OPINION: Media bashing not new in Idaho politics
| August 10, 2022 1:00 AM
News flash: Conservatives hate the “liberal” media. Always have, and always will.
Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, well describes sentiments from the right. “What you read in most local daily newspapers or see on the daily news isn’t really journalism. It’s leftist propaganda.”
He says that Idaho’s media is “hot garbage” and encourages others — including his followers — to stay away.
Again, there’s nothing new about this rhetoric. In 1985, a short time after I began covering politics with the Post Register in Idaho Falls, a group of Republicans accused myself and the Idaho State Journal of showing favoritism to Democrats. They measured column inches in the newspapers and concluded that Democrats were getting the bulk of coverage.
I wrote a scathing column lashing out at Republicans for daring to suggest that the Post Register (and myself) stood for anything other than truth, justice and the American Way.
The controversy caught the eye of Idaho Public TV and I was invited to Pocatello to appear on a program with Debbie Field to discuss the matter. I was halfway expecting to see a wicked witch riding into the studio on a broomstick, ready to cast an evil spell on me. As it turned out, Debbie — who later became a state representative — had a warm personality, a friendly smile and a delightful sense of humor. At least she laughed at my goofy one-liners when we were off camera.
Maybe along the way, Debbie saw that I didn’t have a forked tongue or an eye in the middle of my forehead. But the show went on and, I suppose, we presented our cases well. I received a few pats on the back from co-workers at the Post Register and I’m sure that Debbie received some high-fives from Republicans for putting that rotten Chuck Malloy in his place.
I doubt if many minds were changed. But we had some fun in the process.
Today’s version of political bias wars is not so civil. Hoffman has been making snide comments about the media for years and recently he joined two other fellow conservatives — Greg Pruett of Idaho Dispatch and podcaster Bryan Hyde — in a forum about how to handle media “malpractice.” There were no clear examples of media bias on the reporting end, but some general comments about how the media has shifted to the left. They also talked about how the liberal media used terms such as “far right” and “extremists” to describe legislators.
To at least some followers of Wayne’s world, descriptions can be based on how legislators score on Hoffman’s “Freedom Index.” Those who score high are “principled conservatives” who can do no wrong — even when they do something ridiculous. Any Republican who grades low is clearly a RINO.
Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press, who has spent four decades reporting on Idaho politics and is president of the Idaho Press Club, takes exception to the idea that Idaho’s media has taken a turn to the left.
“That’s not true,” she wrote. “I’ve been here all along, and I know this from first-hand experience. I still do what I’ve always done: Seek the truth and report. Hoffman’s continued agitation against real journalists is encouraging his followers to engage in actual harassment against the hard-working reporters who work to bring you the news every day. It needs to stop.”
From what I’ve seen, reporting from the Capitol is as strong as it has ever been. Betsy and the Lewiston Tribune’s Bill Spence are two of the best in Idaho. Then you have the Idaho Capital Sun, Idaho Education News and the Associated Press covering the Statehouse from all angles. With all the veteran reporters, and institutional knowledge, it’s not a pleasant environment for politicians who stonewall the media, dance around the truth, or outright lie.
What Hoffman is doing, says Russell, “is so repugnant that it cries out for robust denunciation.”
Of course, to the far-right extremists — or whatever you want to call them — a “denunciation” from Betsy Russell is the best thing that can happen for their cause. And Hoffman’s as well. With Wayne’s backing, conservatives will go on thinking that the reporting profession is filled by left-wing socialists.
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Chuck Malloy is a longtime Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org