Sunday, July 8, 2007

Sunday roundup and branding -- the Gazette, and beyond...

Image Courtesy of

Billings Gazette does good job in covering Pat Davison: Back in the infancy of Montana Headlines last December, when the Pat Davison "Ponzi scheme" scandal was breaking, we wrote that "at this point, Davison's name is widely known for one reason, and one reason only -- his defrauding of investors and his pleading guilty on federal charges."

It was important that we make this point, since prior to this major personal financial scandal, Davison was perhaps most widely known in Billings as having run unsuccessfully for governor.

We pointed out on more than one occasion that the Gazette had a penchant for identifying Davison as a Republican candidate for governor, giving the impression to the uninitiated that he was the GOP's nominee, when in fact Davison lost the primary badly, carrying only two counties statewide and carrying his home county (Yellowstone) only by a thin plurality.

In today's big Sunday front page article about Davison, the Gazette mentions him as a gubernatorial candidate early in the article, but doesn't identify him at that point as a Republican -- and deep in the article when it mentions that run, it correctly states that "Davison... lost soundly in the Republican primary." The article puts the political connections in their proper perspective.

The Davison story is a big one, with the amount of money defrauded from his investors now approaching $12 million, according to the Gazette article. While one feels bad for his family and friends that an article like this rehashes a painful history, there is no question that in Billings it deserves big coverage.

As pointed out here on this site before, it is a "cautionary tale" at many levels -- personal, business, social, and political.

In particular, it should be a reminder to big financial backers of Republican candidates in Montana (and Davison had a number of them in his failed bid) that those candidates need a careful vetting. Think of the huge damage that would have been done had Davison won the nomination, let alone the governorship itself -- and then had this scandal break. The Montana GOP just doesn't have any room for those kinds of PR disasters.

Montana lobbyists span the political spectrum: Chuck Johnson's article reporting what was spent on lobbying the 2007 legislature is revealing. More precisely, it reports what the lobbyists themselves report, which, as the article notes, is probably a significant underestimate.

Not surprisingly, the top spender was PPL Montana -- and also not surprisingly, the teacher's unions were close behind.

It is true that lobbyists are "trying to influence legislators," in the words of the article. Well, of course they are.

But in fairness, in a 90 day session, legislators have to be desperate for information that they need to make decisions and write bills.

Term limits have only exacerbated those problems. Lobbyists play a valuable role in helping legislators know how legislation will affect different groups of Montanans -- who is going to know better how a law will affect Montana ranchers, for instance, than the Montana Stockgrower's Association? (They weren't mentioned in the article -- we just use them as an example.)

There is still something a bit bothersome about having public employees lobby the government that employs them, but that isn't likely to change anytime soon in Montana -- in fact, as we add more and more people to the government payroll, such lobbying will only intensify.

One does wonder, though: when the governor is speaking to groups of teachers and public employees, does he rail on them for spending money on lobbyists?

Great new Montana business website: Anyone who hasn't checked out Jeff Mangan's major initiative -- a Montana business website -- needs to hasten on over to .

Maybe Denny Rehberg just likes being a Congressman: In his "Horse Sense" column, Chuck Johnson makes a good case that this is why Rehberg has passed up shots at open governor seats and is passing up the opportunity to challenge Max Baucus for a U.S. Senate seat.

We would guess that Rehberg will be poised to challenge Sen. Tester in 2012. But that is a long time from now -- and while Rehberg would be Baucus's most formidable challenger right now (and would have a decent shot at unseating him,) it is by no means certain that Rehberg will have the shiniest star when the Tester challenge comes along. Five years is a long time, and Rehberg's fortunes could wane, while exciting, new GOP political figures will almost certainly arise between now and then.

We have the feeling that Johnson is right -- he'll take on Tester in 2012 if he is the logical candidate, and would have in 2006. But he's not someone who is sitting around pining for a U.S. Senate seat, and won't be crushed if someone else gets the nod. It wouldn't at all be a bad thing for Montana or the Montana GOP for Rehberg to grow old and gray (and hold a lot of seniority) in our solo U.S. House seat.

City Lights: You ask a stupid question...: We now know what Ed Kemmick was doing between 4:30 and 4:45 on Friday -- thinking up questions to ask himself about Billings, pretending that they are questions real visitors to Billings might ask.

Does he have a great job or what?

Montana Headlines was a bit disappointed in a couple of the rhetorical questions posed at the end of the piece (inviting reader answers.)

For instance, his hypothetical visitor asks: "Is it hard to run in cowboy boots?"

As any Montana politician worth his salt will tell you on an election year, it's nearly impossible to run without them in these parts.

Talk Radio and the Fairness Doctrine: David Crisp over at the Billings Outpost has an interesting article on the subject, and he concludes that talk radio is indeed profoundly unfair. It's true: imagine the pain of being someone who wants to listen to a liberal radio talk-show in Billings -- especially if one considers NPR talk-shows to be too balanced and fair to be liberal.

But neither does Crisp advocate reinstating the so-called "Fairness Doctrine," which only ever had the effect of keeping all political opinion off the air.

The whole opinion piece is worth reading, but he makes one particularly intriguing comment: "Conservatives appear to be somewhat more interested in listening to talk radio, and liberals appear to be somewhat more open to listening to conservative hosts than conservatives are to liberal hosts."

Well, that may be true, and it may be that this is enough for market forces to tip things to a 100% conservative talk-radio format, as he maintains. But the explanation is much simpler, and Crisp alludes to it in passing, even if only mostly to discount it.

The bottom line is that when talk radio started to flourish, conservatives had for decades felt inundated by an uninterrupted supply of liberal slant -- the major networks, public radio and TV (except for Firing Line -- our one television show,) the major wire services, nearly all of the major newspapers in the country, and the public schools and college campuses where we (and later, our kids) were educated.

Most of the content was intended to be fair and neutral, and most of that succeeded in having some sort of neutrality. But where there was a slant, it was liberal. Think of it this way: if the mainstream media is 95% neutral and 5% liberal, then the net effect over time is one of a liberal slant, even if it succeeds an incredible 95% of the time in being neutral.

That doesn't mean that the entire mainstream media and educational institutions slant everything in a liberal direction, it just means that there was and is a sort of ideological Brezhnev doctrine at work -- things drift only in one direction, and that is leftward.

Talk radio was suddenly a place where conservatives were able at last to find opinions that were similar to their own, and it should be of no surprise that conservatives flocked to it. Talk radio didn't create that audience -- it found it.

After all, the men around whose boot-clad feet a young Montana Headlines played while they drank coffee, discussed the weather, speculated about agricultural prices, and cussed the government knew good and well, long before Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, that what they read in the papers and heard on television was filled with liberal bias and general lies.

Furthermore, given the perception that talk radio needed to balance out all of the above, it shouldn't be surprising that the style of conservative talk radio would be to push back, hard, against what it perceived as a monolithic and powerful liberal establishment.

The accuracy of the perceptions on which conservative talk radio thrived can, of course, be debated. But that they existed, and still exist today, is the operative force at work.

Speaking of fairness: Forget talk radio. What Montana Headlines is really concerned about is whether Kree Kirkman is going to make sure that his utopian green-friendly medieval fortress/village "Oberkleinberg" is fair and balanced, with a population that is 50% Republican and 50% Democrat.


Anonymous said...

I too read David Crisp's column on talk radio and found it quite interesting. He made some good points and, for me too, the one quote that jumped out at me was the one you noticed: "Conservatives appear to be somewhat more interested in listening to talk radio, and liberals appear to be somewhat more open to listening to conservative hosts than conservatives are to liberal hosts."

Of course, it is not surprising to see folks on the left pat themselves on the back for being more open-minded and intellectually curious than those on the right. What they don't consider, however, is that folks on the right for years have had to listen to liberal hosts far longer than the other way around. They've just gotten used to it.

For example, Tim Russert and George Stephanopoulos are both former top Democratic staffers who now have top anchor duties. I wouldn't argue that they are blatant in their bias, but it does show up in subtle ways. For example, I watched Meet the Press a couple weeks ago when Russert had on folks such as Gwen Ifill and Roger Simon, and the whole panel agree that the GOP presidential candidates were poor and would get crushed and the Democratic candidates were great and were going to thump the GOPers. I thought their analysis was somewhat premature.

I also watched Stephanopoulos the other day on Good Morning America after the Democratic debates and he was absolutely gushing about Hillary's performance. One would think he would excuse himself from talking about her.

Anyway, conservatives have had to just get use to that's how things are in the network world. Not very fair, but what can they do about it?

Montana Headlines said...

You hit the nail on the head when you point out that conservatives have "gotten used to it."

That is to say, we have traditionally had far more practice absorbing and tolerating views we find disagreeable than have most broadminded folks of a liberal bent.

We, (and now our kids,) had to endure challenges to our convictions in the course of getting a higher education whereas those on the other end of the spectrum were immersed in self-congratulation.

Would you want it any other way, though?

All that, of course, may be in the process of changing. If conservatives like, they can now live like the opposition has long lived vis a vis the media -- able to soak in a self-congratulatory spa of monochromatic ideas.

It was once difficult to find conservative talk radio that wasn't invigorating and fresh. Nowadays, there is conservative talk radio that is every bit as tedious as AirAmerica. Rusty Humphries and Sean Hannity spring to mind.