Corporate Control Over the News You Hear

by jhwygirl

We all hear about it – many pooh-pooh it. There are plenty of reasons to hate it – the nasty ways it can promote a lie; the subtle ways it can influence an election; the self-promoting protections it affords its own corporate interests.

Here’s a local story.

G. George Ostrom was terminated by KOFI Radio on Monday after Ostrom “disagreed with management over editorial policy.”The dispute arose Monday morning after Ostrom read a report concerning Kent Etchison, a resident of Kalispell who was arraigned in federal court Feb. 28 on mail fraud charges. Etchison, who pleaded innocent, was a former office manager at KOFI Radio and is accused of ordering about $972,000 in supplies from 2001 to June 2006 for the station — far in excess of what it would ever need, according to court records. The bulk of those purchases — $925,000 — were made from March 2003 through June 2006, federal prosecutors maintain.

Editorial policy?

What happened?

According to Ostrom, he read an Associated Press story about Etchison on the air in the Monday (March 3) 6 a.m. news report.Then Dave Rae, KOFI co-owner and general manager came in later that morning and told Ostrom to not read the story, Ostrom said.

Ostrom said he told Rae he already had. Rae, in short, insisted that Ostrom squash the story, Ostrom claimed.

Ostrom refused and walked out.

He read an AP news story.

Ostrom, a longtime Flathead Valley newscaster had been associated with KOFI-AM for 53 years, who had bought KOFI back in the 1980’s with a group of investors and helped usher its expansion to FM. He’s written three books on Glacier Park, and was the recipient of the University of Montana’s 2006 Distinguished Alumni Award. Ostrom also won first place from the National Newspaper Association in 1996 for his column “Trailwatcher” and has been inducted into the Montana Broadcaster’s Association’s Hall of Fame. He served in the U.S. Army and was also a member of the Missoula Smokejumpers, one of the original USFS smokejumping crews.

In the 1960’s, Ostrom was a staffer for Senator Lee Metcalf, and helped write the groundbreaking wilderness legislation – the very legislation that eventually created the late Senator’s namesaked Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area.

What reason did Dave Rae and KOFI have to want the story quashed? I’m sure any of you could come up with a number of reasons, but ultimately they all lead to one reason: the serving of their own interests over that of their audience’s right to know the truth.

The was a day, once, long ago, where purveyors of news were self-tasked with the responsibility to inform the public of news based on facts and without bias to its best capabilities. Are those days’ gone?

Ostrom, commenting on his departure:

Ignoring that story, in my opinion, would be making me compromise my journalistic integrity, my credibility.

Amen, George Ostrom.

  1. No, those days are not gone. There are, of course, awful stories such as this to remind us that all is not perfect in the world of media and ethics; but for every story like this there are tens if not hundreds of examples of the opposite. Thank heavens. I know that there are plenty of stories that the Missoulian has run that do not serve the short-term interests of certain employees or shareholders, but in the six years I’ve been there I’ve heard of no examples of any pressure from management to quash or underplay such stories.

    The irony in this case, of course, is that if the allegations that Rae tried to quash the story are true, he only succeeded in the opposite. Most of us would not have paid much attention to Etchison’s indictment were it not for how the station (allegedly) handled it.

  2. Your Missoulian blog didn’t delete 25 comments last week? Please Joe…don’t try and tout the Missoulian as some free-of-corporate-influence example of media.

    I’ve been interviewed by the Missoulian for a story, once, long ago. The reporter told me, when it was changed to present the advertising interests bias that the result was, that it was changed by the editor because of those interests.

    That’s my own personal anecdotal story, but true nonetheless.

    There’s also plenty of truth there to that Missoulian blog story – and if the Missoulian is going to have a blog and promote it on its own website, they shouldn’t be so openly quashing comments. Either you do IT (blog) or you don’t.

    Sorry. I mean that (the apology to you) sincerely, as you seem to be a nice guy…but the Missoulian is far from removed from serving its own business corporate interests in the ink it puts out there (or doesn’t).

    Curious – since we’re on the topic – why wasn’t there a story on the Mayor’s Community Discussion of Housing meeting last week?

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