Missoulian editorial angers county Dems

by Pete Talbot

“Never get in a pissing match with someone who buys ink by the barrel,” my Momma said.

The idea of a Missoulian boycott was shot down but there was plenty of criticism of an editorial that ignored censorship at Big Sky High.

In the end, it was decided that at least three Democratic Party leaders would meet with the editorial board (publisher, editor, opinion page editor) and register their displeasure with the editorial.

I didn’t take a notebook to this meeting because, frankly, I wasn’t there to write about it. I just went because I’m a mighty precinct committeeman but the debate over this resolution was pretty interesting. Lacking some detail, here’s what went down:

One committee member was so pissed at the editorial’s support of a parent complaining about the film, “The Story of Stuff,” instead of supporting the teacher, he proposed a boycott of the paper. He said his wife had already canceled their subscription.

Another member was none too happy with the Tuesday guest editorial that denounced the zoning rewrite. He questioned the writer’s credentials and thought the Missoulian should have, too.

But consensus ran mostly against a boycott: hard to get the numbers to make an impact, could make the party look like whiners, no point in alienating the media …

A teacher in the crowd didn’t like the idea of bringing partisan politics into the debate. He said he knew conservatives who disagreed with the school board’s censorship of the film.

It was suggested that perhaps Democrats could reach out to some Republicans on this one – form a coalition. (A few folks didn’t think the Republicans seemed very receptive to coalition building, these days.)

And another person mentioned taking along a couple of high profile advertisers to the meeting, which got heads nodding.

There was plenty of sympathy for the boycott idea. But there was sympathy for the Missoulian, too: it’s reporters and other staff, the layoffs, the tough times. Democrats were just upset at a couple editorials that lacked vetting and, dare I say, balance.

They also wanted to see more political news and analysis, and in depth coverage of local issues, and the legislature; although again realizing that newspapers are on the ropes and budgets are strained. (There was mention of Missoulian profits being shipped off to headquarters in Davenport, Iowa.)

But there’ll be no boycott.

Having been around the newspaper biz, peripherally, since I was a kid, I understand the many pressures put on an opinion page editor. I personally support a strong, daily newspaper that publishes diverse views on its opinion page. I also hope that the editorial board will take into account the party leadership’s concerns.


  1. Things like that editorial do make you wonder why you would enrich Lee Newspapers, though.

  2. Matthew Koehler

    The main force behind the Missoulian’s bizarre editorial regarding “The Story of Stuff” was the Missoulian’s publisher, Stacey Mueller, not their editorial page editor. Mueller was the Missoulian’s financial executive before being named publisher in January 2008. Apparently, the original version of the editorial that Mueller wanted to print was even more pro-Zuber, if you can imagine that.

    P.S. My Momma said, “If you’re going to get in a pissing match with someone, make sure they buy ink by the barrel. It’s more challenging and once you see justice, truth and accountability it will be all the more satisfying.”

    • Feisty mom

      Thanks, Pete, for your respectful report on the Dems meeting. I wasn’t there but this is generally what I heard.

      I agree with the Matts. Matt K’s momma sounds terrific.

      My take: Missoula deserves better than the product the Missoulian is delivering.

      Our city is fascinating; the issues are endless; the audience of potential readers is educated, curious, demanding and discerning.

      We are home to a major university with a journalism school, a law school, an education school, and tons of super-smart people, including world-renowned writers, scientists, and environmentalists.

      We should not settle for a newspaper that doesn’t respect us as thinking human beings, and that doesn’t forcefully acknowledge that the success of our society depends on an informed citizenry.

      We could say the same about the school board, of course, and I hope after May it’s a better one.

  3. We had a healthy discussion about it – with editor Tyler Christiansen – in this post. Check the comment thread.

  4. Ayn Rand

    Lets see,

    editorials contrary to your tenents, the writers have no credentials ,

    editorials in step with progressive facists ideals-well informed.

    Do I have it right?

  5. according to your up the rabbit hole and down the sky upside down surreal alice in wonderland right wing republican viewpoint= fascism is promoting more information for our kids / anti-fascism is banning books and movies.

    is that about right?

    i wouldn’t use that moral compass to go anywhere if i were you there -any rant.

    • Lizard

      don’t take the bait, pbear. those assertions are so patently absurd, the only reasonable explanation is agitation (or extreme mental defect)

      there is, however, growing fascist tendencies afoot in this country, and it infects both sides of the isle. if ayn would like to acknowledge those tendencies within the neoconservative movement, then maybe these gutless assertions would be more interesting, and substantive.

      i know this is off topic, but i think it’s important to note that Obama’s pick to head the National Intelligence Council just took himself out of the running, citing the libelous campaign against him by a foreign govt with powerful influence over our foreign policy. for those who hope to see change in our detrimental relationship with Israel, this comes as a very disappointing blow.

      further proof that extreme censorship exists when it comes to voicing criticism of Israel.

    • Ayn Rand

      Hey doglike carnivoran, good misdirection. You would make Doug Henning’s day.

  6. Pregnant Sue

    (I don’t get how come when I post from shared servers or terminals you guys won’t post my comments?)

    • petetalbot

      I’ll ask the other, more computer literate folks at 4&20 what’s up, Pregnant Sue. I’ll also check our spam filter.

      By the way, after the blessed birth of your baby, are you going to change your handle to something like Momma Sue?

  7. klemz

    I would have loved to see that room — sounds like more tools than a hardware store. Go ahead; run the Missoulian’s profit margins down so that its on the front line when Lee issues its next salvo of cuts. What’s going to take its place? I’ll tell you: community twice-weeklies with top of the fold articles about the high school band’s trip to Utah.

    Editorials don’t have to be balanced and never were (just to preempt the requisite faux golden age argument). They’re basically an archaic staple of the business that most consumers don’t really understand anymore. They’re meant to be the institutional voice of the paper, which is a bit silly in this age of corporate ownership. Most editorials, in fact, are cowardly and vague to the point of being confusing.

    IMHO, dailes should just give writers like Tyler bylined columns so they can write interesting commentary, and then people can take issue with the individual writer. And by people, I mean uptight baby-boomers who don’t realize they’re slipping into the handwriting-letters-to-the-editor phase.

    • JC

      The Missoulian should get off its high horse with unsigned editorials. They’re fine for talking about non-controversial issues. But once again, I’ll dredge up this quote once again from one of the Missoulian’s finest “signed” editors:

      How did Sam Reynolds put it?

      “Sam Reynolds of The Missoulian coined the phrase “editorial transubstantiation” to describe the belief (incredible to him) that an unsigned editorial can express the opinion of something so impersonal as a newspaper. It was like the leap of faith, he said, that is involved in believing that bread and wine are transubstantiated into the blood and body of Christ.”

      Unfortunately for Stacey Mueller, no amount of transubstantiation in her or the Missoulian’s unsigned editorial about “The Story of Stuff” can make us believe that censorship in our schools is a good thing. Or that encouraging other parents to follow in Zuber’s footsteps is wise.

      Furthermore, if Mueller & Co. want to avoid the Missoulian taking the rap for her personal ideology, she should institute a policy of accountability with her editorial board, and demand that commentary that has a whiff of controversy be signed.

      Of course, then the paper might have to hire some bang-up editorialists and writers in order to not have to hide behind the mediocrity of its present groupthink. But that would be a good thing.

  8. Pronghorn

    “I mean uptight baby-boomers who don’t realize they’re slipping into the handwriting-letters-to-the-editor phase.”

    As a boomer, I demand an explanation of this! I never hand-write my LTEs, you sassy little whippersnapper.

    The Missoulian might have its shortcomings, but I’m still glad to get it out of the paper box every a.m. and hold an actual newspaper in my hands. But that’s a boomer for ya!

    I have no problem with unsigned editorials serving as the paper’s voice; this practice has been around forever. (I agree that the Missoulian’s are often pretty insipid.) The editorial board members are listed right there–regardless of who wrote it, they all approve of it to a greater or lesser degree, right?

    • klemz

      It has been around forever, since the days of independent newspapers, in fact. In those days, people generally understood the convention and held papers accountable for being out of touch (for example, the Milwaukee Journal lost half its readership when it backed the wrong Dem to challenge McKinley).

      Expecting the same now is like walking into a Taco Bell and ordering the house special.

  9. petetalbot

    Klemz, I think you’re reading too much into the so-called boycott. People get upset with the newspaper, cancel subscriptions, threaten boycotts, yell at the editor or publisher … happens all the time.

    I remember in the 70’s a threat by some local, conservative businessmen that they were going to start their own Missoula newspaper because they were so miffed at the Missoulian’s “liberal” bias. Of course, they never did.

    Things ebb and flow. A newspaper that is never criticized probably isn’t doing its job. But this criticism should also help make the Missoulian a better newspaper because I believe a newspaper’s editorial page should reflect the opinions of the community it serves (while also presenting some divergent views). It’s a tough balancing act. But I certainly don’t fault the county Democrats for wanting to get their point across.

    I have a buddy who works for the Colorado Springs Gazette. A more libertarian, free trade, America-can-do-no-wrong editorial page you’d be hard pressed to find. It pretty much reflects the community. It’s boring as hell, too.

  10. zach

    I think it’s pathetic that you considered bringing advertisers to try to bully the editorial board because somebody had oppinions you didn’t like.
    What a bunch of babies.

    • petetalbot

      “I think it’s pathetic that you considered bringing advertisers to try to bully the editorial board because somebody had oppinions you didn’t like.”

      I didn’t consider bringing advertisers to try to bully the editorial board, Zach. Try reading the story again. That being said, it’s sort of a time honored tradition use to advertisers as leverage when confronting the media — left, right and middle do it all the time. Honorable news outlets don’t bend to the pressure, however.

    • Lizard

      the culture war lurking behind this issue is what’s pathetic. I was annoyed at first at this “controversy” but the longer it drags on the more I realize how many people just don’t get it.

      the ecological degradation of our natural environment and the unsustainable habits of consumerism can either be dealt with now, or passed on as a much worse problem for our children to figure out.

      parents who don’t think their kids are capable of facing this reality are burdening them with their own ignorance, and that’s truly sad. and the fact that one parent dedicated to limiting the education of everyone else has had this much of an effect on the quality of education because of an ideological disagreement is very pathetic.

      as for the missoulian op-ed section, when you don’t have very high expectations, it’s hard to be disappointed.

    • I think it’s pathetic that you considered bringing advertisers to try to bully the editorial board because somebody had oppinions you didn’t like.
      What a bunch of babies.

      Think? Hardly. Pete wrote nothing of the kind about what you “think”. You didn’t think. You’ve had a tantrum. ‘Listen to what I THINK and care about it NOW!!!’

      What a tiny toddler. Go away, troll.

  11. klemz

    I think I followed you, Pete. I just imagined the self-entitled politicos in your account being baby boomer partisan zealots (probably unsolicited hippy life coaches too) and I kind of rumbled with that assumption through two non sequiturs.

    The truth is, I’ll take any opportunity to rip on the boomers. Get me, Ochenski and Koehler in the same room and we’ll reach critical mass, destroying much of the Northwest.

    • petetalbot

      Klemz, I, like pronghorn, am a boomer (as is anyone born between 1946 and 1964 — a pretty large demographic). So you’re ripping on a lot of people.

      That aside, yeah, there were boomers in the room. Also old labor types, college kids, senior peaceniks, granolas, doctors, lawyers, handicapped folks — the party draws a pretty mixed bag — and most all are passionate about their politics. Is this a bad thing?

      • Lizard

        pete, i’m sure you guys mean well, but i can’t help thinking that all those people in the room, if they believe Obama is a serious agent of change, are suckers. this depiction is as uncomfortable as it is accurate.

    • ego and pride klemz. very disappointing attitude from someone who is capable of much better. and i dare say that wulfgar and i could keep you three much too busy defending yourselves to “destroy much of the northwest.” in fact, i think we could tag team you all in our spare time from our full time jobs which do not even involve being paid to write.

      i am not even sure mr ochenski and mr koehler would appreciate being included in your “rip on the boomers”
      i may be a pretty old bear but i didn’t get that way by shying away from a challenge.

      i enjoy your wry and provocative asides from time to time but toying with something as important as censorship is definitely not cool. it is too big an issue
      and divisiveness for pure contraryness’ sake seems a tad childish.

      • klemz

        I think contrariness is the noblest of causes, bear.

        The NOBLEST.

      • cleangreensustainable

        Ah…Klemz, not sure why my name was brought up in your bomb-the-boomers thread. Please let me get into my own hot water…cool?

        Besides, I thought if we were in the same room (confession: we’re actually never meet face-to-face) we’d be weighing the pros and cons of the Packers moving to a 3-4 defense this year, including moving Kampman to linebacker. That might not “destroy much of the Northwest,” but it should shake up the NFC North.

        And when you’re about to attend your wife’s 20 year high school reunion you realize picking on older folks just isn’t cool.

        • Matthew Koehler

          Damn…technology. That was me above. Didn’t know it would show up with the name of my blog. Sorry. Carry on…

        • klemz

          My bad. I just typed the wrong name in my surf-battered brain (a different matt). 38 is not a boomer. That’s still x.

    • Lizard

      as pete points out, boomer’s are a massive demographic to take on, but they are also the waning generation who have presided over this hippie/yuppie/condo/dickpill decline, and now youngsters like me (30) are trying to figure out how to bring new ideas to a failing system.

      sure, there’s a lot of experience there for us youngsters to learn from, but it’s the experience of failure, and most boomers i know don’t want to acknowledge the scope of their collective failure, and that’s too bad, because i think failure is the most important lesson for boomers to teach us. failure is the hallmark of their generation.

      but it’s not their fault that they were born at the peak of the american empire, and i think that’s important to remember. now that we’re in total decline, some very basic assumptions about the arrogant role of this country need to be reassessed.

      or we can just keep fighting endless wars, which we’ve been doing since WWII.

      • JC

        Remember, Lizard, we were the generation that didn’t trust anyone over 30. And that didn’t change as we grew older. ;-)

        It’s hard to pin failure on a whole generation. That’s painting the entire lot with a broad brush, and doesn’t do it justice.

        It isn’t the “collective failure” of boomers that is relevant here. But it is the individual failure of boomers to not translate their idealism in the 60’s into a shared sense of progressive purpose in the 80’s and 90’s. Of course, Reaganism came along as a response to the idealism of the 60’s, to crush the movement, and the culture wars took off, from which we’ve yet to recover, ya betcha.

        So Lizard, quit “trying to figure out” how to bring new ideas to a failing system and just bring new ideas. The older generation will always do what it can to suppress the younger ones. That’s just the way human nature is. I’m more than happy to take a back seat, though I may always remain a back seat driver.

        And I don’t agree we’re in total decline. Far from it. In my revolutionary days we used to sit around and cheer on events like current ones: let it all fail, and we’ll put it back together again in a more enlightened way. We’re far, far away from that place in anarchist heaven. And I’m not so sure I want to go there any more.

        • Lizard

          thank you for the response, JC.

          as for new ideas, i’ve been championing a good one, and that’s abandoning the Dem/Rep dichotomy, because it’s useless.

          But it is the individual failure of boomers to not translate their idealism in the 60’s into a shared sense of progressive purpose in the 80’s and 90’s.

          no, i think it’s a failure of boomers to identify the craftiness of the system and their parts in it, and now your Iran Contra is Obama’s Robert Gates.

          the whole point of this post is to rehash a controversy about how we teach our kids.
          i wonder, if this county attacks Iran, or if Israel just does it all by itself, how many kids will know about the CIA’s involvement in Iran in 1953? how many kids will learn about the actual, historical, factual tale of the Federal Reserve?

          yeah, the culture war goes on, and those problematic kids the pills were suppose to fix are growing up in a politicized environment where even questioning the role of consumer is attacked by a mental dinosaur.

          In my revolutionary days we used to sit around and cheer on events like current ones: let it all fail, and we’ll put it back together again in a more enlightened way.

          maybe you misread me: i am not cheering the collapse. i love my i-pod, winter fruit, and the automobile. i am a product and beneficiary of all that i criticize, which makes me a hypocrite when i go all didactic like this, but what the hell. at least i’m trying.

          • Jim Lang

            Hey, if you think it is important for schoolkids to learn about the US role in the overthrow of Mosaddeq, I think you should run for school board. Isn’t there an opening?

  12. Jim Lang

    I can’t boycott the Missoulian because I would never under any circumstances pay money for birdcage liner of such low quality – a realization I came to many years ago. Saying, at this point, that I was gonna ‘boycott’ would be disingenuous.

  13. klemz

    That’s ok, Lizard. There’s plenty more pills for the problematic adults.

    Bear — I was going to leave it at that, but I need to express one more thing here. (Other than the fact that I only kid the baby boomers because they sold out in ways that are so utterly comic.) I agree that teachers should have the slack to run their classrooms and that the school board acted with an appalling lack of courage in this case. Where I disagree is that this is actually censorship in the sense you all evoke that term.

    Okay; one example… Fyodor Dostoevsky was censored by the state when the authorities removed the final chapter from Notes from the Underground. Contrarily, in this situation, the wussie-ass school board simply said the teacher shouldn’t have shown this particular film — which anyone with half a brain could still find on YouTube, the place we all managed to see it originally — in the classroom setting. To me that’s more like telling people in a shirt-and-tie office building that they can’t recite Caddyshack lines. Is that censorship? Am I ripping away a piece of their self-expression if I make “na-na-na-na-na” verboten?

    I could take this situation more seriously if the act in question couldn’t have been accomplished by sending out an email link. So, in short, I say this is very much fair game for contrariness. I mean, come on. We just bought property next to the Great Wall. On the good side.

  14. To All:

    Doesn’t anyone here know that the Board did not censor the film, and that censorship was not even discussed. The parent testified he was not opposed to the film.

    The issue was a teacher who did not follow district policy with regard to lesson plans, allowing research, debate, etc. That would be the learning process you all profess to support.

    Did you know the teacher admitted she committed certain policy infractions?

    Did you know that some of your friends and supporters have been calling, emailing, etc personal threats to Board members, trying to get them to resign? Is that your idea of an open, informed, educated public and Democratic govt?

    Perhaps the Republicans have stayed out of this because they don’t think it should be politicized. Maybe alot of us think the same thing. If only the local Democratic Party had this view. The education of our children should not be held hostage to your political goals of maintaining support from the teachers union.

    And before you all get self-righteous on me, I went to school in a time when you had no idea what an elementary, middle or high school teacher’s views on politics were. Despite the lack of exposure to various political dogma we somehow managed launch Earth-day, an environmental movement, and a civil rights movement.

    One more point. Someone here pointed out the high degree of education and desire for sound information. Then a little later I see these responses to Ayn Rand filled with name calling, pejoratives and no reasoned thought. So, are these the folks referred to by the comment on our community’s intellectual capacity?

    • JC

      You’re being conclusory about the teacher not following district policy. Just as you are being coy about the teacher’s supposed “admissions.” Point to her admission of policy infractions. Then we can talk some more.

      And when you say “some of your friends and supporters” how do we know that any of those people know any of us? Or are doing what you are saying.

      You come in here with a bunch of unsubstantiated innuendo and expect us to all just go, “oh, gee, you’re right. We’re so sorry.” And curl our tails between our legs and whimper?

      And if you come in here to defend ayn rand, you’ll get no sympathy for your ideas from most of us. She may be an out-and-out troll. You’re just being a concern troll.

      • Pregnant Sue

        I disagree with what citizen said too, but you are too quick to discredit someone by calling them a troll. That seems knee jerk.

        • JC

          Do you know what a concern troll is?

        • Lizard

          Sue, there might have been a few instances of knee jerk accusing since i began frequenting this blog, but in the case of ayn rand, the term troll most definitely applies. this is now the second time you’ve attempted to back up ayn’s agitation, which makes me very skeptical about your agenda.

  15. Local Dem

    What I thought was halarious about this local dem meeting was the stage this editorial/censorship debate set for Dennis McDonald’s talk. After a half hour of debate over whether to boycott a local newspaper, and all the energy that went into it, a funny thing happened…

    Party Chair Dennis McDonald shows up to talk about a number of things, and one of them was the role Central Committees play in winning legislative campaigns.

    The halarious part was the irony that arose when people started blaming McDonald and the MDLCC–which he didn’t even run–for lost legislative races… on the tails of half hour discussion about pouring the central committee’s energy into a wasteful posturing exercise that would only anger and alienate one of the very resources needed to win a race: the media. Perfect example of why central committees are absolutly worthless when it comes to getting things done and winning races.

    I’m hoping others in attendence saw the humor and irony in this that I did.

  16. petetalbot

    I certainly don’t want to be an apologist for the local Dem. Central Committee. It has its flaws. It’s the nature of the beast.

    But to commenter Local Dem: central committee meetings are laced with irony (it’s one of the things that makes them entertaining). I like the give-and-take, sometimes off-the-wall discussion that takes place at these meetings. If I wanted a gathering of non-questioning fundamentalists, I’d be going to Christian Coalition meetings.

    I didn’t hear quite the animosity you did toward the MDLCC. I think the question needs to be asked about why the party won every big ticket statewide race (except Rehberg’s) but didn’t get majorities in the MT House and Senate. Could local central committees do a better job? Maybe not. But the state party, working with local committees, might improve the situation. At least that’s what I believe McDonald was suggesting.

    • the state party, working with local committees, might improve the situation.

      When I was more active with the Gallatin Democratic machinery, that is precisely what most of them wished for. *but* it was tinged with so much territorial cynicism that I, for one, had little hope of any success in such an effort.

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