Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: The Flathead Valley Edition

Over the weekend, there was an article about how Flathead Valley, MT, has been engulfed by “bitter confrontations” over multiple issues (one local, multiple national issues). It basically described how the far-right are behaving like assholes (hasn’t that reached ‘dog bites man’ territory yet). Dan Froomkin does a masterful rewrite of the story–how it should have been written–but his interaction with the reporter is telling (boldface mine):

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.

Leaving aside the smugness, the political press corps’ overall inability to label white Christian supremacy as such continues to be a huge problem. As Atrios notes (boldface mine):

My conclusion after watching political journalism for so many years is that some of them are, actually, as stupid as they seem to be, but some are merely pretending to be that stupid, which makes them dishonest.

Stupidity and dishonesty in every profession, but dishonesty is a bit of a problem in a profession which brands itself as engaged in fearless truth telling.

When you both-sides a right-wing enclave, you’re really doing it wrong.

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