by Jeremy Carl
One of the delights of living in Montana under complete Republican governance is that even though your state can be mercilessly trashed by the arrogant blue state corporate media, they can’t do much to stop you or your neighbors from living your best lives.
I kept that in mind this week with the simultaneous appearance of not one, but two extended hit pieces on the poor, benighted, ignorant, awful, rednecks in Montana: one in Jeff Bezos’ propaganda fishwrap, the Washington Post, and the other in the failing New York Times.
I had low expectations before reading each, and in that sense the articles did not disappoint; but they are worthy of forensic examination, because both, in different ways, provide sterling examples of the arrogant ignorance that epitomizes our failing elite class, and the hysterical desperation they feel as both power and the narrative slip from their grasp.
The uninterest the corporate media has for either nuance or fact was evident in the choice of journalists for each of these hit pieces. The New York Times chose Reid Epstein, a political reporter whose only career experience outside of D.C. or New York was in the four years he spent at the beginning of his career working at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. His piece, titled “Where Facts were no Match for Fear,” is a carnival of misinformation and a master course in how the fake news corporate media operates.
The story takes place in Great Falls, Montana, the third-largest city in the state (population 57,000). Some local boosters had worked for several years to designate the area around Great Falls as a “National Heritage Area” qualifying it for a small federal matching grant. The Times focuses on Rae Grulkowski, a local apiarist and businesswoman who began a one-woman campaign to stop the designation, raising concerns with local farmers and ranchers that the designation would alter their water and property rights in various ways, some more plausible than others.
The reporter, in what is allegedly a news story, gives the game away early: “From the vantage point of informed democratic decision making, it’s a haunting tale about how a sustained political campaign can succeed despite—or perhaps as a result of—being divorced from reality.” It makes much of the fact that Grulkowski seems to consume a lot of information online, some of it doubtless misinformation—though little of what they cite seems to be closely related to the issue at hand. “We’ve run into the uneducable,” sniffs a retired local historic preservation officer, describing opponents of the historic designation.
The article features a single critical quote from Jeni Dodd, a former reporter for the Great Falls Tribune and also an opponent of the designation, who feels, not unreasonably, that in making her case, Grulkowski went beyond the facts. But as Dodd herself explained in a series of articles, property rights might be significantly impacted directly or indirectly by the designation, despite claims of advocates that this would not be possible. Given that Dodd is a former local journalist with extensive knowledge of the area, one might have thought the Times would have given some credence to her opposition and investigated her claims in detail. Yet the substance of these articles and Dodd’s objections is never discussed by the Times.
Likewise, Governor Greg Gianforte, Senator Steve Daines (R-Mt.) and the Montana Farm Bureau were all eventually persuaded to oppose the designation, but not solely because of Grulkowski’s campaign. In fact, an article in the Farm Bureau’s magazine about the subject offers zero in the way of conspiracy theories or unsupportable arguments, noting that they support and believe in the good intentions of those supporting the heritage designation yet conclude that there are a number of important reasons why farmers, nonetheless, should oppose it. Similarly, the notion that Gianforte and Daines, both intelligent and sophisticated individuals, would be taken in by conspiracy theories rather than the wealth of factual information provided by opponents of the designation is, itself, a conspiracy theory.
I would add that having worked as a senior official in the Department of the Interior, I absolutely would not trust the department’s career staff, working under a Democratic Administration, to protect my property rights.
But perhaps the best rejoinder was offered by my friend Travis Kavulla, a thoughtful Great Falls native and former Montana Public Service Commissioner, widely respected by both Republicans and Democrats. Noting that he personally knew every person quoted in the article, Kavulla called it an “unfair mischaracterization” while noting:
Who’s the rube here? Those locals? Or the journalist who believes federal designation of a region as uniquely possessed of historical characteristics could have no potential consequences for the range of economic activity in which those people are engaged? . . . I know these people, and they understand a core truth that doesn’t make it into print: It very much does matter what the federal government decides to call a place. And if it doesn’t matter now, it comes to matter.
Not to be outdone by the Times, the Washington Post came out with its own entry for the Montana journalism hall of shame. Unsurprisingly, it was also written by someone with precious little familiarity with Montana.
Reporter Lisa Rein has spent the last 20 years at the Washington Post, previously covered the New York taxi industry and Mayor Rudy Giuliani for the Daily News, and grew up in Boston. How this qualified her to write an in-depth article on Flathead County in Northern Montana, a fast growing area near spectacular Glacier National Park, is anyone’s guess.
Rein’s entire piece, allegedly centered around some tragic youth suicides in the area (though these are only connected to her political hobbyhorse in a totally speculative manner), is a tendentious lament that Flathead County residents have abandoned “a nuanced political tradition of splitting tickets on Election Day” and instead now vote GOP up and down the ballot. I’m sure she misses that nuance just as egregiously when formerly split-ticket voters move into the Democratic column.
“The extremists have stolen everything” complains one RINO mayor upon whom Rein lavishes undue attention because she is angry that her brand of milquetoast moderation no longer commands the respect of local voters. The “extremists,” the mayor cites represent almost two-thirds of Flathead County’s population, which ensured that the Democrats didn’t win more than 37 percent of Flathead county’s vote in a single statewide election in 2020.
One of the central allegations in the article is that conservatives were somehow responsible for breaking a window and tearing down a pride flag at a local bookstore, a story eagerly pushed by the left-wing activists who own the store. A local news report from the time of the incident suggests something different, unless one thinks that ideological motivation, rather than a disturbed mental state, caused the same assailant to simultaneously “key” eleven area cars and break a restroom mirror at a nearby gas station.
The Post just can’t overcome it’s horror at the rubes of northern Montana, alleging that unnamed “ultraconservatives” backed candidates including now Governor Gianforte, perhaps the most successful entrepreneur in Montana’s recent history, and also one of its most generous philanthropists, who sits close to the ideological center of Montana’s GOP. Anyone thinking that the mainstream Gianforte represents “ultraconservatives” in Montana has not spent a lot of time in this state.
Essentially the entire article is an extended broadside against the good citizens of Flathead County, for having understood what the Left is up to and deciding they will no longer countenance left-wing governance in any respect.
Of course, the ridiculous slanders of the corporate media do have a silver lining:
As Aaron Flint, host of Montana’s leading statewide talk show, wrote:
“I know our first reaction to these latest articles is to want to go after the Washington Post and the NY Times for trashing Montana, but in reality we should be thanking them for their hit pieces. Maybe it will discourage their readers from wanting to move here.”
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Jeremy Carl is a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute. He served as deputy assistant secretary of the interior under President Trump and lives with his family in Montana.
Photo “Donald Trump supporters” by Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0.