Intelligent Discontent

Who Watches the Watchdog?


When the Montana Watchdog came on the scene in the past year or so, it seemed like a relatively harmless, right-wing “news” organization which covered the news from a clearly defined conservatively biased viewpoint. For the most part, its writing was honest (if selective in its focus) and it even broke some interesting stories.

That site seems to have died in the past month, as the Watchdog has been primarily staffed by  new “investigative reporter” Dustin Hurst, a “journalist” with a shady past and disregard for journalistic ethics.

Hurst left Idaho in the midst of an ethical storm. The Idaho Statesman reports Hurst lied about his identity while trying to chase down a story about a Democratic state lawmaker in Idaho. Hurst claimed his name was “Joe Turner” when he left a message for the Idaho lawmaker, only to be outsmarted again, this time by Google.

Even Hurst’s former boss at the Idaho Reporter was embarrassed about what he had done:

in journalism these days that really, really makes me uncomfortable,” Hoffman said. “There is a tendency to do and say a lot of things in order to get that story first. This is an extreme example of that.”

Best of all, Hurst’s big scoop wasn’t even true.

Since arriving in Montana, Hurst has essentially become an unofficial PR person for the Montana Republican Party, writing stories that manage to always paint Democrats in a critical light while defending or ignoring the actions of  Republicans.

  • A personal favorite was his story blaming unions for the TRS and PERS shortfall, despite the fact that the bill changing their terms was written by Republican Dave Lewis at the urging of Republican governor Judy Martz, who signed the bill.
  • Lately, he’s been substituting his opinion for actual evidence when attacking Senator Tester over third party ads in the Senate race. Strangely, he seems to have far less energy when it comes to exploring Representative Rehberg’s record.
  • Last week, he wrote a story attacking Representative Franke Wilmer for her connection to special interest groups. His evidence? Small donations from a few unions in 2010 and positive ratings from the Montana Conservation Voters and Chamber of Commerce.
  • Today, he wrote a screed attacking Senator Tester for not allowing him to attend a political event in Butte, proving along the way that he is the “known political operative” he pretends not to be.

Someone who wrote for one online “free-market oriented coverage of state government agencies” and then moved to the right-wing affiliated Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity (parent of the Montana Watchdog) probably should be just a bit more honest and stop pretending to be a reporter.

He’s just another worker in the right wing AstroTurf factory—and Montanans (including the media) would do well to take any reporting from Mr. Hurst, whatever name he uses, with a healthy degree of skepticism.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a sixteen 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. 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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