Dear Sen. Ankney,
At the risk of giving your little Facebook outburst more attention than the eight shares it had received during its first 24 hours of internet life, I need to respond to attacks on a reporter, and the implication that we're manufacturing news.
Someone hollering and ranting about fake news isn't new or worthy of much response. But that same unhinged rant coming from a veteran lawmaker known for being more moderate is something that needs addressing.
Simply put, you're wrong. Unfortunately, you're wrong in the two worst possible ways. You're wrong in your facts, and you're wrong in spirit.
At a time in which the term "fake news" is overused to mean anything that doesn't conform with a person's world outlook, and even the once-neutral term "media" seems to roll off tongues with a timbre of contempt, I am accustomed to politicians of a certain political ilk dismissing us as fake. After all, if the president and leader of your party can do it, must be good enough for you.
But, your attack on Gazette reporter Tom Lutey is something in its own category, which is saying something given this state's lone Representative in the U.S. House has assaulted a reporter.
That's why I am concerned about your comments about Tom.
You see, Tom is a Montana native and has been reporting on the state for more than two decades. I can't think of another reporter who studies issues more closely, or can break down complex issues into digestible, understandable parts for readers. I can't think of a reporter who has been more disdained by both political parties simultaneously.
Yet to accuse him of putting "thousands" (your word) of people out of work and enjoying it, well, that's not only unfair, it's dangerous. You are putting a target on his back, and that's not even addressing the name-calling you dropped which is entirely unfitting for your office as a state senator.
Lutey has reported on Colstrip for years. And, God willing, he'll be around to cover Colstrip's future, which we hope is as bright and welcomed as the March sunshine.
But Lutey isn't the one setting the closure dates of Colstrip Units 1 and 2. And Tom didn't force West Coast utilities to pull out of coal-generated power. He merely reported it. Suggesting that a reporter shouldn't cover the news is like telling the wind not to blow.
In your far-flung rant, you talk about our reporting costing jobs, but you fail to mention a single fact that we've gotten wrong. You also accused us of never speaking with Senate Bill 331's author, Billings legislator Tom Richmond. Yet, when I looked at the original story about the bill, in a story we headlined, "‘Save Colstrip’ proposal advances," there's Richmond, quoted right there in the story. And we've reached out to Richmond repeatedly.
With no pun intended, Sen. Ankney, you have also given Tom Lutey way too much power. To think that one man, toiling at a keyboard, has cost the entire town of Colstrip its livelihood is outrageous. Maybe you should ask NorthWestern Energy: Why couldn't it save Colstrip before removing consumer protection oversight from the Public Service Commission? Or, maybe the problem lies more with Oregon, Idaho or Washington which are getting out of the coal game. They seem to be much more to blame for Colstrip's agony than some reporter just trying to do his job at The Gazette.
Instead by targeting a reporter, you're finding a convenient scapegoat for your roiled, conservative base — one which fits well into a misguided national narrative about fake news. But, in the process, you've also become a bully.
With Tom's help, we've covered the real reasons behind Colstrip's challenges and they include the owners of Colstrip not updating technology, a global market that has soured on coal, and natural gas which has been found in abundance because places like Montana have embraced fracking.
I get that coal's demise is a threat to the community of Colstrip. I get that you're paid to represent those families. And, I agree that they're hard-working and that talk of closure is distressing. But zap The Gazette out of existence and it wouldn't change one darn thing about Colstrip's closure because that is the result of the free market — the same free market which that big, wide Republican party you've touted has embraced so fervently. I realize that you, being a good Trump Republican, can't blame something as sacrosanct as a free market, but that's the truth.
What you also have to know is that I, not Tom Lutey, am responsible for what articles get put in the paper. So it's not Tom's "dribble," that is printed haphazardly. His articles go through a vetting process. What's curious is that for all of your bluster about invitations to meet with Colstrip folks, no one has picked up the phone to tell me — the person responsible for the news — that something is wrong. I can't find the correction in any story about closures or the future of coal.
Unfortunately, you're stoning the messenger, Sen. Ankney. It's not so much that you dislike Tom Lutey, it's that you hate the news he brings.
Finally, you seem to think Senate Bill 331, which would allow NorthWestern to do what it can already do (buy more power or buy ownership from Colstrip) is essential, even if it means NorthWestern ratepayers are saddled with higher power bills and monumental cleanup costs. You would have power rates rise so that Colstrip can be propped up. In other words, every person in the state would pay a Colstrip tax, and not have a choice about it. That's about the most un-Republican plan I can think of because it's taking money from taxpayers' pockets and creating another welfare category for an entire town.
If only we could harness the hot air of your Facebook post and channel it into power generation, Colstrip would have no worries about its future.