Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Montana GOP and reporting about the outhouse -- the power of headlines

It's Wednesday and time for a little Montana politics.

By now, the entire political world knows that a yahoo (we seem to have used that word more than once lately, but really -- is there a better one?) brought an outhouse to the parking lot outside the hotel where the Montana GOP state convention was being held.

It had a sign proclaiming that it was the "Obama Presidential Library," was reportedly painted to look like it had bullet-holes in it, had an Obama birth certificate inside with a scatological term of opprobrium written across it, and had the names of several nationally prominent Democratic women written on the wall inside, complete with a "for a good time call" message.

It is hard to imagine a uglier display of ad hominem boorishness. Our tender sensibilities are, in this vulgar world, frequently subjected to even greater depths of tastelessness just when we think we've seen it all. We have also been quite critical of hamfistedness whenever it rears its head at Montana GOP high command.

So we're about to pile on, right?


Why not? After all, the facts are clear, aren't they? The Missoulian had a headline saying "Montana GOP convention features bullet-riddled 'Obama outhouse'" -- and KFBB television in Great Falls led off with "Montana GOP Makes 'For a Good Time' Reference to First Lady."

Yes, but the problem is that those headlines were wrong, and they skewed every bit of coverage that followed. Those headlines seem to claim that the Montana GOP made this particular crude display -- but in point of fact "the Montana GOP" had nothing to do with it.

As a parenthetical note, way back in the mists of time, the title of this blog was inspired in part by a series of misleading headlines in the Billings Gazette that got our goat. The headline is often all that many readers see. They won't see the caveats inserted in the second half of the article, and many won't read the article at all. Misleading headlines (which, incidentally, are generally written by the editors, not the reporters writing the piece) can be just as damaging as errors in the text of the articles themselves. And that is true of the Missoulian piece. You have to get deep into the article to learn that the Montana GOP convention didn't "feature" the outhouse at all. Some person of interest left it in the hotel parking lot for folks to gawk at.

This particular piece of post-modern sculpture, we later learned, was created by a guy named Dave Hurtt, who had the deep insight to tell the NBC reporter interviewing him that "maybe my humor is a little bit crude for some people." Whoa -- say it isn't so! Andres Serrano, here we come...

In fact, from what we can gather from subsequent reporting, GOP officials immediately followed appropriate procedures by talking to the hotel staff about having it moved off the property. Which is about all that could be done. The outhouse was someone's private property sitting on someone else's private property, and GOP officials would have no right to physically dispose of it themselves.

What about expressions of outrage? Shouldn't that have been the immediate response of Montana GOP leaders? Indeed, some have found the lack of a hand-wringing response from GOP leaders to be a bit damning.

Let's think about that. So, the whole GOP convention should grind to a halt while a string of speakers condemn a crude act that went on in the hotel parking lot -- raising the question of "why are they making a big deal about this -- do they have something to hide?" GOP Chairman Will Deschamps probably did the best he could with a bad situation by calling it a "sideshow" and pointing out that the president should be treated with respect -- if you give something like this oxygen by paying serious attention to it, that's not good either. Do you run to reporters and condemn it immediately, thereby shining an even brighter spotlight on it -- when really what you are wanting is for the yahoo to take his blasted prank elsewhere and let you get back to the business of having your convention?

This is the sort of thing that is deeply embarrassing to serious Republicans with a sense of dignity and decorum -- which is the vast majority of us, in my experience. We're all for good humor around here -- even tasteless humor can sometimes be hilarious in just the right setting (cf. Saturday Night Live.) The outhouse stunt pulled by Mr. Hurtt piles offense upon offense -- the last and perhaps worst of which is that when it comes to this self-proclaimed "spoof," there just wasn't anything funny about it.

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