Posted: July 24, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Gazette, Missoulian, IR-Standard, All Acting Like the Oil Spill Never Happened

For a corporation that is on the verge of going bankrupt, you’d think Lee Enterprises might see value in a bit of sexy adversarial journalism, looking at the role of the largest corporation on earth in the worst oil spill in the mountain west, as a way to sell some papers, to get some buzz.

But apparently the parent company of the four major Montana daily papers have decided, instead, to spread its legs wide open.

It is barely three weeks after one of the most important rivers in America was fouled by one of the worst industrial catastrophes in Montana’s history. And yet the four big influential Montana newspapers–all owned and run by the conservative Republican corporation Lee Enterprises, Inc.–have decided to take the payout, and stop covering the oil spill.

This is not the least bit surprising.  In the last week or so, it became very obvious that the Billings Gazette and its sister papers had made a decision to start favoring the Republican talking points, defending Exxon.  Several letters and opinion pieces all appeared simultaneously, as if on cue, all using the same GOP talking points, all praising the hardworking Exxon and its cleanup efforts, all apologizing or explaining away Exxon’s many inexcusable actions in the wake of the spill, all criticizing the Governor, Brian Schweitzer, for being tough with Exxon.

Meanwhile, coverage of the cleanup effort abruptly halted.

And on this Sunday (Sundays traditionally being days when recent news events are given in-depth, reflective journalistic treatment), to look at the Gazette or IR or Standard or Missoulian, you would think that the entire oil spill story is ancient history. The only thing in the Gazette is a tiny mention of an advisory put out by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, telling people to be careful about eating fish from the river.  That’s it.

Nothing about the ongoing cleanup efforts and whether they are sufficient, nothing delving into the events of early July, no analysis of culpability, no in-depth discussion of the damage, nothing looking at the progress (or lack thereof) in reversing the damage, and nothing, to date, assessing Exxon’s misinforming of the public in the immediate aftermath of the spill.

You’d think, from reading the Gazette, that the most pressing issue in Billings is that some local yahoo got a fourth DUI.  With the exception of the you-might-not-want-to-eat-the-fish story in the Gazette, there does not appear to be a single mention of the spill in any of the four Lee-owned papers.  (Ravalli Republic being the fifth, but as they share an editor with the Missoulian, as the IR and Standard share one,  lets call it four.)

This is kind of like the LA Times having no mention of the LA riots, three weeks after they occurred.

The question, naturally, is whether this is due to the fact that the Gazette and its family of Montana papers are run by conservatives, or whether (worse) Exxon has somehow exerted influence on the coverage. I’d bet on the latter.  If you haven’t noticed, Exxon has placed a ton of advertising in the Billings Gazette lately.  God knows how much hush money this all amounts to, but for a corporation whose CEO took home a $400 million bonus a few years ago, a little payola to a disorganized, financially incompetent news organization probably goes a long, long way.

46 comments

  1. Jed

    …one of the most important rivers in America…
    That strikes me as being something of an overstatement,
    As a matter of fact the whole article strikes me as being a bit of penis envy–projected by our blogger on the part of our state which has been so neglected by Valdez and the Gulf explosions.
    That much oil is likely pressure hosed of the docks in most major p[orts every day…

    • Ilikewoods

      My guess is you haven’t been to port for a long time! There is no Oil sheen on the water at the Richland facility in the east bay, Environmental laws protect the coast-lands of California, and the eastern seaboard! Nobody hoses off oil there, they would be fined heavily by the states and the EPA! Yes our laws in Montana do not go far enough anymore, because the GOP Code of the west, doesn’t follow the Handshake law anywhere… anymore! They just talk a big bunch of BS!

  2. john w.

    Yeah ! I was wondering about that ! Right after the “incident”, i tried to get info from the (stooge news ,missoulian), and i had a hell of a time finding anything about it ! They buried it ! Very good indicator of journalism in the united states of corporate amerika today.

  3. Gabby Johnson

    Sometime next spring Lee Enterprises will default on its $1 billion-plus debt. The recent attempt to refinance with junk bonds failed to attract new investors, but did succeed in pissing off the institutional stockholders who have failed to reform top management.
    Lee Enterprises never valued editorial integrity, so it should be no surprise it is up for sale.

  4. Mother Jones

    Monitoring the letters to the editor page, one would think everyone in the Yellowstone River Valley is content with Exxon’s cleanup. I know that’s not true — is the Gazette burying the public opinion?

  5. Kathleene Evans

    The “questions of the week” “article” in today’s Helena IR should leave no doubt for anyone about the paper’s bias. Participants voted that the death ceiling should be raised 56-44 and the paper called it “split.” Then they wrote that the comments written in on the subject were overwhelmingly in favor of raising the ceiling, but printed comments mostly opposed.

    http://helenair.com/news/opinion/voters-split-on-raising-debt-ceiling/article_e37b929a-b67b-11e0-8020-001cc4c002e0.html

  6. Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

    Couple’a points: Schweitzer is fighting valianlty tooth and nail to hold exxon accountable, and SO, whom do the greenie weenies decide to protest? THE GUV! Doesn’t make sense. Couldn’t the greenie weenies at LEAST have held off until such a time as when this particular spill has been effectively managed? And really, just WHY weren’t the greenie weenies down there in LAUREL raising hell with exxon?!

    You see, that’s the problem I have with EFers. These wimps go for soft targets like the guv. Hell, can they even IMAGINE what things would be like with a teaparty guv? (ratco or mars?) They need to focus their fleas and dumpster music on the REAL bad guys! But that takes a brand of courage that these folks don’t possess. And for that, they will always be wussies in my book. REAL enviros go after REAL bad guys, NOT soft targets. p.s. I still think that a plant got to them. Why ELSE would they go after Schweitzer during his efforts to hold exxon accountable? Hell, he’s gettin’ beat up ENUFF in the press now! That LAST thing he needed was the greenie weenie wussies to pile on! Stoopid is as stoopid does.

    And look, the Pubbies are having a great time deflecting the criticism of this spill. Hell, krazy krayton kerns has an ed in Tricia’s Trader (a wharpburpin’ rag) about dilution being the solution to pollution. So much water and so little oil. AND, apparently he managed to find some moron along the river who thought that things weren’t all that bad since exxon was providing for him with a motel and food.

    Problem IS of course, that in SPITE of jobs to the local economy, the Yellowstone belongs to ALL of us, ALL Montanans. Some moron happy with exxon does NOT make things right! And exxon, whether they like it or not, has to play by OUR rules! And THIS they have not been doing. And Schweitzer is going after them, and rightly so.

    And THIS is exactly why the greenie weenies should not be piling on at the moment! Hell, exxon couldn’t have scripted their actions better! At this particular moment, ALL Montanans need to be behind Schweitzer. Exxon must be held accountable, and we MUST send the message that we will not be treated like a third world country just yet. For folks that don’t understand what I’m talking about, just google Ecuador and read about the oil industry destruction of all the waterways in that country and the resultant largest lawsuit in the world. That would be a good place to start.

  7. Buckminster

    The lack of coverage in the Lee papers surprises no one. There’s a reason Buttians call it the “Sub-Standard.”

  8. Heart of Gold

    Well, this oil spill really isn’t that big of deal. Its flushed to North Dakota, some is being mopped up, and the rest is biodegrading in fields. Quite frankly, its silly trying to equate it to Valdez or the Gulf.

    As far as I’m concerned, the continued releases of oil into Cut Bank Creek is a far bigger story.

    • Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

      Fifty thousand gallons of toxic who knows what into the Yellowstone is no big deal? You’re kidding, right? It would be kinda nice to know EXACTLY how much and what went INTO the river before we start making dumbASS ASSumptions like yours. We LUV us some pollution in our rivers here in Montana. Is THAT really what you’re implying? THAT is the real silly stuff.

  9. Heart of Gold

    Toxic who knows what? We know what…its crude oil.

    The stuff is formed naturally….it comes out of the ground.

    When it seeps out of the ground naturally, it forms tar pits. Ever heard of the La Brea tar pits? No one seems to be suggesting that we make the oil companies dig them up, because they are toxic.

    Sure, crude oil has some nasty components, like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene….but those components readily volatilize.

    There is no pollution in the Yellowstone River from that release. The stuff is gone. Look at any water quality analysis conducted recently.

    Gone. History.

    Whereas, the stuff at Cut Bank is likely getting into the groundwater, where it can’t volatilize, and may impact people’s drinking water. That’s the real concern.

    I like to think that the Democratic Party is in favor of protecting human health and the environment, instead of shaking up Big Oil companies.

    • Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

      Sorry, dipshit, but you DON’T get off easy here! Hmm. La brea. La brea. Nope, never heard of it. WAIT a freakin’ minute! La brea significa TAR (or crude if you prefer) in Spanish! Nope. Never heard of it!

      But since you already farted an opinion, NOW you’ve got to back it up! WHERE did Schweitzer err in his condemnation of exxon? Your turn, dude. I’m not gonna do your homework for you. YOU tell the forum where he was wrong! He wasn’t. Be specific in your response.

      Hell, even Krazy Krayton wasn’t as bad as you. HE even mentioned that the jury’s still out on this one. Until the water recedes, no one can even speculate how bad the damage is.

  10. Kathleene Evans

    Hey Heart of (Black) Gold – If the spill is all cleaned up, why do the Exxon execs need you to shill for them? Think about it genius.

  11. larry kurtz

    Swimming upstream a little: the Lee staff has done a superlative job covering the upper basin flooding and the Corps of Engineers lapse on the spring season. If the corps didn’t know about the vulnerability of the Silvertip Pipeline, i’ll kiss your assets.

  12. Ed Kemmick

    I’m late on this and I can’t speak for the Missoulian or the Standard, but my quick, rough count of oil-spill stories in the Gazette is 47, since the day of the spill. Cowgirl, for whatever reason, posted on the ONLY DAY since the spill that the Gazette carried no stories on the subject. Yes it was a Sunday and yes, perhaps we should have had something that day, but we didn’t, for various staffing and sceduling reasons.

    The fact is, we’ve covered the hell out of this story. In addition to the nearly 50 stories, all of them fairly long, by the way, we’ve run hundreds of photos and maybe a dozen videos. Not that I imagine Cowgirl is actually reading the Gazette. There are times when she (he?) appears to be writing at someone else’s direction, when she is given a topic or target and then wings it without bothering to look up a single fact. This blog is entertaining and informative on occasion, but when the Cowgirl gets lazy and wings it, it’s just embarrassing.

    • Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

      Eddy, I see that you’ve got a book out. Good on ya, dude! It looks like a good one too. Will you sign my copy? BTW, don’t go all corporate on us, Ed. Take criticism with a grain of salt. Hell, you’re PUBLISHED now. That does NOT mean that you have to sell your soul! (unless you’re doing research for a future book about dancing with the devil!)

    • Mark Tokarski

      It is my experience that the Gazette is outstanding on natural disasters – the Yellowstone fire coverage of 1988 was Superbowl. And, I don’t regard the oil spill as evil, per se, since I know that Exxon does not want to spill the oil I use before it gets to me.

      So the potential story-behind-story would be if there was negligence – not ordinary negligence, which we are all guilty of, but systemic negligence, and whether or not after the spill there was a cover-up of culpability.

      Each of the two story-behind-stories requires direct confrontation with power. I have not read your coverage and do not presume to know the answer. But has the Gazette done its job here?

      (I do remember years ago that the Gazette ran an editorial on the SO2 problem in Billings, and could not even bring itself to use the word “Exxon.” So I wrote a LTE offering them a fresh supply of that word, seeing they had run out.)

    • Ilikewoods

      ED, I agree the gazette has been on this, but we aren’t talking about just the gazette! we are talking about all media in Montana! And what about the spill on Crow Indian land, why has it paled in comparison to the weak EXXON writings from all media! We are the last wild place in the lower 48. Why are we so Ho- Hum about the benefits of clean Air, and water. and land. The greatest gift we could give to the rest of the country if managed correctly!

  13. Havre Voter

    I expect more from the Gazette than the Havre Daily News. That’s a complement. I do think they have the talent and resources to do more investigation into this spill.

  14. Heart of Gold

    Sigh. Appears that I was wrong….environmental lunatics still seem to have firm control of the Democratic Party.

    Big Oil bad! Bad! Bad Big Oil!

    Larry, the gov is a lot sharper than you….he recognized from the get-go, that this story wasn’t going to last long, before another Congressional scandal would knock it off the front page.

    Lynn, none of the articles you cite identify any contamination in the river. Did you even read them? Some hippies found some oil on the banks. That isn’t in the river.

    Ed is right on the money with this statement: “This blog is entertaining and informative on occasion, but when the Cowgirl gets lazy and wings it, it’s just embarrassing.”

    If you want a real concern to go after, how about all of the oil and gasoline pipelines that cross Montana rivers? How do we know that another failure isn’t going to happen soon? Why doesn’t DEQ regulate these pipelines (they are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission). Why aren’t oilfields better regulated in Montana? The Montana Oil & Gas Commission is a joke – they just rubberstamp the whims of the petroleum industry.

    Yes, there are a lot of problems out there when it comes to oil and gas development in Montana….but you folks would just rather screech about Exxon and yesterday’s news.

    • Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

      Couldn’t do it, could ya? I asked a pretty simple straight forward question, and you being the expert you are, couldn’t answer it. That’s pretty sad. In 250 words or less, just WHERE was the guv off base on his criticisms of exxon? Fools Gold, the ball’s in your court. When in Montana, they must play by our rules. They didn’t. They lied, they decieved, they covered up, and they KEPT the Montana officials out! Not good. Why? Why did they do this?

    • Lynn

      Farmers will not let their Stock graze on the oil coated grass, thank god they have more sense than you. In fact EXXON is paying to move stock to clean fields, even they realize the danger. The oil got on the grass and banks from being in the river water….

      Fish are showing signs of being more stressed below the spill then above the spill….

      I suggest you take a dip in the Berkey Pit to show us all how safe chemicals are

  15. larry kurtz

    Lee Paper rockstars in Rapid City, Casper, Billings, Butte, Helena, Missoula, and Bismarck should pool your stock, buy your beats then report the revolution.

    Rewild the West.

  16. Heart of Gold

    Okay, lets revisit this:

    “I asked a pretty simple straight forward question, and you being the expert you are, couldn’t answer it.”

    Back to the original question:

    “WHERE did Schweitzer err in his condemnation of exxon?”

    He erred in his belief that Exxon should be subject to Montana’s open meeting laws. Why should they have to put up with that? They are trying to conduct a cleanup, plain and simple. If they want to get work done without conducting endless public meetings so that the public can blast them, can you blame them?

    Where did they lie and deceive? They had a leak, they reported it, their initial estimates on how much was released turned out to be wrong, but not by much.

    Other than the open meeting thing, whay else has the Governor criticized Exxon about? Why don’t you spend less time worrying about the Governor and politics, and start caring about the environment?

      • Lynn

        Not this one, The spill must investigated, and if the evidence warrants it, Charges must be brought

    • Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

      The dude says,

      “ExxonMobil, too, deserves credit for stepping up to the plate and taking ownership of this accident in an era when so many corporations go to great lengths to avoid responsibility.”

      Fools Gold, “stepping up to the plate and taking ownership”???? You have GOT to be sh*tting me, dude! Sorry, Fools Gold, but our state EPA does NOT work that way. Stepping up to the plate and taking ownership are what coaches say to Little League teams, NOT to exxon! Kinda REAL pathetic that you find this nonsense to be an admirable example of sound science and legal language! I think that you’ll find the folks on this forum do NOT swallow bullsh*t as easily as “most” Montanans.

      BTW, who is this tim stark character? That name rings a bell, but I can’t place the dufus.

        • Jack Ruby

          This guy Stark is really the chair of the Billings young Repubs?? These guys are just tripping all over themselves to lick Exxons boots. The disengenuous letters to the editor thing is so obnoxious. This one I’d have to say even beats Rehberg’s little flunky Austin James’ letter writing campaign about McDonald not being his friend on facebook.

          • Jack Ruby

            Vice Chair: Tim Stark

            “The Vice Chairman shall perform such duties as the Chairman of the organization may designate and, in the absence of the Chairman, the Vice Chairman shall preside over meetings.”

            They forgot to add:

            1) “act as on call bootlicker flunky for corporations in need of PR damage control”…

            2) “may be required to write bullshit letters to the editor which do not reveal author’s true occupation or motivations”..and..

            3)”other duties as defined”.

            Heart of Gold does this sound like you?

            • Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

              Jaysus, Tim. I think you done been outted, boy! You gave it your best little boot licker try! But HEY, no one ever said that bein’ smart was a requirement for being an exxon BOOT licker! You wanna know what the dead give away was? It’s when you pretend to be sympathetic to the environment. THAT has phony writ large all OVER it!

              It’s OK. Now that you’ve been outed, you can use your real name.

              And Lynn, you DO rock, girl! You the pinball wizzard of computers! Rock on!

  17. Ilikewoods

    La Brea is a toxic cesspool, and always has been, People are not allowed to swim in the La Brea tar pits you fool, You cant drink it and live! The only reason its famous is they fished out a couple of dinosaur bones! And you forgot all the animals that died around the pit, if they feed themselves from the pit! Unforgivably they died from the toxicity stuck to their skin. You act like you wouldn’t mine drinking a cool glass of Berkeley pit as well!

  18. Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

    Who are the young republicons? Well, Lynn shared this site. View their conservative blog roll. Just WHEN THE HELL did the Pubbies join up with the likes of the John Birch Society and every OTHER nazi group in the country? Hell, I can remember when there were actually DECENT Republicans out there. But no more. Read it and weep for the old style GOP. It is a thing of the past. When they stard talking about bringing down the country to make Obama look bad, they are no longer the loyal opposition, but rather simply traitors! And that is what they should be called!

    http://www.youngrepublicans.com/