Tag Archives: Helena IR

Double Talk from a Right-Wing Publisher

Montanans have reacted with outrage to the lies being spread by the fake newspapers called the Montana Statesman and the deceptive mailers that arrived on doorsteps courtesy of the American Traditions Partnership.

But the reaction from Randy Rickman, the right-wing publisher of the Helena IR and Montana Standard looks more like jealousy.

Whatever his “reasoning” Rickman has decided to get into the double-talk game himself.

Last month, the Montana Standard and the Helena IR, the Lee Newspapers controlled by right-wing publisher Randy Rickman, sent letters [PDF] to democratic candidates saying they “decided not to endorse the statewide offices this year.”

This week however the Montana Standard endorsed Steve Daines for Congress.  

The letter reads:

Dear candidate:

The Helena Independent Record and the Montana Standard editorial boards has decided not to endorse the statewide candidate offices this year. However, we are going to provide space starting Sunday, Oct. 7, and going forward to candidates and their opponents to outline their vision and goals if elected. To that end, we would like you to submit a 450-word personal editorial outlining your goals. It will run adjacent to your opponent, but we insist that you not take the space to bash the opposition, rather promote yourself. If you have questions please feel free to contact me. Deadline is by 5 p.m. Wed., Oct. 3. Thanks for your attention to this matter.



Size Matters: Whose is Bigger, Bullock’s or Hill’s?

Take a look at the photo here.

Clearly, Rick Hill’s lectern was taller than Steve Bullock’s, as has been much discussed. That’s a bad thing for Hill because he is a tiny man and does not want to appear diminished next to Bullock who is above six feet tall.

Certainly the Helena Independent Record, the newspaper which sponsored the debate, did not intentionally give Hill a bigger lectern. If somebody at the IR had done that, Randy Rickman, the conservative Republican publisher, would have already fired the person.

Most likely it was dumb luck that the debate facility (a middle school) did not have two identical lecterns. Hill got the bigger one.

But part of it is not luck at all. During pre-debate walk-through, a good campaign staff would have noticed this discrepancy and corrected it. Clearly Hill’s team of green campaign staffers dropped the ball.

This is campaigning 101. You have to check these things out ahead of time, sweat the details.

It’s sort of like a presidential debate in 2000, when Al Gore never tested the debate lighting with his make up on. Result? When the debate started, he looked to TV viewers like he was trying to impersonate somebody from another racial designation. His skin was dark orange–he looked like a wannabe Bill Richardson, not Al Gore.

Democrats should be emboldened. Hill is running an amateur shop, and we will probably see further screwups.

Questions at the IR

A series of strange occurrences at the Helena IR in recent days.

First, a bizarre editorial was penned  Sunday by the paper’s CEO, suggesting that the very existence of the newspaper may be in doubt.

Randy Rickman, the paper’s boss, wrote that “rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated,” but that “if the Independent Record is dying, it will never have had a better audience to watch its demise than today.”

The job of Managing Editor was posted in the help wanted section of the newspaper.  (Perhaps I’ll apply.) And other top staff are rumored to be jumping ship, including Business reporter and Opinion Page editor John Harrington.

No doubt it’s a tough job running a print newspaper nowadays, as print editions which sell for $1.00 are fast becoming dinosaurs that drain money.  Once upon a time if you were a newspaper baron, ink-by-the-barrel was something to be proud of having under your control.  Today, it’s nothing more than a dark, wet and heavy financial burden, weighing down companies like Lee Newspapers as they desperately try to find a way to monetize digital content which most people simply read for free. I don’t envy them.

There had been talk in the media world, not long ago, that single-newspaper towns would be immune from the financial difficulties being faced by national papers.  The theory was that if you run a newspaper in a one-newspaper town, you have a natural monopoly and can’t lose.  But judging by Rickman’s editorial board and other shakeups recently at Lee Newspapers, Inc.,  it appears monopoly status no longer guarantees success or even survival.  Or perhaps Helena is not big enough to impart this monopoly advantage to the IR.

Even though Rickman is an anti-choice Republican and is employed by a historically Republican company, I do wish the newspaper well.   It might require new management and a new philosophy (such as covering news, rather than ignoring it, and such as jumping on stories, rather than sitting around and letting a bunch of two-bit blogs beat you to the punch), but I am hopeful the IR will be around many years longer.

However, there’s another dark cloud over at the IR that concerns me. I’ve been told that the departure of several members of the editorial board is imminent.  This timing would be questionable, given Lee Newspapers’ conservative bent.   The IR’s (newly women-free?) editorial board is due to make political endorsements soon.   There have also been rumblings that the IR and its sister papers, the Missoulian and Butte’s Montana Standard, may be planning to make endorsements with no input from their community ed board members. A source at the IR would neither confirm or deny the information.

So is Rickman, or some corporate honcho, putting the fix in for candidates like Hill, Rehberg et al?  Certainly Rickman and his company have used his perch to deliver pure political advocacy in the past (like when he ran a virulent anti-choice column).

I hope it’s not the case.  It’d be bad for business, among other things.

A Commissioner’s Wrath

There’s an interesting article in today’s Helena IR about Helena City Commissioner Dan Ellison (the conservative on the commission).  Mr. Ellison used last night’s City Commission meeting to  publicly assail one of the IR‘s best reporters, Sanjay Talwani.

It looks like Mr. Ellison felt that the reporter mischaracterized him in an article last week.  The blurb stated that he “abstained” from a vote on the non-discrimination ordinance, which will help protect LGBT people from discrimination. In fact, he did not voice his support but also did not oppose (which one might call an abstention). Mr. Ellison took issue with that, because technically it was not a “vote” under procedural rules.

It seems Mr. Ellison complained directly to IR publisher Randy Rickman.  The IR then took what appears to me to be an unprecedented step.   Instead of issuing a correction, today’s IR reports,

The Independent Record ran a front-page story Saturday correcting the error and outlining Ellison’s concerns, as expressed Friday in a telephone interview.  In particular, [Mr. Ellison] asked whether a nondiscrimination ordinance should also apply to various other groups — he mentioned the bald and the left-handed, among others — that might also suffer discrimination.

I hadn’t realized that left-handed people can’t find a landlord who will rent to them.  But I’m glad Mr. Ellison was given front page real estate in the capital city’s newspaper to discuss this important problem.

Not satisfied with the whole extra article he got, he used the commission meeting not to work on expanding the Helena non-discrimination ordinance to the bald and left-handed, for whom he had previously voiced concern, but to lecture everyone else about the “injustice” that was done to him.

There They Go Again

Responding to a Lee Newspapers questionnaire in today’s Helena Independent Record, the seven GOP gubernatorial candidates all said that Montana must “develop our natural resources” as a way to reduce unemployment and make our economy strong, and that “red tape” and “excessive regulations” are standing in the way of such development.

Which raises an interesting question: what resources, exactly, are we not developing?  Are there oil wells known to be pregnant that have not been tapped, because of regulations?  I doubt it.  The amount of exploration taking place in Eastern Montana is comprehensive.  Landowners often receive giant checks from oil companies just for the right to test the ground and search for oil.  Any identified oil deposit whose recovery would not be hindered by some geological problem is already being drilled.

And coal?  The rights to the Otter Creek coal deposit are now owned by the largest coal company in America, with designs on extracting it after paying an up front bonus of $80 million to the state of Montana.  To my knowledge, the Arch company has not indicated that any rules or regulations are causing a hindrance to development.  Nor have the owners of any other coal deposit, or oil field.

As is well known, Montana is developing its resources at a faster rate than at any time in the state’s history.  So the question that should have been asked of these candidates is: What resources are not being developed?  Where are they, precisely? Who owns them? And why are these owners not registering the same complaint as these seven buffoons running for Governor?

Perhaps the able newspaperwomen and men at the Lee company will ask these follow-up questions in the future.


Media Quick Hits

A Blow to Good Journalism

On the same day it was announced Mary Junck, Lee CEO, received a $500,000 bonus for taking her company into bankruptcy, Lee Newspapers laid off people in Helena and Butte, KXLH is reporting.

Montana Nutjobs Back in the National Spotlight

Mother Jones today reports on the latest wacky details about GOP gubernatorial candidate Neil Livingstone.  There’s even a great quote from Pogie at Intelligent Discontent.   UPDATE: I don’t want to give too much away, but here’s a taste of what can be found in the article:

In 2005, Roll Call dubbed Livingstone “Deep Mouth,” after it was alleged that he had dined at Dupont Circle’s Palm steakhouse 88 times in a 57-day period. (Livingstone denied the charge, telling the paper that he eats there only about 15 times a month.)

Go read the hilarious piece. Suffice it to say, Livingstone’s candidacy is not doing Montana’s image any favors.

Women are Like Dogs

Livingstone isn’t the only GOP-er hard at work making Montana a national laughingstock this week.  TEA Party Republican Rep. Krayton Kerns is in the news for “comparing Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke to a studding English bulldog named “John-Boy.” Yes, really.”  Here’s the story.   Readers may recall that this isn’t the first TEA Party Republican to compare women to animals.  Keith Regier said we’re more like cattle.  Democrat Cole Olsen is campaigning to replace Kerns in the Montana Legislature.

Helena IR Kowtows to the Chamber of Commerce, at the Expense of Credibility

The Helena IR is not known for its editorial page excellence.  After reading Pogie’s analysis of the IR’s city council endorsements here, I can’t resist adding a couple of points.

It’s hard to get information about city council races, which are “non-partisan.” So, there are probably are some people in town who don’t know that the two progressive candidates are Matt Elsaesser and Katherine Haque-Hausrath while the Chamber of Commerce choice is the other candidate, Lora Behlmer.

The IR knew it though.   That’s why they presumably decided they would look after their own bottom line and split the baby down the middle–endorsing one of the two popular candidates and one right winger.  The IR rightly endorsed Matt Elsaesser, who has served the community well and will certainly continue to do so.  That’s where the logic ends.

What makes the endorsement of Chamber of Commerce fave Behlmer over Katherine so weak, you ask?   It’s the IR’s own explanation of the pick.   The IR could scarcely find justifiable reasons for endorsing Behlmer over Katherine Haque-Hausrath. Let’s look down at the bottom of the barrel to see what they were able to scrape up.

First, the IR states that it is

“impressed with Behlmer’s willingness to listen to constituents” and that she would be “more aggressive and ambitious in seeking input from all corners of the city.”

It is odd and unconvincing that Behlmer does constituent contact by

“polling customers who pass through her store’s doors, but also making use of online polls and actively seeking the voices of those who aren’t necessarily working through the system.”

Just as long as those voices belong to people who spend money at a specialty gourmet tea shop most average citizens have never even heard of, that is.

Katherine has been hearing from Helenans in a much more meaningful way — by walking up to their houses and knocking on their doors to ask them.    Sitting behind the counter at your business and being nice to people as you pocket their money is not the same as going to their door on your own time and simply asking for their views, not their cash.

The IR goes on to tout the supposed diversity that Lora Behlmer would bring

“in the form of her role as a Downtown Walking Mall merchant and small retail business owner “

(There’s the Chamber of Commerce dog whistle).   What’s really  troubling though is that the IR apparently does not feel that Katherine would bring diversity as a young woman and mother. Surely, Katherine also represents a unique viewpoint that is lacking in the all-male commission.

Here’s something else weird about the endorsement piece.  In the portion of the editorial about Katherine, the IR addresses Katherine’s views on a non-discrimination ordinance, low-income housing, and the cell-phone ban. Yet nowhere does the IR give us the other candidate’s position on these issues, which are sure to be the hottest issues to come before the commission in the coming year. The IR should have reported the other candidates’ views on these issues so that voters can compare.

Do yourself a favor and forget the IR. Go to the KXLH debate between the candidates on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at the Lewis and Clark Library from 7 to 8 p.m.

This is Why Young Women Rock

You know when you have to go to the hospital that it isn’t going be cheap, but what you probably didn’t know that hospitals charge the highest prices to those who can least afford it.  That’s why it’s so great that a 20-year-old young woman is taking on hospitals in Montana for giving big price breaks to the insurance industry while sticking the uninsured with higher hospital bills.

Kudos to Jessica Gazelka, a Montana student, for stepping up to fight against the special discounts that hospitals provide for health insurers.  As the Helena IR reports, Ms. Gazelka says such arrangements “illegally fix prices and discriminate against the uninsured.”

The IR editorial board had the right idea when they wrote today that,

many of us view health care as a basic right, and it’s difficult to fit that basic right perfectly into the capitalist model that works so well in most of the rest of our economy.

The IR is also right that this case will be one to watch-especially for those who thought it was okay to stop asking about the problems with our health care system. Anyone who has been going around raving about how great everything is after so-called “reform” should take a page from Ms. Gazelka.

Regardless of the outcome of her case,  she’s already doing great work by reminding people that the system (still) isn’t working.

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.

Let’s Just Make Billings the Capital City

As Pogie at Intelligent Discontent writes, the publisher of both the Helena IR and the Montana Standard, Randy Rickman, believes that the newspaper of Montana’s capital city doesn’t need independent editorial oversight – we can just share an editor with Butte.

Rickman’s high quality judgement and lack of political bias should not be doubted.  After all, it was Rickman who realized that the capital city’s newspaper, the Helena IR, has no need  to be a leading source of political news and government information.  It’s either this or that the IR’s publisher either doesn’t want to get into the quicksand of having to actually understand the political and policy issues facing Montana, or perhaps he don’t have time (given the urgent market pressures to produce stories about stolen garden gnomes a reporting fad from eight years ago, cat-finding beagles, and who could forget the groundbreaking investigative journalism that found “Loud Pop Caused by Fireworks.”)

Independent editorial management and oversight?  What’s the point when you can just run press releases verbatim from the Montana Constitution Party. Or is it that without an editor, Rickman will find it easier to enforce his own political bent on the paper, something that will no doubt please the Congressman Rehbergs of the world.

It’s really an embarrassment to Helena.

All indications are that Montana’s capital city just isn’t that important – at least it is not as important as it used to be.  Perhaps we should just get it over with and make Billings the capital city of Montana.  At least Billings has its own newspaper.