Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Daines Staffer Requests More Context In MTPR Story

Montana Senator Steve Daines at the state capitol in Helena in February, 2017
Freddy Monares - UM Legislative News Service
Montana Senator Steve Daines at the state capitol in Helena in February, 2017

Editor's note: The goal of this addendum is to explain how factually incorrect information was posted about two individuals in the post below, which was a follow-up to a 2/21/18 story by MTPR reporter Edward O’Brien. One of the individuals opted to add her own comments at the end of the original post.

March 3, 2018 addendum to original posting:

After Edward O’Brien’s story about Senator Daines' visit to Missoula aired, the senator's Chief of Staff Jason Thielman asked us for a correction. No information in Edward's story was factually incorrect, so I said a correction would be inappropriate. He asked to provide further “context” about two of the people quoted in the story, which I granted. It was posted 2/22/18.

In his account below, Mr. Thielman asserted that two individuals interviewed by O’Brien are “active Democrat operatives” and provided links showing that in the past, one had done work for Democratic US House Candidate Rob Quist, and the other had been a MT Bernie Sander delegate to the DNC. I did not contact those people prior to airing all of Mr. Thielman's unsubstantiated assertions. That was an error on my part.

Both individuals have been in touch with me and told me they are not “active Democrat operatives.” Jacobs brought up various aspects of the Journalistic Code of Ethics, and provided me with ample evidence of her longstanding nonpartisan and educational civic work in Montana.

I should not have given Thielman a public platform to make false assertions. I regret the error.

Original text of our story: On Wednesday, Montana Public Radio aired a story about Senator Steve Daines’ visit to Missoula. In that story, we heard from two people who were critical of Daines for not sticking to his schedule, accusing him of trying to evade the public.

Today, we were contacted by the Senator’s Chief of Staff, Jason Thielman, who thought it was important for listeners to know more about the people we heard from.

Thielman said, "The two sources in the story that you all provided are two active Democrat operatives. One’s a DNC delegate for Bernie Sanders(Teresa Jacobs), and the other (Eileen McGurty) was an organizer for Democrat congressional nominee Rob Quist. And I think the context of understanding the motivation and the purpose of those sources in the story as people whose goal is to disrupt and organize and activate as active partisans is important context to appreciate on why they’re doing what they’re doing and the approach that they’re taking."

I asked Thielman: "You think it’s important for people to know that these weren’t just random constituents showing up and wanting to talk to the Senator?"

"Correct," he replied. "Correct. I mean, folks have contacted the office I think nearly a hundred times and received many, many responses on their issues for that matter. But, again, they’re folks whose sole goal and purpose is to disrupt and elect Democrats. And that’s a perspective and a source that people should understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. It’s not to engage the Senator, it’s to defeat the Senator."

One of individuals named in this post, Teresa Jacobs, has opted to add her own comments:

"March 3, 2018 I’ve had a week to process this personal attack on citizens by Jason Thielman (Chief-of-Staff to U.S. Senator Steve Daines). It’s clearly retribution targeted at Eileen McGurty (whom I don’t know) and myself. Each of us shared observations and assessments with a reporter, after Senator Daines left before the start time of an event that he had advertised, without a word or a handshake, as people were still arriving.

Thielman’s attempt to discredit us, by means of a false partisan expose, could be an effort to take the focus away from the senator’s avoidance of some constituents and the serious questions they came to ask. I still think that Daines’ exit out the side door expressed contempt. But not for all constituents. It appears the senator is trying to raise suspicions about, and justify his avoidance of, anybody who is politically interested enough to ask for an open town hall meeting - or who would actually show up for one. Daines himself made that clear in Phillipsburg earlier that morning:

Reporter Nate Hegyi: 'The GOP has been criticized for not holding face-to-face town hall meetings. You guys are off this week. Why not hold a face-to-face town hall meeting?'

Senator Daines: '… We're out and engaged with Montanans all the time. The town hall that you hear about, are coming primarily from some of the resistance movements - frankly from the pretty far left folks in the state. That's who's making the loudest noise. It reminds me back when the tea party movement was going back in the 2010-2011. I can tell you Jon Tester wasn't holding town halls with the tea party groups. And I think they just tend to be big protests -verses good, civil discourse on the issues facing our country.'

(audio version of Edward O’Brien’s 2/21 MTPR report)

Senator Daines and his key staffer cannot seem to fathom that some folks actually care more about the issues than partisan politics. In reality, there are a lot of people out here in the middle - separate from dualistic party politics and dualistic thinking - who are informed, very concerned about our common future, and demonstrably capable of civil discourse. Everything is not about a possible re-election bid nearly three years down the line. Everything is about the challenges we face. People of all political stripes know that something is going very wrong in America. It’s tough times for many.

Senator Daines, being accountable to your constituents goes beyond keeping office staff, exchanging letters, and hosting truncated conference calls. Montanans have a history of engaging directly with their elected representatives. Once in awhile, it’s time for some handshakes, and some give-and-take in person. We all deserve a chance to hear each other in open forums with you, as you answer tough questions, and even follow-up questions. I am confident that it can be done in a civil manner. I will help if you’d like. Somebody ought to. Because it sounds like we all agree there are important matters to deal with, and time is a-wasting.

P.S. Senator, I will publicly post the question I’d hoped to ask you last week, in the comment section below. And I hope that Mr. Thielman will stick around to provide productive feedback on your behalf, including when you’ll be holding an open town hall. Or maybe just issue an apology to folks you left standing in the cold, and an invitation to have a beer with you next time you’re in town. Then it might all be easier."

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
Become a sustaining member for as low as $5/month
Make an annual or one-time donation to support MTPR
Pay an existing pledge or update your payment information
Related Content