[Op-Ed] Why Does Billings Gazette Keep Lying About Spying in the PSC?


It’s called a Public Records Request. On the federal level, they’re called FOIAs, or Freedom of Information Act Requests. But in Montana, we just call it basic transparency; the principle is simple. Every Montanan has a right to the correspondence sent on every publicly owned computer server by every public official.

And yet, with God as my witness, I don’t know why Tom Lutey of the Billings Gazette continues to purport the lie that something untoward or wrong happened at the Montana Public Service Commission when emails were released to Jim White of Montana Gazette Radio, formerly (and then) Northwest Liberty News. The emails, belonging to the public, showed a pretty messed up personal life of PSC Commissioner, Roger Koopman, which he alleges embarrassed him.

Meanwhile, every public official (except the Supreme Court, apparently) knows that their public emails are a public record. Koopman should have known that. Not knowing that is…embarrassing. Since their release, Koopman has been on a war path, attacking Drew Zinecker, Randy Pinocci, this publication, and…well…probably everyone else on Earth for exposing his personal life which in fact he – himself – exposed.

In case there’s any confusion, here’s how public email works and how public record requests work in Montanan. Knowing how to do a public records request is Journalism 101, which every basic journalist should know. It’s how we find out important information, we couldn’t find out otherwise. Yet to Tom Lutey, it is “spying.”

Montana Daily Gazette has repeatedly correctly the failing Billings Gazette on this point many times, including here and here, where we unapologetically called Lutey’s reference to the email release as “spying” yellow journalism. He continues to do so, knowing better. This is why the Billings Gazette is for sale and no one wants to buy it. This is why the Montana Daily Gazette has four times the number of readers; Tom Lutey is not an honest man, and news consumers aren’t buying it.

In a post about the affable Joe Dooling filing to run for office against conservative firebrand and outspoken Derek Skees, Lutey made the comment earlier today…

During the same period of the legislative audit, another commissioner, Randy Pinocci, and an exempt staff member spied on another commissioner’s emails, which were released to an extreme right-wing website. 

The emails released to Northwest Liberty News, now Montana Gazette Radio, were not released to Jim White by Randy Pinocci. Furthermore, no one was “spied” on; this is public information.

We are content to let Lutey lie to the public, while pointing it out, considering it is causing the Billings Gazette to enter into a subscription death spiral that is now completely out of their control to resolve. The public will only put up with such egregious lies for so long. Meanwhile, referring to Jim White’s NWLN as an “extreme right-wing website” shows the bias of Tom Lutey. Our readership dwarfs his. The people of Montana stand with us. Is the entire state “extreme right-wing”? It seems we must be mainstream.

Montana Daily Gazette contacted Dooling, and clarified that the problems with the Public Service Commission, as he saw them, were not systemic to the entire PSC, but relegated to the few, such as – in Dooling’s view – Brad Johnson. Lutey made reference to an audit that painted Johnson in bad light, considering Dooling’s comments within the article that insinuated financial waste was present. Other commissioners, like Jennifer Fielder and Randy Pinocci, however, came out squeaky clean in the audit. Lutey committed this fact.

Dooling told the Gazette, “Listen, the problem isn’t the entire PSC. It’s valuable. There are a few bad actors, as the records show. I just want a hand in helping to clean it up and get it back on track where it belongs. We want to help the rate-payer, eliminate waste, and do the job without the drama.”

One wishes Lutey would listen to Dooling on that fact; there are a few bad actors. Pinocci is not one. Instead, he has chosen to, yet again, misuse words like “spying” to refer to the public release of public documents by public officials on public servers.

[Editor’s Note: Contributed by JD Hall]


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