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There’s an old and very sage saying in political circles: “Don’t pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel.” What it means in plain language is that it’s plum nuts for politicians to try to discredit or disparage the media.

Apparently Corey Stapleton, Montana’s secretary of state, has yet to figure out the wisdom, logic or consequences of flailing foolishly against our constitutionally guaranteed and incredibly important freedom of the press.

Stapleton ignited a firestorm last week when he misused the state-funded resources of his office to send out an email to 130,000 recipients claiming there “is one huge problem with mainstream media in America.” If you’re thinking you may have heard someone else make the same baseless claims recently, you’re right. While Stapleton seems to have difficulty thinking for himself, he finds making the same dumb claims as Donald Trump a suitable substitute for his own lack of critical thinking.

Remember, it wasn’t long ago that Stapleton was convinced there was massive voter fraud in Montana. Of course this was the same claim made nationally by Trump, who went so far as to appoint a Voter Fraud Commission that spent a lot of time trying to find the 3 million more votes that went to Hillary Clinton than Trump. Trump, who had exactly zero electoral experience prior to his run for the White House, blamed illegal immigrants for those votes and, quite contrary to getting on with the job and position he now holds, was convinced Clinton could not have won the popular vote without voter fraud.

Ignoring Montana’s experienced and highly credible electoral officials, Stapleton decided to launch his own probe of voting irregularities, spending scarce taxpayer dollars on what he had been told would be a fruitless witch hunt for voter fraud.

Indeed, Montana’s electoral officials turned out to be right and Stapleton’s shabby investigation revealed nothing more than a few ballots that had been incorrectly signed or filled out among the hundreds of thousands of votes cast in the election. As for Trump’s equally facetious claims, his Voter Fraud Commission couldn’t find the voter fraud Trump was howling about and disbanded earlier this year.

No longer able to tilt at that particular windmill, Stapleton decided to unleash his vitriol on the media in a rather incoherent rant in which he claims the media is “obsessed with the sideshows of personality and politically incorrect language of today.” It sure doesn’t take a “stable genius” to figure out Stapleton was likely referring to Trump’s widely criticized and racist remark about “sh-thole countries” in his blast at the media.

But of course Stapleton, who once described himself as one of “the best minds in the state” while in the legislature, claimed his missive was “totally general,” although admitting “what I see happening at the national level…affects us because we’re part of the nation.” Duh!

The response from the media confirmed the old adage as the Missoulian, which “buys ink by the barrel,” immediately lambasted Stapleton in an editorial (Jan. 18), writing: “Stapleton has no idea what he’s talking about” and goes on to note that his “screed against the media does not contain a single example to illustrate his point.” Of course, when you’re dealing with Stapleton and Trump, there’s no need to ask for proof of their assertions because they’re “like, really smart.”

Maybe Stapleton is looking for a job with Trump. Given the pace at which Trump’s “best people” have jump shipped or been tossed overboard, there may be an opening soon — for a little parrot to sit on Trump’s shoulder.

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George Ochenski writes from Helena. His column appears each Monday on the Missoulian's Opinion page. He can be reached by email at

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