Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Montana yahoo embarrasses state on national stage

It’s Wednesday and time for a little Montana politics (and no, the photo on the right is not of the yahoo, but of the guy who got yahooed.)

So here’s the story. This big Hollywood producer who has a home in Montana gets an invite to speak at a small Montana high school. Amazingly enough, even though these movie types who own homes in Montana tend to live behind locked gates and have unlisted phone numbers, he actually says yes. An incredible opportunity for kids to hear from someone who made it big, right?

But then things turn darker -- there is at least one parent who is worried that an impressionable child might be indoctrinated with this Hollywood guy's political views. Complaints are made to the principal at the last minute, and the administrator caves. The producer is met at the door, and is essentially told, “guess what, consider yourself disinvited -- yeah, I know you drove an hour and a half to get here, but sorry, gotta protect children from guys like you.”

Those dang Montana yahoo right-wing nut-jobs and their obsessions with Hollywood liberal political bias, right?

Well, actually not...

It is rather amusing that this time it was lefties who censored what the tender ears of high school seniors in Ronan might hear. We all know that kids in high school these days lead very sheltered lives, and need protection...

Gerald Molen had been invited to speak to the senior class at Ronan... before he was disinvited. Molen was born in Great Falls and now is a semi-retired 77 year-old living in Bigfork. In between, he made a movie or two, including five Steven Spielberg films. His producing credits include Rain Man, Days of Thunder, Hook, Jurassic Park, Minority Report... and his Schindler’s List won an Oscar. Put simply, he was not a Hollywood lightweight.

He’s a very bad man, though. After all, he has a rather skeptical view of President Obama, and is making a film based on Dinesh D’Souza’s book The Roots of Obama’s Rage. Was Molen planning on political indoctrination? No, he was planning on a motivational talk to the kids, not that the principal bothered to ask before leaving Molen’s talk on the school’s cutting-room floor. The principal claims that he didn’t know how the talk would be “tied into the curriculum.” He also claims that he lets parents know about such things so they can opt their kids out. Come again? So the kids in Ronan -- population 1,812 -- have a chance to hear from a big-time movie producer and talk to him about his work, and their teachers had something more compelling and educational on the schedule?

Molen rightly labeled all of this a “lame excuse” in an op-ed he penned for the Kalispell Daily Interlake. Let’s play out this scenario a bit: suppose David Letterman, Tom Brokaw, or another liberal media star that owns a home in Montana accepts an invitation to talk to Ronan’s seniors. Are we seriously to believe that the principal would have demanded a copy of the talk and made sure that the talk would be “tied into the curriculum?” Or let’s say that Sen. Jon Tester, Sen. Max Baucus, or Gov. Brian Schweitzer agreed to talk to the kids about their work in Washington. If Republicans objected on the grounds that something partisan might be said, would the principal have met the planned speaker at the door on the day of the talk, letting him know that his talk had been nixed? Maybe so -- these sorts of hypotheticals are always in the realm of the unknowable -- but if so, it would be pretty silly of the parents to complain and even sillier of the principal to cave in to the pressure.

I remember when Pixar animator Bud Luckey, a Billings native, came to talk to kids at our local high school. It was an inspiring experience for the kids to get to hear from someone who had reached the highest levels of his craft in the movie industry. Granted, it didn’t really occur to me that the creator of Woody might try to indoctrinate my kid into some sort of liberal Hollywood perfidy. Even if it had, I would have trusted him to be respectful, keep an open mind, and laugh with me after the fact about any left-wing goofiness that he encountered.

The Ronan story has since gone viral, and Montana gets another moment in the national spotlight that is even more embarrassing than the governor’s crude comments about Mitt Romney’s father growing up on a “polygamy commune.”

As a final note, it was predictable perhaps that when the story first showed up on the radar of Montana’s Lee Newspapers, the headlines were not about the yahoo administrator who behaved so boorishly toward a distinguished guest, but rather about the yahoos in the “sick part of society” (as Molen put it when asked for a comment) who decided it would be fun to send anonymous threats to the principal.

So it all ended up following the preferred script (so to speak,) as far as The Missoulian, et al, were concerned -- by the time it was over, the controversy really was somehow all about those right-wing nut-jobs after all.

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