Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Thumbs down on the Gazette's coverage of tax rebates

The Billings Gazette editorial page rightly gives a "thumbs down" to the IRS sending out a postcard to tell everyone about the tax rebate they will be getting. Well, some people will be getting those checks, but not the people who pay most of the taxes -- but we won't get into that part of it. After all, as Sen. Baucus implies in his postcard, those who make more than a certain amount are "undeserving" of a tax rebate.

Which brings up a criticism of the Gazette. Surely, the Gazette editorial board members also received Sen. Baucus's post-card, crowing about the stimulus package checks that would be coming people's way. That, too, was at taxpayer expense.

So why the selective indignation? Why criticism of the IRS for sending out a postcard, but no criticism from the Gazette editorial board of Sen. Baucus's flagrant abuse of his franking privileges in an election year? Even some folks on the left noticed and were not amused by this waste of taxpayer money.

After all, it is arguably a part of the IRS's job description to inform taxpayers about changes in tax law. What is Sen. Baucus's excuse -- other than the fact that it is an election year, and he's running short on campaign cash (not)?

Sen. Baucus wasn't even a part of the loop in designing the stimulus package (so much for being the 4th most powerful Senator in Washington) and had to add some window-dressing to the legislation after the fact.

Montana Headlines has accepted that there will not be a viable challenge to Baucus this year, barring unforeseen circumstances (which can, of course, always arise.) But the way that the press takes it easy on Baucus is maddening, and it probably contributed to the unwillingness of any higher-profile Montana Republican to enter the race. That's no excuse -- the Montana GOP should have been able to prevail on someone to step up to the plate, regardless of the odds.

But every time we see the Montana press coddle Sen. Baucus like this, it becomes harder to blame the Republicans who chose not to challenge him.


Anonymous said...

Hmmmm ... I agree that the Montana press does coddle Baucus, but I've always thought that it was because he was only a perceived liberal with a window-dressing voting record who could be counted on by big money when the chips were down. The press is, after all, hardly liberal.

Montana Headlines said...

You have a good point, in that it cannot be assumed that the press takes it easy on a given politician for purely ideological reasons.

We as Republicans, rightly or wrongly, feel that the general trend is that a Democratic politician is more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt than is a Republican.

We perceive that a Democratic politician might get an adverse story here or there, but the sustained series of articles and editorial scoldings tend to be reserved for Republicans.

But let's say that ideological sympathies (conscious or unconscious) have nothing to do with it.

A more practical reason for taking it easy on Baucus is that the more powerful a politician becomes and the more likely he is to be re-elected, the more valuable that politician is as a source of news and information -- and you don't want him to punish you by giving all of the good leads and stories to your competitors.

So the press often won't take on an incumbent unless there is a reasonable chance of unseating him. Witness the Gazette endorsing Burns in 2000, but relentlessly piling on in 2005 and 2006, and advocating for Tester in their final editorial endorsement.

If the press were as interested in someone perceived as going with "the big money" -- they would have stuck with Burns, right? Certainly at least the Billings Gazette would have ample justification for endorsing someone from their hometown who was known for bringing lots of federal money to the part of Montana in which their readership is found.

People in the press say that there just aren't the resources to do investigative journalism on Baucus, in spite of the fact that there are at least 9 million reasons why there is justification to at least do some serious poking around.

And given that the reporting on Burns appears to have involved little independent investigative journalism, that is probably true.

David said...

Don't be so sure that The Gazette editors got Baucus' postcard either. I haven't seen it (which is not to say I didn't get it, but the pile is deep and the days are short).

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately it is not just the Gazette that does this sort of thing. The other day the GF Tribune did an editorial saying that state government would be a more civil place now that Lange, Sinrud and Koopman would no longer be around.

Maybe thats so, but the Tribune has never ever had anything bad to say about the many uncivil things the governor has had to say. In fact it has defended him for being a tough guy.

It is amazing the difference between how the press treated Martz and Burns, etc, and how they treat the Dems now in office. They used to bash the Republicans regularly, and a lot of it was downright mean stuff. You wuold have to hunt awful hard to find any commentaries critical of the Dems now in office. And those rare times they criticize Dems they throw in an obligatory whack at Republicans just to "even" things out.

One would think that the editors of MT would work a little harder to show they can be indpendent of the Democratic party. For the sake of pride if nothing else. But....

Mark's comment about the press being "hardly liberal" is good comic relief. Every survey on the subject ever done shows the vast majority of the press lean to the left. A Pew survey just came out in the last couple weeks that confirmed the same finding.

But I supppose he could be right if he means most folks in the press aren't Micheal Moore type liberals. Compared to Mr Moore, the press could be said to be hardly liberal.

Montana Headlines said...

David -- yes, it is possible that none of the Gazette editors saw the Baucus postcard, but it seems unlikely. At the Gazette, reportedly no unsigned editorials are written without the whole board discussing what it will say. For none of them to have seen it seems unlikely -- but it is certainly possible.

One hopes that enough attention has been drawn to it from the blog attention to the Baucus postcard that the Gazette will exercise fairness by giving Baucus a "thumbs down" when they catch up with the blogosphere and hear about it.

Anon -- you are right that there doesn't seem to be nearly the same alacrity in looking into the governor or our U.S. Senators compared to the energy devoted to criticizing Burns and Martz.

It could be that things are just so squeaky clean that there is nothing to tell -- but it seems unlikely.

David said...

If the whole board is discussing all of the editorials, then the Gazette is running a much tighter ship than it used to.

That could be the case. I'm sure Pat Bellinghausen runs a much tighter ship than Gary Svee did.

Montana Headlines said...

Supposedly, the full editorial board discusses what the editorials are to say, and Bellinghausen writes them.

I doubt that the final editorials are reviewed and approved by the entire board -- that would seem a bit unwieldy.

Anonymous said...

I sat in numerous meetings with Governor Martz and the press--usually an AP reporter, GF Tribune reporter and a Lee News capital bureau chief were present. There were many, many things said by Governor Martz that could have been used against her but were not. For the times when Martz's own words were quoted, there were many more times when they were left unreported. To claim that the media picked on Martz is simply not accurate.

Montana Headlines said...

Martz and Burns gave the press lots of free material -- neither were masters of managing their public image in the press.

My criticisms, however, do not boil down to whether the press fails to report Baucus saying something that would make him sound bad. Baucus, if you haven't noticed, isn't the world's most articulate politician. He is a lifelong professional politician, so he doesn't make the kinds of slips that Burns did.

My questions surround things like the issue of whether the Montana press is following the money when it comes to all of the out-of-state fundraising that Baucus has been doing. And if it does start to be done now, why it wasn't being done at a time when it might have affected the decisions of more prominent Republicans to get into the race -- and the decisions of national Republicans to engage in Montana.

Anonymous said...

The slush/constituency/527 funds that Burns and Martz established while in office were not carefully dissected by the press, either. I would like to see an accounting of all the corporate contributions collected by these clandestine funds during their terms and also an accounting of unlimited individual contributions made to Martz's slush fund (Tim Blixseth, for example) that paid Shane Hedges $5K while he was serving time in the pre-release. Out of state contributions to an incumbent senator are nothing new, particularly when that incumbent is one of the most senior senators of the lot. It's also nothing new for a senator from a state like MT to raise most of his money outside the state. Aren't campaign finance reports public documents? If so interested, why not do the digging yourself?

Montana Headlines said...

So nice to see the pros drop by.

So which is it -- a 527 (which liberal Democrats wrote the book on) or a slush fund (which is illegal) -- make up your mind. We have Sen. Tester in no small part due to the efforts of outside 527s, and would love to see a detailed accounting of who made contributions to them.

Just as we would love to see a detailed contributor list to Forward Montana.

Regardless, last anyone checked, neither Martz nor Burns are holding office or running for anything. So why would anyone be digging more into those allegations than was already done back then?

The press did their watchdog job on Martz and Burns. It's just hard not to wonder exactly how hard they are doing that same job with the people now holding those same jobs.

Sen. Baucus is in the middle of a re-election campaign, and we have Democrats holding the other Senate seat and the governorship. These questions are relevant because they are running and holding office. Now.

As you know from reading the Gazette article, U.S. Senators have purposely made it difficult for anyone to peruse their financials. They could choose to make everything readily available on-line, but they don't.

Sen. Baucus, in the name of the sunshine and transparency that is all the Democratic rage these days, could use one of his many paid staffers to put all of this information at the fingertips of every concerned citizen (and blogger.) What is stopping him?

Anonymous said...

Judging by how politicians such as Judy Martz and Conrad Burns have used 527s and constituency accounts, I think "slush fund" is as good an interchangeable term as any.

And since Montana Headlines broached the subject of Martz and Burns as a comparison, it is quite logical to point out that they were largely given a pass on their clandestine fund raising. I don't recall any detailed information on their slush funds and that's because it isn't legally required for those stashes to be reported. It does, however, bring great pleasure to see the person who staked a claim (that Baucus is lightly treated when Martz and Burns were not) so quickly bury the matter when a challenge comes to knock it flat on its ass. Martz? Burns? Whoever said anything about them? A nobody. A no one. Apparently.

Anonymous said...

A different anonymous: What's all the clandestine, slush and secret fund raising you're talking about? Constituency accounts? We do need tougher reporting standards on these. We've never had a good accounting on what the governor raised for his ball, etc. And we needed better accounting before he came to office too.

I didn't know that federal law allowed senator's to have such accounts. Are you sure about that?

I'm also puzzled about the assertion that someone had knocked "flat on its ass" the claim that Baucus had gotten light press treatment while Martz and Burns had not. Who accomplished that, and where, and when? I guess I missed it.

Montana Headlines said...

Good points from 2nd anonymous -- I missed it too.

As I pointed out originally, a slush fund implies illegality -- 527s and constituency accounts aren't illegal.

And as I pointed out earlier, it is Dems who wrote the book on 527s (and we really would love to see a detailed accounting of Tester's 527's and Forward Montana,) so that's not a good example to use.

Anonymous 2 is also correct to point out that the most creative use in recent memory of hitting up people for constituency account contributions was for the governor's inaugural ball.

Also not a good example -- not only does it fail to hit Burns and Martz (who are, as we noted earlier, neither running for office nor holding office) -- but it brings up some late unpleasantness with a Democrat who is both holding office and running for re-election.

Anonymous 1 will have to do better than that. On the other hand, keep it up. This is providing good material for future posts.

Anonymous said...

slush fund implies illegality? Nice try at changing the subject. Interesting the shifting sand when MH senses a losing argument of his own making. No one said 527s or constituency accounts were illegal. However, when they are used to pay a convicted felon sitting in a prerelease who also happens to be the former chief policy advisor to the governor, what more evidence of slush do you need? Or when major land barons such as Tim Blixseth dump 10s of thousands of dollars into one for the benefit of a sitting governor, the slush gets even deeper. Best pull out the waders.

Montana Headlines said...

Um, just because you keep repeating that you're winning an argument doesn't mean that you are. It doesn't even mean that you are still on the topic.

Negative reporting on Martz and Burns played a considerable role in their defeat at the ballot box (or in Martz's case, the decision not to even run again) -- if you think that what you have to say about them and their alleged past activities is hot and ground-breaking news, call your local media outlets.

The point at issue that seems to evade your notice is whether Baucus is getting the same critical treatment -- not whether the press could have been even more critical of Martz and Burns than they already were.

Anonymous said...

ay, and there's the rub. Take your own advice, "if you think that what you have to say about [Baucus] and [his] alleged past [current fundraising] activities is hot and ground-breaking news, call your local media outlets. 360 degrees is now complete.

Montana Headlines said...

Sorry, but the only thing that is 360 degrees is your circular reasoning.

The fact you continue to choose to ignore is that Baucus, unlike Martz or Burns, is both currently in office and running for re-election. Calling for the press to scrutinize his countless millions in out-of-state campaign contributions and his contributions raised by lobbyists is relevant. We are asking them to take the time to see if there is real, relevant news to be found in all of that campaign cash, just as they did when scrutinizing Republicans when that was relevant news.

And with that, it is time to close this thread. Feel free to visit MH and comment on a more recent post.