On Jan. 16, Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton issued an email containing a perplexing bit of opinion.
Titled “Be careful what gets your attention,” Stapleton’s missive is a broad critique of modern media in which he accuses news organizations of being “language cops,” among other things.
“There is one huge problem with mainstream media in America,” his email states. “It has diminished profitability, and as a result has increasingly begun chasing the tabloid headlines and venomous tweets of personal destruction, in an effort to survive financially. Instead of focusing on the policies and impact of leadership decisions across the political spectrum, mainstream media has become obsessed with the sideshows of personality and politically incorrect language of today."
It’s hard to know where to begin to respond to such a diatribe. What on earth motivated Montana’s secretary of state to write this? More importantly, why did he think that disseminating this message was a good use of public resources?
Let’s start by acknowledging what should be obvious: Stapleton has no idea what he’s talking about.
Take this one meandering paragraph, for instance: “If our media is so consumed with exercising its muscle gained by increased modern surveillance of people, where virtually everything becomes public knowledge, and chooses to focus on all the personal follies of people instead of issues — who is going to have the discipline to cover our deeply important public policies, and convey the importance of those ideas to the populace?”
First of all, far from focusing on “personal follies,” even the briefest glance through the content of most local and national newspapers will reveal story after story about our communities and the workings of our governments, among other timely events and developing trends that directly affect our daily lives.
Stapleton’s screed against the media does not contain a single example to illustrate his point. Ironically enough, given the content of the message, it reads like something better suited for his personal Facebook profile.
We live in an era of increased communication technology, where people — including President Trump — can freely choose to share the minutiae of their lives. However, professional journalists are more challenged than ever before to sift through this sea of information for a drop of real news relevant to their readers. And governments — from local to federal — do not make this job any easier, often burying critical documents or refusing to release them altogether.
Finally, Stapleton’s message has no connection whatsoever to the stated mission of his office: “to help commerce thrive, promote democracy, and record history for future generations.”
“Is there a difference anymore, between outrage and faux outrage?” Stapleton muses. “I don’t know.”
That is one point on which we can agree: Stapleton clearly does not know the difference, and also lacks an understanding of the inappropriateness of using his official office to air his own personal “faux outrage” at the media.
“Mainstream media has the responsibility of being disciplined in what gets its attention,” he writes. We humbly suggest that the same responsibility holds true for secretaries of state.
You focus on your job, Secretary Stapleton, and let us focus on ours.
-- This is the opinion of the Missoulian editorial board.