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.