• Reilly Neill

The Self-Proclaimed Enemy of the Press: Greg Gianforte

We are living in an era of self-policed ethics in the news media, where FOX news can report blatant lies or CNN can editorialize on the front page. It’s now up to each individual journalist, producer, publisher and editor to avoid political bias and stick to the procedure of ethically sourcing and cross-referencing facts.

Traditional journalistic ethics might have prohibited someone like me from running for office 20 years ago but I was working as a publisher for nearly a decade when elected to the Montana State House in 2012 and the experience of serving a community of readers prepared me well for my work connecting to constituents.

When no Democrat immediately filed for governor in response to Greg Gianforte’s announcement in June 2018, I stood up to run and personally renewed my continuing commitment to protecting the right to free speech and the first amendment.

When I filed to run for Governor, I stood up for all the individuals who have been targeted, bullied, pushed aside or ignored by Greg Gianforte and politicians like him. I stood up as the first of many Democratic candidates who would join in a collective campaign to stop Gianforte’s radical, anti-science, and misogynistic ideology from becoming acceptable in our communities. I stood up for every journalist in the state when I stood up to Gianforte's announcement.

I publish an arts and culture journal that produces stories about Montana, from farm conferences to rock concerts and from book reviews to unsolved mysteries. We try to avoid politics since attempting a round of folksy interviews with Montana’s U.S. House candidates in our first statewide issue in 2018. One of the attempts backfired when the writer I hired missed the deadline and, like any editor knows how to do, I stepped in to arrange the interview, disclosing my previous political experience without hesitation to candidate Gianforte’s office. His office refused a round of softball interview questions, were paranoid and hostile and even demanded to see the questions and answers of the other participants. When we finally procured the interview as a questionnaire over email, the piece was nothing but a list of political talking points.

From this attempt at getting Gianforte to answer questions like, “What do you miss most about Montana when you are in D.C.?” I learned quickly that Gianforte and his staff are paranoid bullies, both blatantly and behind the scenes, and every citizen in Montana should know that he is not fit to hold high office in this state. He and his staff do not consistently respect women or practice basic professional decorum, as far as I ever experienced first-hand.

When running the Livingston Weekly-Current, I arranged and printed interviews with local and statewide candidates like Conrad Burns and Jon Tester and hosted community candidate forums for years without ever seeing anything like the hostility and secrecy of Gianforte’s office.

Since this experience, the Montana Press only covers politics in a monthly column from a popular Montana opinion writer, further distancing the publication from any political motive or, in Gianforte’s case, toxic interaction.

Political viewpoints are appropriate on the opinion page but the mainstream media continues to interview politicians and print their perspectives with gravitas in hard news stories when, in reality, our political system at this point in history is a game of public relations and manipulated data, not sourced facts.

If a politician wants to punch a reporter in the face in real time, the event is only in the news cycle for a moment and then the same politician can deny the assault and, by nature of their official stature, be quoted as a factual source until the law can prove denials of the assault false. At no point is this scenario is a violent personality truly held accountable by the media. In Gianforte’s case, he used the media to turn body slamming a reporter into a political rallying point in Montana and elicited shameful copycat behavior among citizens.

Gianforte has millions to spend on public relations, on crafting and creating the narrative he sells to Montanans. The media and the voters should reject the spin and look for the true story about who Gianforte is and the company he keeps. When he brings a man like Donald Trump, Jr. to Montana, he is aligning our state with white supremacists, convicted felons and worse.

Trump, Jr. is a man who trashes our military veterans in the public sphere with zero evidence while shamelessly using his position as the president’s son to illegally coordinate with foreign powers and enrich his own relevance and pocketbook. Montanans are trusting people, not country fools, and Gianforte should be prepared for a fight if he tries to hijack an election in this state with foreign influence. Our Commissioner of Political Practices will shred him and our courts will punish corruption. Here in Montana, facts matter.

I fear that an administration with Gianforte as governor would take our state back to the dark ages when it comes to free speech, clean air and water, even the ability to teach the science of evolution in our schools. As governor, Gianforte would have the power to turn the the worst corporate-funded legislation into laws and he would not hesitate to sign every bill they brought to him.

Gianforte only plans on exploiting the state and its resources for his own benefit and for kickbacks to his cronies. To date, not one major news source in this state has delved into what computing masterwork made Gianforte his millions. If the work turned out to be software designed to spy on citizens, I’m sure the voters would care less about how many jobs he’s created here.

Gianforte is just another in a long list of robber barons in Montana who have used populism for personal power and profit and then abandoned the citizenry to the waste left behind. Sometimes, the cycle of corruption takes decades to be revealed and by the time citizens see what’s happening, they have few resources remaining.

We must reject the influence of millions of dollars and unethical public relations in our elections and our press right now. We need to bring back the free and unencumbered press and the rule of law that puts politicians in their proper place as citizens first and not peerless sources.

We are in an extraordinary evolutionary period in the press and our political arena. The media of tomorrow will look nothing like the newspaper and television stations of the past century and the press and political forums will include unlikely players as the two mediums continue to blur.

Sadly, the press industry is dying across the country. Our print media organizations in the state are stretched thin and resources continue to be scarce.

We need the press now more than ever. We have tremendously talented writers and editors, professors and even some diversity growing in the industry but most editors and publishers in Montana are men and a few still treat women and minorities with no respect or dignity. We need to strive for diversity and fairness in pressrooms in order to have sincere investments into searching for the truth. I think it’s important for Montanans to recognize the media bias in our state, for people like Gianforte and against minorities, women and sometimes even the truth. I believe this bias is a large part of the failure of modern efforts in the press industry, especially in Montana.

I use my position as publisher to share cultural information with communities across the state, not to promote my candidacy. In the past five months of running my business and running for office, my publishing ethics should be crystal clear.

If Candidate Gianforte consorts unchecked with individuals Donald Trump, Jr. who have publicly indicated their preference for treason, violence and criminal activity, I will stand up to him and reject the ideology of white supremacy, misogyny and corporate greed. We should all be embracing and promoting science, logic and cooperation.

I will continue to work elevating underreported issues, talking to citizens on the campaign trail and doing my job at the Montana Press. I will speak up to let others know they are not alone. The world of media and politics is evolving and there are many like me who have been fighting behind the scenes and outright for equal rights and representation for decades. We are speaking up and we are standing up and we will not sit back down and be silent.

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