The first of five scheduled formal debates between Montana’s gubernatorial candidates, Republican Bob Brown and Democrat Brian Schweitzer, was held a 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 21, in Butte at the Montana Tech auditorium. At last Montanans could sort through all the hype on their own. No nonsense, just two candidates standing toe-to-toe, exhanging ideas about where our state should be headed and how to get there. Right? Only none of us here in Western Montana saw the debate, because none of the major network affiliates chose to broadcast it. Instead, Montana CBS affiliates, including KPAX in Missoula and KAJ in Kalispell, chose to broadcast the reality show (go ahead, read too much into it) Big Brother 5. Meanwhile, NBC affiliates such as KECI in Missoula and KCFW in Kalispell broadcast Last Comic Standing. To round it out, ABC affiliates such as KTMF in Missoula and Kalispell, broadcast Damon Wayans’ sitcom My Wife and Kids. Even in Butte, where the debate took place, regularly scheduled programming was not interrupted.
According to members of both the Brown and Schweitzer campaigns, only CBS will actually be showing the debate—on Sun., Sept. 26, at 9 a.m.—a feeble time-slot forcing many Montanans to choose between church and state.
Here’s a question for the candidates: If local news affiliates of national broadcasting corporations aren’t for televising important political debates, what, exactly, are they for?
Quick, a game of word association: You hear the words “equality,” “justice,” “democracy.” You think: “blatant, left-wing propaganda.” No? Then you must not be familiar with the FCC and National Public Radio guidelines that “are very sensitive to language which seems ‘subjective’ or can be open to interpretation or seen as ‘point of view,’” writes KUFM Development Officer Kathleen Woodford in an e-mail (provided to the Independent by Montana Human Rights Network (MHRN) Program Director Ken Toole) to MHRN Development Director Alison James. James was trying to get the green light from KUFM on the text of a 15-second tagline to be read on the air in recognition of MHRN’s recent sponsorship purchase on the station. The script James sent to Woodford went like this: “Brought to you by the Montana Human Rights Network, working for equality and justice in a democracy for all.” About as controversial as pudding, right? As predictable as a country-song’s lyric? Not to the discerning ear. In fact, writes Woodford, “equality,” “justice,” and “democracy” are not in compliance with FCC and NPR guidelines because “Some people may view those terms as ‘point of view.’” What MHRN needs to do, she suggests, is “focus on the actual things your organization does to promote your mission statement.” Her rewrite: “This broadcast is made possible in part by the Montana Human Rights Network. Working to increase support and protection of human rights through public policy initiatives and community education workshops.” Now there’s a message that rolls right off the tongue. Toole says MHRN’s exhange with KUFM is “a direct result of right-wing pressure on the media.” In a letter to KUFM Director of Broadcast Media Center William Marcus, Toole writes that this script-scuffle has been resolved, but expresses his hopes “that we have not arrived at a point where traditional democratic values can not be mentioned by a sponsor on PBS.” One last word association: You hear the words “free,” “speech.” You fumble. Scratch your head. Your answer doesn’t come as easily, does it, minus “equality,” “justice” and “democracy”?