This past week, shortly after an Associated Press reporter requested from the Montana Justice Department a list of every concealed weapon permit holder in Montana, the reporters and their families began receiving death threats posted on right-wing websites and in online comments.
It seems that when Tim Fox, the Attorney General, got the request from reporter to see the list of concealed weapon holders, he responded not to the reporter but instead to every county sheriff in the state, all 56 of them, informing them that he had received the request from the press regarding the weapons holders, and was hereby denying it. Fox also made sure to reveal the identity of the reporter who had submitted the request.
In denying the request, Fox, a Republican, broke with the practice of previous attorney’s general in Montana who had provided the list in past years, obeying very clear, strict public records rules enshrined in the Montana constitution. Nearly every government document is public in the state.
Now, in an interview with MTPR, Fox is defending himself by blaming “the media” for the threats against the reporter. By “the media,” Fox is referring to the rightwing outlets that he tipped off about the AP’s request, including a conservative Montana radio commentator and a Koch-brothers funded Montana blog. These are the actors to whom Fox’s office, contemporaneous with the sending of the letters to the sheriffs, sent the names of the reporter who asked for the concealed weapons information.
“Its been the media that’s run with this, that’s what the media does,” Fox told Montana Public Radio’s Dan Boyce,”Whether or not there is a chilling effect I guess the media, the journalistic profession needs to contemplate when they ask for information whether or not they are creating a chilling effect in their own profession.”
Fox told Boyce he made the reporter’s name public in response to “media requests.”
Fox, perhaps correctly, believed that his actions would bolster his street cred among the wingnut gun/militia/sheriff’s posse crowd. At the same time, he is actually trying to deny that he took actions to get his decision into the press. Boyce asked him whether he put this out to the media.
Fox didn’t seem like he had a straight answer:
“We had talked – not we but people that uh in my circle of influence had talked to some, confidentially with embargo which is a word that you in the media use. When I found out about that I put the stops to it and said we are not going to to that we’re just going to respond to the request.”
As for the death threats, these were made in the comments section of an unnamed website, which I assume to be either the Media Trackers blog (Koch), the Flint Report blog, or one of the state daily papers.
The nice part about that is that the authors of those comments can probably be traced, since commenters often leave information about their identity. We will see if one of the 56 county prosecutors steps up to look into the matter.