The Missoula Independent Censors Ochenski on the Subject of the Importance of a Free Press
Northern Broadcasting Network’s Aaron Flint of the Flint Report broke the news late yesterday afternoon regarding that the not-so-free-thinking Missoula Independent’s permanent severance of its relationship with long time political columnist George Ochenski was essentially the result of editor Robert Meyerowitz’s decision to not accept Ochenski’s planned column on the Indy’s 21st birthday and the importance of a free press in Montana.
So we have a political opinion columnist wanting to discuss the importance of the free press in Montana being censored by the editor of a newspaper that prominently features the byline of “Free Thinking” under its name “Missoula Independent”?
Now we know that’s another one of the quirky little whimsical things the Indy does. “Free Thinking”
Ha. Funny funny. Hilarious.
Goddess knows – and others – that I am a firm believer in the free press and that lovely thing we call The First Amendment.
So much so – and ya’all know I love them – that even some of my fellow bloggers on this page have expressed their disappointment in my lack of any interest in censoring anonymous commenters that sometimes all-too-frequently grace the pages here at 4&20blackbirds.
It’s perplexing, to say the least, that a newspaper would censor an award-winning political opinion columnist on a column regarding the First Amendment – especially when you consider that the Indy’s President, Matt Gibson spoke quite eloquently and passionately on these very pages about his firm believe in the unequivocal protections of the First Amendment:
I understand the profound concern people have about the pernicious influence of money on politics and policy, but an assault on our first amendment rights to assembly and speech will destroy more than it protects. Without free speech guarantees for corporations, virtually every newspaper will lose constitutional protection for its news reporting and editorial writing. The majority in the Supreme Court decision explicitly warned that the government has no reliable method to discern earnest editorial commentary from corporate advocacy. I don’t want to live in a country or operate any kind of news reporting outfit where every newspaper column or broadcast commentary is potentially actionable because it violates corporate restrictions on political activity.
Trying to silence groups of people who might disagree with you seems fundamentally wrong to me anyway.
On the other hand, I’m strongly in favor of stringent requirements to quickly and reliably report the identities of individuals and corporations engaged in political speech. The people behind public policy campaigns should be easily identifiable and held accountable in the court of public opinion for their openly professed views.
I will proudly add that I was the sole person who rated that comment 4 stars. Which will – again – probably get me in a little trouble.
Gibson has a few other comments on JC’s post regarding Missoula city council’s resolution to amend the constitution to eliminate corporate personhood – all on the subject of free speech.
His comments being somewhat ironic considering he takes the time to correct me – rightfully so – on this post by showing his knowledge on the history of bribery in Montana elections.
And so aside from what I have heard over the years from the many reporters that have graced the Indy is Gibson’s (perhaps slight) intolerance for this anonymous blogger right here…Gibson, it seems supports free speech.
Without an explanation from the Indy – either editor Robert Meyerowitz or president Matt Gibson (or publisher Lynne Foland) what are readers left to think?
Especially when Montanans – statewide – now have to read that Ochenski was silenced because he wanted to write about the value of the free press. In Montana.
If the Indy thinks they are right, that is one thing – but I again reiterate in what I believe are the interests of a newspaper that I have come to deeply respect over the years: The Missoula Independent has an obligation to its readers to address the departure of its twelve year award winning political commentary columnist George Ochenski.
Right now, they seemed determined to ignore the issue. While virtually all calls to the Indy offices (406-543-6609) went to voice mail today – this mainly due to the fact that the Indy doesn’t have a receptionist – no one that I knew who called got a return phone call. And I certainly hope some of those calls were advertisers like The Good Food Store, Rockin’ Rudy’s, Ten Spoon Winery and Butterfly Herbs calling to hold the Indy to some certain amount of accountability.
Alexis Bonogofsky, a conservation program manager for the National Wildlife Federation and a goat rancher on the Yellowstone who continues to suffer the ill-effects of the Exxon spill on the Yellowstone wrote to the Indy asking about the departure of Ochenski and his column:
Mr. Meyerowitz and Mr. Gibson,
It recently came to my attention that George Ochenski is no longer with the Independent. His column is extremely important, relevant and necessary to all of us in Montana that follow politics.
I am waiting for the Independent to come out and explain why his column has been terminated. I think a man who has produced quality journalism and analysis of Montana state politics for your paper for over a decade deserves as much.
Gibson wrote back:
Thanks for your note, Alexis. I hope you will find the Indy continuing to publish extremely important, relevant and necessary content from all of our contributors in the future.
Alexis – who should be a reporter for her persistence for an answer – responded:
Thanks for the response but I’m more interested in what happened to his column? Are you no longer going to publish it or address it at all?
Gibson ended the exchange with:
George won’t be writing for the Indy anymore, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have strong content in the future. Beyond that, I think it’s between us and George.
Gibson’s last exchange came just a few minutes before Aaron Flint reports on their censorship of his weekly political column. Perhaps now they may feel a need to state what has transpired.
The reality is that the truth is out there. Gibson knows this as does Meyerowitz. They are newspaper veterans, and to put their heads in the sand on an issue near and dear to a community (maybe I should say “market”) of Missoulians when there are alternative sources for both news and advertisement is, it seems, pretty risky.
Failure to address Ochenski’s departure will hang over the Indy. It will cloud their respectability as a “Free Thinking” newspaper – and it unfairly disrespects a departure that would be better left with the Indy taking a high road and giving its deserving loyal readers (and a columnist who helped in a very big way make the Indy what it is today) the truthful explanation and closure all parties deserve.