Greg Gianforte Montana Politics Special Election The Media

Forget Gianforte for a Moment. Where’s the Montana Press?

Written by Don Pogreba
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In a recent post, Pete asked an entirely legitimate question about the whereabouts of Bozeman’s Greg Gianforte, who despite his absence from the state and dearth of public events, is allegedly running for the House of Representatives. As Pete points out, you’d be hard-pressed to find evidence of such a run, with Mr. Gianforte seeming to avoid, other than some ads that feature the candidate sporting a media consultant-approved, seven-day’s growth of facial hair, any of the traditional acts of a candidate: holding town halls, engaging with the press, and presenting an agenda for the nation he’d support as the Congressman with the least seniority in the body. In a Republican sweep of the state, Gianforte, despite spending millions of dollars, couldn’t win, and not just because of his record of blocking access to public waterways.

Avoiding the public and press makes sense for Gianforte, whose personal unpopularity and prickly temperament earned him no points and few votes in his 2016 gubernatorial bid. Many observers noted that his behavior on the trail, in meetings with the press, and in debates actually cost him the election. Throwing petulant fits and being dishonest at every opportunity may, for all I know, be useful characteristics for a tech CEO, but they’re certainly not characteristics that win elections.

So, finally perhaps listening to his big money donors and D.C. handlers, Mr. Gianforte has vanished, trusting that his name recognition from his last electoral bid and the millions of dollars that can come from his own coffers and dark money donors will suffice to get him elected, all so he can build name recognition for his inevitable 2020 run for governor.

It makes sense for Mr. Gianforte to vanish. What makes no sense at all is the almost total absence of coverage from the Montana press about his platform, past, and plans, if elected. I’ve railed against the Montana press for years, but I’ve honestly never seen such a complete abandonment of the role of the press as I have in this election. Perhaps the press collectively feels they did enough to vet Gianforte during the last campaign, perhaps they feel that there will be time to cover the race later, even though ballots will be coming out soon, or perhaps they feel like they’ll show those liberal scolds who complain about them endlessly, but one thing seems certain: they aren’t covering Mr. Gianforte.

And there is a lot to cover. A hardly exhaustive list of issues the press should press Mr. Gianforte on isn’t hard to develop. For instance:

  • Why did he donate to white supremacists running for the Montana Legislature? Does he disavow that support now?
  • Why does Mr. Gianforte run a school that explicitly discriminates against students with disabilities? Would he, in Congress, support the DeVos plan to reduce services for students with disabilities? To transfer money from public schools to private institutions?
  • Does he support the recent vote by his former employee Steve Daines that allows Internet Service Providers to sell the personal browsing history of users? As a tech guru, he surely must have an opinion on the subject, doesn’t he?
  • Where does he stand on TrumpCare and the future of Medicaid expansion in Montana? Not that it ever was, but “repeal and replace” is no longer a legitimate answer.
  • Does he support the federal minimum wage? Is he still unwilling to tell voters what he thinks about “right to work” legislation?
  • Given his history of profiting from outsourcing and the importation of foreign workers, how will he vote on these issues in Congress?
  • How will his personal holdings of millions of dollars of stock in Big Pharma affect his votes in Congress? The answer to that question, which will affect the lives of every Montanan, is surely as interesting as his opponent’s history of paying medical bills, which has received extensive coverage in the Montana press.

See? It’s not hard. None of those questions is a partisan attack and demanding answers would not reflect some mythical liberal bias by the press. Asking—and reporting on them—would help voters decide if Mr. Gianforte truly is the best person to represent them. And these are just a start of the questions still left unasked and unanswered.

Republicans in Montana do better when they’re not covered by the press. There is no doubt that Montana is a Republican state, but the brand of Republicanism being sold by Mr. Gianforte is out of step with the moderate Republicans who helped elect Jon Tester, Steve Bullock, and Brian Schweitzer twice. To let Mr. Gianforte skate past his support for discriminatory policies, a theocentric worldview, and belief in unfettered business excess doesn’t just do a disservice to Montana Democrats, but to all the voters in the state who truly want to be informed before they make a choice based on the letter “R’ or “D” after a candidate’s name.

I wonder if the Montana press is aware of the dangerous precedent they’re setting, a precedent that will not only compromise the quality of our elections, but the relevance of their coverage. We’ve already seen some of the ramifications of a slate of candidates who were unvetted by the press here in Montana, with the almost weekly embarrassments of Elsie Arntzen at OPI, Corey Stapleton’s mendacious performance on mail-in ballot, and Matt Rosendale’s ongoing lack of awareness what the State Auditor does. All won election, at least in part, because there was almost absolutely no coverage of their races.

Can Montana afford that with its sole representative in Congress? Can the Montana press afford to become an irrelevancy in the process of deciding who will lead us? It seems we are about to find out the answer to both questions, much to our detriment.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-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.

11 Comments

  • Weren’t you just moaning about the press and their coverage of Elsie Arntzen a couple months ago? And really, Don…you could go out to campaign rallies and take images and put them on your blog. I do that on my site, even when I’m in Helena.

    Why can’t you do that? A lot of these things happen in the evening when you’re not at work. Why not get out there and cover some stuff? Heck, even call people on the phone. I do that sometimes. Doesn’t produce much, but you can write about it.

    I’d suggest doing some of those things. I think they’ll be more effective than just complaining about what you don’t like.

    Get out there and do something about it!

    • Greg,

      Not all of us can make a living off the sales of killer titles like Black Walnut. Really looking forward to that sequel. I spend my energy on my job.

      I know you’re not terribly bright, but has it occurred to you that this piece, and many others here, are actual reporting? I’d guess not/

      • ” I spend my energy on my job.”

        You also spend a lot of energy on this blog. Why not get out and about – even in Helena – and report on more of this stuff. Why not visit OPI and see if you can talk to someone? Call some people up on Gianforte’s campaign to see what’s going on. Those would be great stories.

        ” this piece, and many others here, are actual reporting”

        I guess if this piece is actual reporting, then what’s the problem? If you’re reporting, then do more of it. Do it on Arntzen and Gianforte. Heck, you can drive to Bozeman this weekend, go to Gianforte’s house, take some pictures of that stream he sued over, and even knock on the door. That would be a great story, especially if he tries to stonewall you or if he’s not there, but I bet he might even talk to you.

        You say in the last sentence of your post that we’ll likely see the press becomes an irrelevancy, well, why not get out there and take up some of that slack and do some good stories?

        • Other than pimping for your own campaigns, you could contribute to Montana politics, when you figure out which party you belong to. You could support a good candidate: knock doors, make calls, host an event…

          It might give you something of relevancy to write about. But we appreciate your tips on reporting and blogging.

        • I’d love to. I can’t think about anything except for your brilliant Black Walnut series, though. Never has a person who’s only watched pirated versions of some episodes of The Wire captured urban policing so well.

  • The point you make about “the press” invites consideration of what IS the press in Montana, and a realization of what has happened to it. A lot of traditional print media in this state is controlled by Lee Enterprises. Look what has happened to those papers–seasoned reporters (like Chuck Johnson and Bob Anez) were let go, and what is presented as Montana “news” content is now comprised of little pieces “borrowed” from sister papers…notice how most of the content in the Helena paper now is made up of articles from Missoula or Billings “reporters.” Real journalism is out of favor with that company, and for reasons for which it is not completely to blame–it’s struggling to survive the tectonic shift to online media. The “news” content in Lee papers these days is, pretty obviously, just a pretext for conveying paid advertising to the readership. When the question is asked, “Where is the Montana press?” perhaps it should be preceded with the question, “IS THERE a Montana press?”

  • God, you do a great job reporting so many great details, insight, and clear thinking. Thanks for being there! I and many others here, thoroughly enjoy your work, and research.
    Please keep up this great lifeline to investigative journalism!

  • Election of a New Jersey head hunter? He came here to exploit workers, hunt elk and spread his brand of religion. Carpet bagger, gate locker, and all around New Jersey thug. Only thing he supports is the sell off of public land and the supression of peoples rights. AT&T in his back pocket, really reminds me of the Montana Power breakup. Hill, Daines, Giaforte all came here for a reason. That easy direct conection to our taxed pocket book. Not a one of them care about Montana or its people. Just feeding their ego and bank account.

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