For the week of February 17, 1999  thru February 23, 1999  

Who lives in the Idaho Panhandle?

Commentary by PAT MURPHY


Until his last days in office, Gov. Phil Batt strenuously denounced the unfair, inaccurate image smeared on Idaho by that handful of racists who periodically strut like storm troopers that easily attracts national media coverage despite their Stone Age mentality and irrelevance.

Now a major voice in American journalism, The Christian Science Monitor, has taken up the cry in a unique, indirect way by excoriating the media for distortions that irritated Gov. Batt throughout his term.

The Monitor’s fire, however, is aimed not at the northern Idaho hate-mongers, but the Monitor’s media colleagues.

Up front behind the double-page ads of Ralph Lauren and Dewar’s scotch, the Monitor devotes two full pages of advertising in the March issue of the press industry magazine, Brill’s Content, to zap media that perpetuate the distortion of Idaho.

"To most news followers, these are typical North Idaho residents," a gold-colored headline on black background virtually shouts; beneath it, a photo of demonstrators in Nazi army helmets or KKK hoods.

Then comes the zinger:

"Monitor readers know better."

On the facing page, the message continues in smaller type:

"Racists, fascists, survivalists, supremacists. That pretty well sums up most peoples’ impressions of who lives in the Idaho Panhandle. Fueled by media reports, fed by most news coverage, it makes for more compelling reading than the fact that probably 99 of the residents oppose these extremists.

"Monitor readers got a clearer picture. Rather than dwell on the 92 neo-Nazis who marched down the streets of Coeur d’Alene, we also looked at the thousands who protested and the ongoing human rights efforts of local businesses and individuals."

The Monitor ad reproduced its front page coverage of the Idaho story.

So, what’s the value to Idaho of such an ad in a relatively narrowly circulated niche magazine?

Plenty.

Brill’s Content is the media’s own watchdog publication. It monitors and critiques performance of newspapers, TV, radio, magazines and Internet information web sites – revealing inaccuracies, distortions, misquotes, bloopers, phony stories.

In doing so, Brill’s Content (named after lawyer-journalist founder Steven Brill) effectively humiliates errant media into better performance by holding them up for judgment.

Hence, the Monitor’s otherwise self-serving circulation ad will be seen by important editors and TV producers and reporters, who will ponder whether they’re parties to distorting the Idaho story.

Presumably, the next time Idaho’s rabid hate-mongers come out of their hiding places in search of national media attention, the media will add balance to the story – the fact that the racists are unrepresentative of Idaho.

The Monitor’s ad in a media magazine is quite a testimonial that should set the record straight for those who recklessly breathe life into myths about the state.

Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.

 

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