The Washington Post website was heavily promoting an article on Monday by Lisa Rein, headlined: “Montanans used to live and let live. Now bitter confrontations cloud Big Sky Country.”
It’s a fascinating story about beautiful Flathead Valley in Montana, where extreme Trumpists are creating havoc in daily life with their open displays of racism and homophobia and their hostility to public health measures.
But it takes a while to figure that out because Rein hangs this very one-sided story on a both-sides frame.
On Twitter, I complained of the extraordinary contortions Rein went through to make it sound like the “angry confrontations,” and “partisan recriminations” she describes are somehow everyone’s fault — that the “fracture” is an affliction the community is suffering from, rather than the direct result of right-wing zealots run amok.
And that was before I learned that the area has long been a notorious destination for white nationalists – a “cradle for sometimes-violent anti-government activity,” as the Associated Press put it in 2011 — which somehow never came up at all.
Rein briefly engaged with me on Twitter. I had suggested that she was avoiding the obvious, to which she responded: “Lol. Which is….?”
I asked: “Do you have a lot of examples of non-Trumpists behaving badly? Do you think anyone is at fault other than these racist, grievance-filled conspiracy-spewing bullies?“
She replied: “The story is nuanced as are the politics but thanks for reading :)-”
After I expressed my view that there was nothing remotely nuanced about either the facts or the politics, I asked her if she felt “under some obligation to turn in a ‘nuanced’ piece instead of one that flatly chronicled the destruction wrought by right-wing extremism?”
She replied: “Nope. I felt an obligation to tell the truth,” followed by the emoji for “grinning face with smiling eyes.” And that’s the last I heard from her directly.
It was a revealing exchange, nonetheless. As one tweeter noted: “She thinks she’s telling the truth but has to layer it in ‘nuance’ that obfuscates whether anyone or anything is to blame.”
When another tweet suggested that it was “irresponsible to not mention that the Flathead Valley, and Kalispell in particular, has been a major hub of the white nationalist movement for at least the past dozen years,” Rein responded “you are right.”
So I guess that means they might correct or clarify the story – although there’s no sign of that as I hit the publish button.
Unfortunately, the article needs much more than that.
So let me rewrite it for you.
(You should know that a prominent secondary element of the story is that a horrifying total of nine local teenagers have committed suicide in 16 months.)
So here’s my proposed headline:
In a longtime haven for white supremacists, radical Trumpism now infects everyday life
And my proposed top:
The Flathead Valley is under siege, and its children are killing themselves.
White nationalists and neo-Nazis flocked to the area in the last two decades, although they were initially shrugged off by most locals. But the Trump presidency mainstreamed their divisive, grievance-filled views.
And now – evidently even further incited by wild conspiracy theories about a stolen election and a fake virus — right-wing extremists roar through town with Trump and Confederate flags flying over their pickup trucks. Rainbow flags incite their heckling and vandalism. They demand schools ignore the Covid virus.
Conservative Republicans don’t even recognize their own party anymore.
Meanwhile, nine local teenagers have died by suicide in 16 months — an astonishingly tragic toll for a community of about 100,000. Right-wing extremists are blaming the deaths on Covid fear-mongering.
But the mayor of Kalispell thinks it may be because of all the fighting going on between neighbors.
I’d move up the quote about how politics there “is taking up a bigger part of our brains now because it’s become street politics,” because I think that’s what makes this particular story notable: How it’s affecting day-to-day life (and death).
I’d also ask Rein to explain that the valley is almost 100 percent white, has long been a “haven for anti-government extremists and white supremacists,” as NPR put it in 2016, and that there have been incidents before. For instance, “a group calling itself Kalispell Pioneer Little Europe began screening Holocaust denial films at the library” back in 2010.
I would ask Rein to rewrite this fact-filled paragraph with all active verbs:
Even the Independence Day parade shifted this summer from a once-revered slice of Americana to another battle in a culture war. As thousands packed Main Street in Kalispell, the 26,000-population county seat, the Flathead Democrats’ float with a rainbow gay pride flag was heckled the length of the parade. A horse-drawn wagon bearing a “Trump 2024 No More Bulls—” flag rushed toward it, leading the Democrats to fear injury. Someone smashed the plate glass window of a bookstore along the route, then crumpled the gay pride flag displayed inside.
And I would violently delete the passage in which a doctor spreading atrocious lies is described as the local face of the “coronavirus resistance.”
The vaccine is “coronavirus resistance”. Not this lady.
If Rein had had even one example of non-Trumpists or anti-Trumpists behaving as badly as the Trumpists had, you can believe that she would have shared it. But she didn’t. And her editors let her get away with it.
I think her editors may have wanted this outcome – there’s no “getting away with it” here
Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t nearby Whitefish the hometown of American Nazi Richard Spence, whose mother was in a conflict with a local realtor who was illegally harassed by a Nazi pamphleteer who defaulted in the Civil case against him and has vanished to avoid accountability?
Beautiful area, shit people.
Thanks, Dan, I LOVE this new approach to holding journalists to account. It answers the question, “OK, you don’t like what she wrote. What would you do instead?” Not being a trained journalist, I’m usually stumped on how to answer such questions, so I appreciate your correctives which also function as a mini-journalism class. Please keep it up!
Same here! Thank you Dan and please keep doing this. I don’t know how to change the terrible “both sides” habit that appears to be hardwired in the mainstream press now. My assumption is that it is a direct result of corporate ownership of the press, with owners and leadership who are most likely Republicans, or afraid of alienating whatever audience share is Republican (this seems particularly true with the big cable news outlets). It’s going to be a slow, hard fought battle to change this attitude, if it can be done.
“Flocked to the area”? How did you determine that? How do you define “flocked”? Does it mean a dozen? A hundred? A thousand? How did you identify that “flock” of white supremacists and neo-Nazis or when they arrived or from whence they came? Good grief! And you criticize someone else’s journalism? Yes, we have our share of folks whose narrow-minded and bigoted views I loathe. Some were born here; some moved here. But you have slandered a lot of fine people, some of whom may have “flocked” here simply because it’s a nice place to live.
I live in Kalispell and have been hit hard with the losses of these children. I’ve went to far to many funerals since June 2021. This article sickens me and I wanted to share my response and email to Lisa and the Washington Post.
You disgust me! Is this how far you have to reach to gain attention for your political views?
Suicide is NOT a political debate!
This is a disgusting attempt to shed light on our Valleys tragedies as you lure people in to your article to increase your ratings and do nothing but cause more pain by diminishing our towns grief.
Lisa, SHAME ON YOU for gathering the attention of the children who are still trying to understand and heal from the pain of losing their fellow classmates. I just spent 25 minutes on the phone with my daughter and her friend who called me from Flathead High School to share the disgust, their outrage and their pain after they read your absurd article. Did you take the time to learn anything about these amazing children who are no longer with us? Did you speak with the families or the students? Did you learn of their struggles, strengths, passions? Did you ask us locals what is really happening in our community? Did you take time to find out why so many are struggling or why the increase in homeless families? Of course you didn’t and after reading the thousands of comments it’s apparent you got what you were looking for… more division and hate in our country and in our state! I do NOT care if you own a cabin in Montana, YOU are NOT one of us!
FYI… we are only bitter because of people like you!
Thank you. Did anyone respond? And in retrospect, I shouldn’t have even mentioned the suicides in my “rewrite.” I think you’re right, that unless there’s some clear correlation that hasn’t been reported, it’s a disgusting thing to politicize.