When he was announced as Corey Stapleton’s runningmate yesterday, Bob Keenan took a whack at the entire Republican gubernatorial field, saying that all the other candidates “have skeletons in their closets” and thus Corey Stapleton “is the most electable.”
Whether this assertion is true or not, notice that Keenan expects the press to take care of his negative campaigning, to begin writing on the various problematic histories of each candidate simply because Keenan suggested it.
Asked at a press conference to elaborate about the “skeletons” in their opponents’ closets, Keenan declined.
“No, I won’t do that,” he told reporters. “That’s your job, and you’re good at it.”
There are several problems with what Keenan is trying to do.
First, in a big field of candidates, the media has to make some effort at fair treatment. Thus if they write about the scandalous past of one candidate, they must write about them all. So the easier thing is to just stay away from the whole enterprise.
Second, the Montana press has an aversion to covering negative stuff, especially when it concerns Republican candidates. The conservative-owned newspapers in Montana will all be gunning for the GOP nominee in November.
Witness the hilariously absurd article in the Billings Gazette, regarding Rick Hill’s efforts to scrub his bio on his Wikipedia page (scrub it of any reference to his night club incident with a barmaid, and a subsequent press conference, while he was Congressman, in which his ex-wife burned him down as an abusive spouse). The article refused to even state specifically what it was that Hill was trying to erase–describing it only as “details about Hill’s past campaigns and his 1976 divorce” but yet tried to report on the fact that he was trying to erase it.
Third, the press has an informal rule: you have to attack someone directly in order to make news. That’s probably not a bad rule. It’s a spin-off of the age-old maxim, “if you have something to say, say it to my face.” Don’t go whispering it around town. Thus is Bob Keenan a sheep and a coward, for hinting at something but refusing to come out and say it directly. He’s hoping somebody else will do it. Cowardice is not a quality we want in a leader.
I suppose that it’s not totally a bad thing that that Montana newspapers try to keep things clean. There is something to be said for a positive news environment, especially in a special place like Montana. But if you think about the way the press covers national politics, and the way that every little thing gets covered (a Tiffany’s revolving credit account, strapping the family dog to the roof of the car, failed marriages), one wonders if the Montana press’s self-censorship is really the way to go in a free and open society. Nationally, the press rarely makes a concerted effort to cover things up. Perhaps, too, should the Montana Press not be deciding what factual items about candidates are relevant. That’s for the public to decide.
And the press is not always consistent in this regard. John Morrison got skewered in the months before the primary in 2006, for an incident which occurred almost a decade earlier involving a bit of adultery. The press simply decided that they wanted to write about it because it was juicy and timely. Perhaps Democrats should be grateful that the incident was covered, because the issue surely would have been raised by Conrad Burns in the general election. Morrison had been the big money leader in the primary, but went immediately down the tubes. The stronger candidate (Jon Tester) thus ended up winning the Primary and the General election, and thus did the media’s coverage of a steamy affair help ensure a meritorious election. So maybe Democrats are quietly sitting by and hoping that Rick Hill’s several problems do not get ink until July.
It’s no secret that Keenan is pointing the finger at Rick Hill. Numerous candidates, including Ken Miller and Stapleton and the now-defunct Essmann, have all been trying to get newspapers and TV stations to cover Hill’s flaws.
But Keenan should be careful what he wishes for. Stapleton himself has a problematic past. When he first put up his own Wikipedia page, it made a reference to his having suffered a “childhood addiction,” a term that I’ve never heard before. (Presumably, this means that Stapleton was once a drug addict, probably as a teenager or young adult.) A few weeks later, after this strange reference had been reported (and ridiculed) by my blog, the reference was taken down off the Wikipedia page. But of course, it never made news.