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Monday, October 4, 2010

Blog Trashes Conscientious Journalist with Wild Distortion

Alternative headline: Tea Parties More Rational than Dakota War College?

The Rapid City Journal's newest political reporter, David Montgomery, made an error in a story he wrote in Saturday's paper. Writing about Senator John Thune's presidential aspirations, Montgomery miscontextualized a quote from the Murdo Marauder. Our senator said something about not being "particularly concerned about how that may play here," that referring to running for President, and here referring to South Dakota, whose voters have a historical tendency to get owly* with local pols who presume to get all presidential.

Full disclosure: David Montgomery attended a picnic at my house in 2009. So did Steve Sibson. Make of that what you will.
Then Montgomery discovered he got the here wrong. Thune meant Washington D.C., not South Dakota. Montgomery saw, as did some RCJ commenters, that the miscontextualized quote could be interpreted as Thune poo-pooing the home crowd. Montgomery moved quickly to fix the error, not just editing the story, but posting a lengthy apology and explanation (on a Saturday, same day of publication):

The mistake is entirely my fault. I’ve removed the inaccurate quote from the story, deleted comments responding to it and am writing a correction.

It’s particularly regrettable because people are already interpreting that quote as saying Thune has abandoned South Dakota. Even in my original, incorrect misunderstanding of the quote’s context, that’s not what I thought he was saying — I thought he was saying he’s not worried that running for president might cost him his reelection.

But given my mistake, people attacking Thune for this quote are entirely wrong. I hope no one uses that out-of-context quote to attack Thune; if blogs or the media do so, I’ll gladly contact them and tell them as much [emphasis in original; David Montgomery, "Making Mistakes," Mount Blogmore, 2010.10.02].

Check that out: Montgomery not only takes full responsibility for the error and fixes it, but promises to take ongoing responsibility to stamp out any rumors or political spin folks might try to wring from the original erroneous text. Problem solved, political fracas averted, right?

Wrong. Not satisfied with an apology, and evidently feeling the need to break up the tedious stream of recycled press releases, Dakota War College runs this headline: "Reporter trashes Thune, gets caught and tries to pass it off as an oops." Brookings blogger Pat Powers proceeds to wildly distort the affair. In Powers's world, Montgomery wrote a "hit piece." Demonstrating the power of generalization and imagination over facts, Powers claims without examples that Montgomery "has always been a Herseth Sandlin apologist, almost never offering anything other than gushing and glowing for our embattled congresswoman." He also issues the standard DWC headline distortion, saying Montomgery got "caught," while providing no evidence to suggest the correction was motivated by anything but Montgomery's perhaps late source-checking.

The DWC peanut gallery proceed to pile on with unsubstantiated accusations that scratches their "Rush told me the media was evil!" itch.

Meanwhile, leaders of Rapid City's two battling Tea Parties take a much mellower view of Montgomery's error. Their comments appear in the comment section beneath Montgomery's correction and apology:

Barb Lindberg Says:
October 2nd, 2010 at 11:26 pm
Hey David... Just wanted you to know how I appreciated you making the adjustment and correction on the Thune article. It says a lot about you – at least in the eyes of those whose “word” is still their signature. We’re in crazy times right now, I can relate with the “fish bowl” effect of what you say and do. It always amazes me when the critics and doom sayers so quickly jump at the first sight of blood. I appreciate also your heart and intent in not wanting to thwart John’s representation to his constituents. Without sounding “sappy” “WELL DONE”

Ed RandazzoSays:
October 3rd, 2010 at 7:57 am
Good going, David. We can all empathize with you feelings on this, as we have all made mistakes... [from the comment section, Montgomery, 2010.10.02].

(Randazzo proceeds to some criticism of not working harder to boost SD conservatives like Kristi Noem; Montgomery, ever the journalist, uses the comment section to ask Randazzo what impact he thinks Thune could have on Noem's campaign.)

So the Rapid City Tea Parties, arguably the most radical conservatives in the state, read Montgomery's apology and see responsible journalism. Dakota War College reads the same text and sees a political dupe trashing Senator Thune. DWC's rabid response against the Tea Parties' mild shrug and turning to other issues bespeaks the ill turn of the quality of Brookings's loudest blog and its mudthirsty commenters.

I've seen trashing. I've been trashed (with greatest frequency by lily-livered anonymi at DWC). I gain nothing by defending a professional journalist (we bloggers get our cred from trashing paid reporters... right?). But Montgomery's one erroneous line was not a trashing. If Montgomery had intended it to do damage to Thune, he'd have let it hang out there longer and then buried the correction and apology. Now, I can't even find a version of the line in its original context online, and Montgomery has very publicly vowed that he will straighten out anyone who does try making anti-Thune hay from the original error.

The only trashing taking place is at Dakota War College. Montgomery is an asset to South Dakota's all-too-small Fourth Estate, yet the venomous, ad hominem peanut gallery manufactures indignance and screams rumor and resign! What childish rot.
*Update: Note that it's professional journalist Bob Mercer who, six days prior to the Montgomery article, said of Thune's presidential aspirations, "John however seems to forget from where he comes." Now why didn't DWC scream "trashing" about that?


  1. Dakota War College used to be an interesting blog albeit with a right leaving slant. These days not so much, it's become press release central.

  2. Cory,

    Here is the rub.

    If a politician ever appears to say "I don't care what my consituents say" a reporters "skeptic radar" should be on.

    And, if it is confirmed to be true, it would be the lead of the story.

    Two possible scenarios:

    1) Montgomery can't see news when he sees it. As per his apology "The story closed with a quote from Thune that I believed to be him saying he wasn’t worried about South Dakotans rejecting him if he ran for president. . ."

    2) Montgomery obviously has no "skeptic radar" when it comes to Republicans for him to even consider this would be something Thune would say. Regardless of party, a good reporter would double/triple check both the accuracy of the quote and its context.

    Neither of which makes him what you claim him to be. In fact, the most favorable perception one could reach is both are true. Alternatively, one could conclude he is biased against Republicans and knew it to be false.

    A couple of additional comments:

    1) Montgomery did write a complete apology. This is a good first step.

    2) He must work double hard to prove he didn't intend to do this or is so biased against Republicans/for Democrats to earn back a modicum of credibility. Such isn't earned overnight. This will take time.

  3. I have always enjoyed David Montgomery's stories in the Pierre newspaper - they always conveyed a strong sense of place, and were built on thorough reporting and nice writing.. The Rapid City Journal is lucky to have him, I think.

  4. This was called to my attention yesterday by a former blogger whose question was, "Can War College get away with this?"

    The reference was to the fact that the post on War College did not just express an opinion with the allegation that David's original story demonstrated bias. War College made a a factual allegation that David deliberately contrived to falsify the quotation to do damage to Thune. That factual accusation is clearly beyond what can be claimed as fair comment and criticism and makes a clear, unequivocal allegation.

    My correspondent questioned if the laws of libel that apply to journalism will be applied to a blog. The Journal and Lee Enterprises have a vested interest in this, and the question is if. in today's strange legal climate, they will choose to deal with it.

    The statement is of the same nature as accusing a physician of malpractice. Not too long ago, such a statement would have been regarded as inherently damaging, and the person who made such a statement could be required to prove its truth. Now, a person who is the object of such a statement has to show that the statement was damaging in order to pursue legal redress. This would be a good case to establish if there are any protections against libel and if bloggers have the same liabilities as the legacy media.

    This is not the first time that War College has ventured into the land of libel to relieve itself of its malevolent urges. And it raises another matter regarding the nature of the comments that follow the post. Some of them intensify the libel, but they are made with the same attitude and diction as the post. Literately attuned people have suspected in the past that Powers augments his vendettas by writing his own comments in support of them. In any event, as the blog sponsor, is he not ultimately responsible for what appears on the blog?

    This is a chance to clarify something that has become muddled in the law. And it provides opportunity for the right wing to recite its cant that any reporter who does not fawn before their ideas and candidates is possessed of a liberal bias.


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