his underlings.

They’re bad for Montana, and they’re bad for the country. But they get away with it, in part, because the Montana press so often lets them.

A couple of stories from the past week illustrate how.

Impeachment Propaganda

On Thursday, the Great Falls Tribune ran a story headlined “Daines joins GOP in condemning impeachment inquiry. The story wasn’t a comprehensive look at the reasons President Trump is facing an impeachment inquiry; nor was it an analysis of why Daines believes the inquiry is improper. No, it was based on a tweet.

“Precedent, transparency & due process — all still important in America,” Daines tweeted. “Proud to join @LindseyGrahamSC in a resolution to stop House Dems from their sham impeachment process.”

I’m no expert on impeachment, but I have been reading a lot of archived stories about the Nixon impeachment process. While many Republicans then were quick to defend Nixon and eager to criticize the investigation into his abuses of the office of the Presidency, news stories back then required more than a tweet. Members of Congress had to offer substantive reasons why investigations should be rejected, and the stories included both sides. While this Tribune story does mention why the House is investigating Trump, it doesn’t include a single quote from a Democrat or Independent who favors the investigation; it just contains quotes by Daines and Gianforte seeking to delegitimize the effort.

Was it too much to ask for the reporter to demand that Daines explain why the process was a sham? Rather than just running his Tweet as if it was a news story?

Putting aside the lack of balance in the piece, the more significant issue is that Daines and Gianforte are furthering Trump’s aim of delegitimizing the function of government and oversight. For Daines to assert that the House investigation is “secretive” and a “sham” might play well on Fox News, but it’s factually inaccurate, as the hearings are being conducted with both Democrats and Republican committee members. It’s irresponsible for a newspaper to give Daines and Gianforte free rein to spread misinformation.

What would be responsible? For the press to demand that Gianforte and Daines answer some real questions. For instance:

  • Do they have comment on the testimony of long-time diplomat Bill Taylor, who told a House Committee that President Trump’s political agenda was driving Ukraine arms sales?
  • Do they have comment on the relationship between Rudy Giuliani and elements of the Turkish and Ukrainian government? His relationship to the President? His work to conduct American foreign policy despite having no role in government?
  • Do they approve of members of Congress storming a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities room with their cellphones, undermining intelligence work at the Capitol?

And then the hard part for the press comes into play: if Daines and Gianforte won’t answer real questions, stop running their dishonest op-ed pieces and stopping giving them space in the newspaper for with talking points that add nothing to the public’s understanding of news issues and only serve to further divide the country.

Being fair to politicians doesn’t mean giving them unfettered access to broadcast nonsense; it means holding them accountable and giving them the chance to explain the positions they’ve taken. And if they refuse to answer real questions like the ones I listed above, the newspaper can keep printing “Daines and Gianforte refused to respond” all damn day long.

Climate Lies

A brief comment on another piece demonstrates how Gianforte and Daines get away with misinforming people. While this story in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle rightly notes in its opening that there is “scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is human-caused,” its survey of our Congressional delegation’s attitudes about climate change both gives the Republicans the chance to spread disinformation and fails to demand that they provide evidence for their claims.

For instance, Daines claims that it’s somehow inaccurate science to pin climate change on human activity:

Daines, also a Bozeman Republican, shares many of Gianforte’s views. He too said climate change is happening and humans are one contributing factor.

“To suggest that it’s human-caused is not a sound scientific conclusion,” he said. “There is a human component, here, but I think it’s important to recognize there are also natural trends, given the climate is always changing, it’s never static, it’s always increasing or decreasing.”

And Gianforte, who believes that the planet is only 6,000 years old? His science tells him we need to cut down more trees to solve climate change:

Gianforte, a Bozeman Republican, views human activity as one of several factors — including unhealthy forests that absorb carbon inefficiently — contributing to climate change.

While the single line disclaimer at the top of the piece is a step in the right direction, it’s undermined by paragraph after paragraph of Daines and Gianforte just not telling the truth—about the science of climate change, the details of the New Green Deal, the provisions of the Paris Climate Accords—making the piece serve their political interests and personal agenda better than it serves the public’s ability to understand complex issues.

And that failure to press for proof and explain the state of the science is one of the most important reasons Americans who rely on print media seem not to understand the nature of the climate crisis.

Railing on the press serves little purpose. I know that. But it’s hard not to wonder if some members of the press haven’t forgotten that they hold the power in our system still. Politicians can hide in their silos of right-wing media outlets and social media all they want, but for a non-trivial number of voters, the newspaper is the place where they get the news. If we want to preserve the ideal of an informed public demanding accountability from our elected officials, we need those reporters to flex their muscles again.

They need to remember they are more than megaphones for irresponsible political rhetoric; they are the people entrusted with digging for the truth. They need to take more than tentative first steps—like noting the scientific consensus about climate change—and pushing our leaders to provide evidence for absurd claims like cutting down trees will slow global warming.

The press is reeling. Our institutions are wobbling. And our norms are crumbling.

It’s time to fight back with the best weapon we have: the truth.

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.

8 Comments

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  • The press in general have come to equate being “fair” with reporting that avoids triggering the right wing outrage machine. The Gazette in my opinion is worse. They have become a barely disguised extension of the republican party.

  • “When one politician says it’s raining and another says it absolutely isn’t, it is not a Journalist’s job to say there are different points of view. A Journalist job is to stick his head out the f—ing window and tell the truth!” – Jim Clancy

    Sadly too many of today’s “journalist” are incredibly lazy and do not have the moral conviction to even try to find the truth. We have “journalists” who are all too happy to regurgitate Tweets and misinformation and call it “news”……those “journalists” are truly responsible in marching us all further and further towards a fascist future.

  • Here’s a [heuristic] key,
    to help understand journalism standards MT LEE Inc newspapers evidently rely on, when focusing on publication of news about our GOP Senator, also our GOP Representative:
    Always publish what is comfortable to MT GOP Fbook followers.

    No big deal?

    Consider this.
    Add up the total impact of gerrymandering, check-off of registered voters, vote and voter suppression, and hacking of vote counting.

    Add up the total impact of the New York Times, the Editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, and all newspapers publishing what is comfortable to GOP Fbook followers.

    Look at the GOP objective: Win the vote of targeted voters in 8 to 12 targeted States, and win the 2020 Presidential election.

    imo right leaning newspaper journalism amplifies Fbook themes and memes.

    The wealth class has oodles of disposable income with which to purchase Fbook ads enabling another GOP victory in 2020.

    For the third time since 2000, the wealth class, will try to win the Electoral College vote.

    Last two times the wealth class made us loose!

    This time we must make the wealth class loose!

    • Phil Drake is a pathetic dink of a reporter. Totally unqualified to even write about Montana. I hate the Tribune. They should just go under, for they aid and abet the fascists.

    • My apologies for the Montana professional ethical journalists reporting factual unbiased unexaggerated non-hyperbolic news unlike the national networks, CNN, and MSDNC. Maybe they want to have a future rather then fall into obscurity like these networks ratings.

    • Really looking forward to watching “No Safe Spaces,” produced by a radio shock jock Adam Carolla and far-right commentator Dennis Prager — not. It’s getting rave reviews at right-wing blog sites; nowhere else, though. The film’s about a couple of guys whining about “political correctness.” I predict a box office bomb.

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