Montana Headlines finds media bias in this AP story about Republicans buying up Democrat Linda McCulloch's domain name. MH wonders why the story was printed at all, then notes that a similar ploy against potential Republican candidate Bob Keenan doesn't appear until toward the end of the story.
Why MH thinks this might not be a story escapes me. It seems like a legitimate enough story, especially since Gouras pulls in national experts to discuss the phenomenon, which apparently is common in statewide races. I found it one of the more interesting state stories I have read in recent months. It certainly doesn't read like a McCulloch puff piece. If anything, she comes off as naive and shortsighted.
So why didn't Keenan get higher play in the story? I can't know what was in Gouras' mind. I don't have the mind-reading capacity that media-bashing conservatives seem to possess in great measure. For all I know, Gouras worships a bust of Ronald Reagan before he goes to work every morning. But regardless of Gouras' political beliefs, I can think of a few reasons why he might have played the story the way he did.
1. The news about McCulloch was fresh. News about Bob Keenan's website chicanery had appeared as far back as August.
2. In McCulloch's case, Republicans took an existing domain name. In Keenan's case, Democrats took an unclaimed name. So discussion of what happened to Keenan fell naturally within the cybersquatting section of the story, rather than the part about swiping existing names.
3. Gouras' story followed a classic journalistic form: start with a specific incident, show how the incident fits within a broader context (aka the nut graph), develop the broader context, then provide a sense of closure by leading back to the original example. The Wall Street Journal writes stories using that basic structure every day. For Gouras, Keenan's story made a perfect transition back to Montana. Put Keenan too early, and you risk burying the nut graph. Gouras could have mentioned him early, then come back to him later, to keep Montana Headlines happy, I suppose, but the story would have lost a little zing. Sometimes you just have to make tough calls about how much MH's happiness is worth to you.
4. Maybe Gouras is so far beyond partisan bias that it never occurred to him that people would read the whole piece in a Republican-Democrat context. After all, if Republicans are acting like 4-year-olds, then citing evidence that Democrats act like 4-year-olds doesn't make Republicans look any more mature. It just makes it look as if the whole state is being run by 4-year-olds. And that isn't news.
UPDATE: In the original post, I forgot to link to Montana Headlines. That has now been fixed.
UPDATE 2: After I rattled on for a while longer in comments, another thought occurred to me. Montana Headlines, Ed in comments and I all seem to be proceeding from the same assumption: that the practices described in the story make the political parties look bad. But neither Montana party seems to think it has done anything wrong, and both apparently are in accord with national trends and practices.
So isn't Gouras just as liable to a charge of conservative bias as to liberal bias? Why does he give Montana Republicans credit in the opening graph for adopting this technologically savvy technique but fails to note until deep in the story that Montana Democrats are equally up to date?
Fact is, I'm so persuaded this is a sleazy practice that it didn't occur to me until now that other possibilities might exist. That persuasion arises from my own deep biases -- in favor of openhandedness, fair play and general courtesy -- and I suspect that Montana Headlines and Ed share those biases. I think these are conservative biases, but it's hard to know for sure anymore.
And I still don't know about Gouras' biases. Maybe he thought he was doing Republicans a favor.