Congressman Gianforte Obstructs Efforts by Montana Press to Interview Him
Updated: Oct 15, 2020
By Reilly Neill, Editor/Publisher, Montana Press
Montana is a state full of independent voices with collective interests. If I’ve learned anything by being a member of the press here for nearly twenty years, it’s that we have more in common with one another than not.
As editor of a new statewide publication, I was dismayed to see Congressman Greg Gianforte and his team assume the worst of Montana journalists and the press. While I may be an editor, I am also a constituent attempting to get information for other constituents to determine who might serve us best at a Federal level. We are ALL Montanans and Americans and no one is the enemy when they are simply looking to obtain information.
Interviews from the candidates for Montana's lone U.S. House seat are featured in the print edition of Montana Press Monthly, now on stands across the state. Democrat Kathleen Williams, Republican Greg Gianforte and Libertarian Elinor Swanson all contributed their perspective about a variety of issues they had mentioned and spoke about in public interviews and debates over the past year. While Swanson and Williams returned interview questionnaires more or less immediately, getting a response from sitting congressman Gianforte was not so easy.
Below is the original correspondence between Montana Press Monthly and Travis Hall from Congressman Greg Gianforte’s campaign team. In 30 years of working with newspapers and the press as an editor, reporter and publisher, I have never encountered such suspicion and paranoia as I have with Gianforte’s office. Essentially, we wanted to make sure Gianforte's voice was heard alongside the other candidates for Montana’s U.S. House seat but Gianforte’s office was resistant, condescending and at times outright hostile, accusing me of bias, lack of ethics and unprofessionalism.
While I personally knew of Mr. Gianforte’s perspectives on some issues, this had no effect on the editorial desire of Montana Press Monthly to interview the leading candidates for Montana’s only at-large U.S. House seat. With a combative congressman and a dynamic newcomer, the race was shaping up to be one of the most interesting in the state. Such break-out interviews of candidates in individual races had been a common feature during election season in the Livingston Current, a newspaper I edited for nearly a decade in Park County.
The other leading candidate, Kathleen Williams, served in the Montana State Legislature with me in 2013 but she, like myself, was more of an Independent legislator than a hard Democrat. During the 2013 session, I rarely caucused with the Democrats. Although I knew of Williams and had perhaps shared passing pleasantries, aside from a few photo ops of female legislators and serving on the unweighted Water Policy interim committee of which she was vice-chair, I had no personal relationship with her.
During last year’s primary, I made a considerable donation to her primary run to advance her over John Heenan. From my limited experience serving with Kathleen, I knew her to be a fairly independent voice in the Legislature and as skilled in policy-making as any seasoned Republican or Democrat I had served with in the State House. At the time, I was a private citizen with no plans to launch a statewide publication. And I am allowed as any kind of business owner and private individual to hold personal opinion.
Although I made the donation to Williams' primary campaign, I did not make any further donations to her or any other candidate in the general election. The Montana Press Monthly launched in August 2018, nearly a year after my December 2017 donation to the primary campaign.
The accusations from the Gianforte team that I am biased and unprofessional are a sad indicator of how partisan politics in Montana have really become and how difficult it might be in the future to do thorough reporting during election seasons.
The following is the verbatim communication between myself and Gianforte’s office. In this communication, we attempt to obtain Gianforte’s perspective as a person, a candidate and a congressman. In the end, we were forced to be relentless in our pursuit of the candidate's responses and only received a list of canned responses at the very last minute and past original deadline. Unfortunately, instead of the personal interview we had hoped would inform our readership, we were limited in printing what amounted to a campaign advertisement from the Greg for Montana team. In my opinion, they continued to be bullying and hostile regardless of my attempts to be respectful, truthful and informative for the sake of our readership.
In my service to Montana in the State House, I listened to all voices and perspectives because I was there to serve everyone in my district. I admit I am truly dismayed that Mr. Gianforte would rather fight than inform and that he so regards anyone not expressly from his own party with such suspicion. He and his team appear to view the press and anyone not Republican as a threat. My party affiliation, whatever it may be, has no bearing on my integrity as an editor and publisher.
Well-worded responses to the original questions posed were an ample opportunity to present the candidate to the readers and voters. Instead, I faced accusations and lectures from a public figure. Honestly, it’s chilling to see this from a person who is supposed to represent Montana at a Federal level.
The original questions posed to the congressman are listed below and were based on statements he made publicly and information available on his website about his positions on key issues.
NOTE: References to individuals beyond myself, Mr. Hall and any public candidates have been removed to protect their privacy.
Correspondence between Travis Hall from Greg for Montana and Reilly Neill of Montana Press Monthly:
On Fri, Oct 5, 2018 at 8:53 AM Montana Press <email@example.com> wrote:
After repeated requests through all campaign communications channels for an interview or statement from Greg For Montana, Montana Press has no other option but to print a statement that the Gianforte campaign never responded to repeated requests for a brief interview or statement.
Over 15,000 copies of the inaugural issue of Montana Press Monthly will be distributed at over 40 free box locations across Montana after October 22, 2018 along with a comprehensive online issue and mailing list.
As the newest member of the Montana Newspaper Association and founded by press and political veterans, the Montana Press is poised to communicate with tens of thousands of Montana readers and voters in the lead-up to election day.
We regret the Gianforte team has not responded, even to decline a statement or brief interview in this opportunity to speak to the voters of Montana. We can appreciate the busy schedule of candidates and we will leave the deadline open until October 12.
I can assure the Gianforte team that our readership will value hearing Mr. Gianforte's perspective.
Reilly Neill Editor/Publisher
Montana Press Monthly
On Sun, Oct 7, 12:02 PM Montana Press <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Dear Mr. Hall,
We are attempting to gain Congressman Greg Gianforte's perspective for the readership of Montana Press Monthly. We continue to hope that Congressman Gianforte's team will reply by October 12 to our requests for an interview.
In the interests of Montana voters, we would like to feature Congressman Gianforte's perspective alongside completed interviews with Kathleen Williams and the Libertarian candidate. A list of questions we would pull from is below, and we hope that if the Congressman is unavailable for a phone or in-person interview that his team would provide a response or statement.
In absence of a response, we will print the questions for our readers and a summarized collection of our various attempts to reach the candidate.
We are attempting to be as objective and fair as possible in portraying the candidates in Montana Press Monthly, a new publication being distributed across the state on October 22 and online through partner news services. We are a member of the Montana Newspaper Association and we have sharing agreements with a number of notable Montana online news outlets. Thousands of voters from across the state will have access to these interviews and we very much want to give the Congressman the opportunity to be heard by these voters.
As noted, we will attempt to receive a statement or response by October 12, 2017 and we go to press October 15, 2018.
Reilly Neill - Publisher/Editor
Montana Press Monthly
Questions for Congressman Greg Gianforte:
1. What has it been like transitioning from running a business to working in Congress?
2. Recently, your bill to protect 30,000 acres near Yellowstone Park from extractive industry passed the House Natural Resources Committee. Would you point to this success as indicative of your accomplishments so far as a representative? Why was this legislation a priority and how does it compare to other priorities on your legislative agenda?
3. When addressing the U.S. House in late September, you brought the attention of the Chamber to “wildfires and the need for forest management reform.” What do you envision as the necessary reforms to address continuing issues in fire management? What would be examples of such reforms?
4. Describe the “mobile office hours” practice of your staff. Do citizens need to make appointments to participate in these meetings? Where and when are the hours for these opportunities to meet with your staff posted?
5. In March 2018, you noted in an interview that recent tariffs were a “bad idea” and, “They could lead to Montana ag products being shut out of foreign markets. They also will drive up costs for America’s manufacturers and serve as a tax that increases prices for Montanans.” Do you still disagree with President Trump about increasing tariffs on products produced in Montana?
6. The Montana Wilderness Study Act of 1977 designated about 700,000 acres of public land to be studied as to its “suitability for preservation as wilderness,” within five years. In March of 2018, you proposed legislation to permanently “unlock” these public lands. What is your reasoning behind bringing this legislation and how is it in line with your statements in support of public land use?
7. In recent interviews, you have noted that the recent Federal tax cuts have “spurred the economy,” including case histories of Montanans who are already seeing benefits from these cuts. In the September 30 televised debate, you said, “People’s paychecks are getting larger,” and even spoke specifically of a public school teacher whose monthly paycheck had increased by $139 per month. How are Montanans seeing the benefits of the tax cuts and will these trends continue?
8. As you also noted at the recent debate, “I will always stand on the Second Amendment.” How should leadership model responsible gun ownership and what does an endorsement from the National Rifle Association and the Shooting Sports Association mean to you as far as representing Montanans?
9. How will you better serve Montana than your opponents(s)?
10. When you are in Washington, what do you miss most about Montana?
11. If the Democrats take the majority of the U.S. House seats after November, what strategy would you employ to advance your policy priorities in Congress?
12. You mention Minority Leader of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D) and President Obama frequently in statements and interviews. How are these nationally-known politicians relevant to Montana voters?
On Oct 9, 2018, 2:34 PM Travis Hall <email@example.com> wrote:
Hi, Reilly. Thank you for reaching out. I appreciate your interest in the race. Before we consider having Congressman Gianforte participate, I have a couple of questions.
1. Did you serve as a Democrat alongside Kathleen Williams in the Montana state legislature?
2. Have you contributed financially to any of Kathleen Williams' political campaigns?
On Oct 9, 2018, 6:11 PM Montana Press <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
I am an independent journalist who ran a newspaper in Livingston for nearly a decade. I am attempting to produce a lead story in a new, objective publication where political reporting will, for the most part, be rare.
You indicated earlier that contacting you about an interview was against the law so I attempted many other angles to approach Congressman Gianforte.
We are looking to compile a verbatim interview with the Congressman, similar to those already acquired from his fellow candidates. All candidates will be welcome to look over the final draft for publication, if necessary, to guarantee accuracy. We offer this as an extreme professional courtesy. As a former politician, I can respect the need for accuracy.
I can assure you we are only attempting a fair job of interviewing and reporting on a campaign that is important to Montanans. The staff of the Montana Press Monthly includes people from all political perspectives and I am only one member of the staff.
On Tue, Oct 9, 6:18 PM Montana Press <email@example.com> wrote:
If Congressman Gianforte would be more comfortable speaking with ***, he has reached out also to your campaign on behalf of our publication.
On Wed, Oct 10, 12:49 AM Montana Press <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
As noted, *** would be available to conduct the interview if the Congressman fears I may have a conflict of interest and/or does not feel comfortable speaking with me. I can assure you again we are only seeking responses to a list of questions that have been provided to the candidate in advance and attempting to present his responses in the fairest and most objective way possible to thousands of readers across Montana.
Having reported on, served with and worked with people outside of my political spectrum, I am well aware of the professionalism which propels productive discourse. As we approach our deadline, we are primarily attempting to finalize copy and pagination. I appreciate the busy schedule of the candidate, the limitations of the political atmosphere and your attempts to facilitate this interview.
On Tue, Oct 9, 2:34 PM Travis Hall <email@example.com> wrote:
Please dont assume Congressman Gianforte "fears" your bias, as you assert. Instead, I am concerned that you contributed $1,000 to the campaign of his opponent, served as a fellow Democrat alongside his opponent in the legislature, and didn't advise our campaign of those requests.
A reasonable person could interpret your preexisting relationship and your $1,000 contributuon as bringing bias to the story, promoting an agenda, indicating preference in the race, and blurring and bending the lines of journalistic ethics. I hope you understand my concerns, and I hope you also share them for your readers' sake.
When you answer the questions below, the campaign will consider your request:
Who interviewed Ms Williams for this story?
Will the story disclose in the lead and up front that you contributed $1,000 to Ms Williams' campaign in December 2017 and served alongside Ms Williams in the state legislature, caucusing together as Democrats?
Aside from your $1,000 contribution to Ms Williams, have you contributed to other Democrats at the federal, state, or local levels? If so, to whom, how much, and when? Have you donated to Republican candidates?
Will you also disclose your history of contributions in your story?
Would you have told the campaign about your contribution to and relationship with Ms. Williams if I hadn't asked? If yes, why hadn't you before I brought them to your attention? If no, why not?
Do you share my concern and likely those of your readers that your preexisting relationship and your $1,000 contribituon could create implicot or explicit bias, indicate an agenda and preference in the race, and blur and bend the lines of journalistic ethics?
If you seek to inform voters and eliminate bias, are you asking all candidates the same questions?
Finally, you have a keen interest in the race of your former colleague to whom you have contributed $1,000. Also of interest to voters is the Senate race. Have you also reached out to Senate campaigns?
With questions like these and the explicit issues of journalistic ethics here, I wonder if this story is even a good idea for your publication. I hope you will consider that.
On Wed, Oct 10, 6:49 AM Travis Hall <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Apologies for any typos, I wrote this on my mobile device. Thanks.
On Wed, Oct 10, 8:24 AM Montana Press <email@example.com>
Thank you for your response. As noted, I am working on deadline to get copy for the inaugural issue and determine pagination. I'm sincerely looking for a solid answer as to whether or not Congressman Gianforte will provide a statement or responses to the questions we have posted.
I can assure you I am working with journalistic integrity. I did mention my past as a politician and my record and party affiliation are easy to find online and not obscured. I did give to Ms. Williams in the primary long before I began work on the Montana Press Monthly but have not given since; this is also easy to find online. I am friends and colleagues with many prominent Republicans as well as Democrats across the state and the nation and I attempted to serve my constituency in the Legislature, not the Democrats. Further research into my history with the Dems could reveal this quickly, as Public Service Commissioner Roger Koopman wrote a series of pointed editorials about my weak record in the lead-up to the 2014 election. In no way did anyone coordinate with Kathleen before these interviews were proposed. In fact, it was not an easy task to secure her interview.
We are providing a short, non-partisan voter guide in the issue, along with interviews with the candidates from what we think is the most interesting race in the state right now. We asked all candidates general questions based on their policy platforms and we culled the questions for Mr. Gianforte directly from the press statements and releases provided on his website. We provided all candidates with the questions in advance and would certainly work around any issues anyone might have with the interviewer. When *** applied this week for a contributor position, I asked him to consider conducting the interview to remove all implication or assumption of bias and because he appeared in his work to have a conservative bent that might put the campaign more at ease.
If I were a surgeon, I would not let political bias determine the standard of work I performed and the same is true of the ethics of my position as editor of the Montana Press Monthly.
I can understand the deep distrust of the media and the opposing party and again, I guarantee that we are only attempting to get the voices of the candidates for U.S. House on the page and to the reader. The Congressman is welcome to respond in any way he sees fit and clarify his positions. We will print his responses verbatim.
On Wed, Oct 10, 8:41 AM <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
I shortened the list of questions. When you answer them, the campaign will consider your request:
1. Who interviewed Ms Williams for this story?
2. Will you disclose in the lead and up front that you contributed $1,000 to Ms Williams' campaign in December 2017 and served alongside Ms Williams in the state legislature, caucusing together as Democrats?
3. Would you have told the campaign about your contribution to and relationship with Ms. Williams if I hadn't asked? If yes, why hadn't you before I brought them to your attention? If no, why not?
4. If you are assembling a nonpartisan voter guide, are you asking all candidates the same questions?
I hope you understand my concerns and why it would be important for your readers to know about the relationship and $1,000 contribution.
Feel free to answer these questions in a response, numbering them. When answered, the campaign will consider your request.
On Wed, Oct 10, 9:02 AM Montana Press <email@example.com> wrote:
I think I've more than clarified these points in previous emails. We are a news outlet attempting to get an interview with a candidate or at least receive a statement or response in regards to a number of questions proposed. No one is giving you the runaround. I'm an independent journalist trying to get a story in on deadline and attempting to be as gracious as possible.
Please call me directly to have these questions further answered. I'm unsure what exactly you are seeking to determine before Congressman Gianforte issues a response or statement but we will continue to seek his statement or response to print verbatim in the October 22 issue.
On Wed, Oct 10, 9:13 AM firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Reilly, in all due respect, you are the first person to reach out to me about this. You have a history of working with and contributing to Congressman Gianforte's opponent. Your publication does not have a full body of work for me to review. I can only go by what I know, which is why I pose the following questions which can be answered with a "yes" or "no" or, in the case of question 1, simply a name.
1. Who interviewed Ms Williams for this story?
2. Will you disclose to readers up front and in the lead of the story that you, as publisher and editor, contributed $1,000 to Ms Williams' campaign in December 2017 and served alongside Ms Williams in the state legislature, caucusing together as Democrats?
3. If you are assembling a nonpartisan voter guide, are you asking all candidates the same questions?
If you answer these three, simple questions, the campaign will consider your request.
I don't really understand what the runaround is about here. I've tried to be as accommodating as possible given the facts I have before me.
On Wed, Oct 10, 9:57 AM Montana Press <email@example.com> wrote:
As lead editor of the Montana Press Monthly, I interviewed Williams and Swanson. The inaugural issue of the newspaper will include a short introductory biography of our staff but we were not planning on disclosing our political donations. Two of our four main staff members are Gianforte supporters.
I contributed to Ms. William's primary campaign so she could advance over John Heenan. I never worked with her on any issue in the Montana State House any more than any other of the 99 legislators, Republican or Democrat, so 'disclosing' this would be false. I also did not regularly caucus with the Dems. I have and have had a contentious relationship with the state Dems after running as an Independent and after they undermined my second run for the Legislature. During my term, I never attended their morning meetings and would sometimes sit in on caucuses during sessions but more often than not would remain on the floor.
As noted before, we asked each of the candidates different questions based on their public profiles, interviews, debates and primarily the information the candidates provide on their websites. In addition, Swanson was asked about being a Libertarian, Williams was asked about traveling around the state in her camper, and Congressman Gianforte was asked about what he misses most about Montana when he is in Washington.
In 25 years of journalism, I have never encountered anything like your requests but I've tried to be nothing but honest and forthright in the interests of getting our readers a perspective from your candidate. If there is an assumption that we are somehow trying to weight a trio of interviews in favor of one candidate because of my former service in the Legislature or primary contribution, this is misguided. The candidates will have their responses printed verbatim or they can decline participation and we will print the questions w/o response and give a summary as to our attempts to include them.
I do hope Congressman Gianforte chooses to participate. We would welcome his response.
On Wed, Oct 10, 10:34 AM Montana Press <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
To further clarify the list of questions you inquired about, I don't feel I could rightly share them verbatim. However, the following are nine general questions each candidate received in some form. As I noted there were a few queries in addition to specific issues relative to their platforms but these were all the same for the candidates:
What is your background/experience in business/policy-making and legislative work?
Recently, a bi-partisan effort protected 30,000 acres near Yellowstone Park from extractive industry. What is your position on this legislation?
Do you think healthcare is a fundamental right for a taxpayer?
Do you support President Trump’s tax cuts? Would you be likely to take a stand against the President over issues where you disagree?
What would you point out as key concerns about either of your opponent’s abilities to represent Montana?
Do you think healthcare is a fundamental right for a taxpayer?
What is your perspective on restricting ownership of weapons?
What strategy would you employ to advance your policy priorities in Congress?
Minority Leader of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D) and President Obama are frequently mentioned in statements and interviews about this House race. Do you think these nationally-known politicians are relevant to Montana voters?
Hope this clarifies the issue.
On Fri, Oct 12, 11:32 AM Montana Press <email@example.com> wrote:
The deadline for the inaugural issue of Montana Press Monthly is today at 5 p.m.
I want to be sure that we have exhausted every effort to obtain responses or a statement from the Gianforte Campaign in respect to our requests for a verbatim interview, official response or statement before we go to press.
If the candidate has been made aware of these requests and has decided against responding, I hope he has considered the thousands of Montana voters who will miss his perspective and what effect his absence in the Voter Guide will create, especially in a non-partisan arts and entertainment journal.
Rather than focus on perceived bias, I would have rather worked together to clarify the candidate’s perspective. Again, I hope you have cleared this decision with the Congressman. If he is determined not to participate, it will be a loss for our readership.
Montana Press Monthly
On Fri, Oct 12, 12:41 PM (firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
As I have asked repeatedly, will you, as editor and publisher of the Montana Press Monthly, disclose in the Voter Guide, or wherever you publish candidate interviews and information, that you contributed $1,000 to Ms. Williams' campaign?
I ask, because this is a question of journalistic ethics. Disclosing that information is the ethical thing to do for your readers. The Society of Professional Journalists explicitly advises journalists, "[d]on't contribute money [to a campaign]." To address real or perceived conflicts of interest, SPJ advises potential violators to "[d]isclose unavoidable conflicts." More HERE. What I have addressed with you is a textbook case of a real or perceived conflict of interest, i.e. a political contribution to a candidate your publication will cover, that requires a disclosure.
If you really want Congressman Gianforte's answers, you will appropriately disclose this unavoidable conflict in your publication when you present the Voter Guide and wherever else you may publish candidate interview and information.
Please advise whether you will adhere to the journalist code of ethics in this case.
On Fri, Oct 12, 1:22 PM Montana Press <email@example.com> wrote:
Of course. We would be happy to disclose this information, as noted before, if it’s the condition of participation. We are simply trying to get Congressman Gianforte’s perspective to counter that of his opponents.
On Fri, Oct 12, 3:36 PM Montana Press <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Should we expect responses from Congressman Gianforte? We can push the deadline to 10 a.m. Monday morning to accept the responses verbatim or conduct an interview as long as we can be assured we will get the responses for pagination purposes. As noted, he is welcome to ask the generic questions which mirror those asked the other candidates rather than the original questions if he prefers.
We will be disclosing the political history of the editor/publisher in the introductory bio and the article chronicling the process of crafting the inaugural issue.
If there is any way we can further facilitate Congressman Gianforte's response, please let me know.
Please feel free to contact me directly,
On Fri, Oct 12, 3:53 PM <email@example.com> wrote:
Thanks, Reilly. This makes us all more comfortable. I will have our responses to you as soon as I can but certainly before Monday morning. I appreciate you working with us here and reaching a resolution that works for all of us.
On Fri, Oct 12, 3:58 PM Montana Press <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Sounds good, thank you.
On Mon, Oct 15, 8:41 AM Montana Press <email@example.com> wrote:
I'm sending a reminder of our 10 a.m. copy deadline this morning. We have held space in the newspaper for Congressman Gianforte's responses to the interview questions sent along in the last weeks.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Montana Press Monthly
On Mon, Oct 15, 9:01 AM <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Thanks, Reilly. Attached are answers to the questions you posed on Wednesday of last week and that we agreed to submit after you agreed to disclose your contributions to Ms. Williams. You had also mentioned a bio of Greg. What are you including for that, and like the questions and answers, may I please review? Thanks!
On Oct 15, 2018, 3:57 PM Montana Press <email@example.com>
I'll send along the entire Q and A piece before we go to press in a final draft. We are not doing bios, just a simple introductory paragraph about why we chose to focus on the U.S. House race.
To read the full responses from the candidates, pick up an issue of Montana Press Monthly now available across Montana. Call 406-370-1492 to locate a free box near you.
Congressman Greg Gianforte: