N.Y. Times Hails Montana's Daily-Kos Democrat As A 'Prairie Pragmatist'

Now that the Democrats hold the majority in the Senate, the New York Times is painting the new Senators firmly into the political middle. Reporter Timothy Egan profiled Sen.-Elect Jon Tester, one of the hard-left Daily Kos Democrats, in a story headlined "Fresh Off the Farm in Montana, a Senator-to-Be." Egan began his ode to the liberal man with a crew-cut: "When he joins the United States Senate in January, big Jon Tester — who is just under 300 pounds in his boots — will most likely be the only person in the world’s most exclusive club who knows how to butcher a cow or grease a combine." You have to read quite a way into the article to see that this good old boy is raising "organic lentils, barley, peas, and gluten-free grain" on his farm. No boutique liberal there, eh?

Egan insisted "the senator-elect from Montana truly is your grandfather’s Democrat — a pro-gun, anti-big-business prairie pragmatist whose life is defined by the treeless patch of hard Montana dirt that has been in the family since 1916." That definition would work, if your grandfather opposed wiretapping enemy communications in World War 2 or would have opposed a Patriot Act to help fight the Nazis.  

The Times typically touted Tester's "trademark flattop — refreshed every three weeks for $8 at the Riverview barber shop here in Great Falls," adding that "Tester was a tough target for Republicans to stereotype as 'just another Washington insider,' as one radio attack ad put it." Egan suggested: 

Republicans have kept their hold on the intermountain West in part by promoting issues known as the three G’s: gays, guns and God.

On gays, Mr. Tester says the "sacred document" of the Constitution should not be amended to outlaw same-sex marriage, though he favored a state ban that voters passed in 2004. On guns, Mr. Tester is quite proficient in their use, and says anyone — Republican or Democrat — who tries to take his away will run into trouble. On God, Mr. Tester says simply that he is a churchgoer, and notes that he met his wife when he spotted her in a pew.

But the fiercest spinning came as Egan acknowledged that Tester was a favorite of the fiercely leftist bloggers like the Daily Kos, the ones who wrote "Screw them" when four American contractors were burned to a crisp in Iraq:

Republicans said that Mr. Tester was a favorite of "extreme liberal bloggers" and that the down-home persona masked an agenda out of step with much of America.

And indeed, the liberal Web site Daily Kos took up Mr. Tester’s cause early. When he announced he was running for the Senate, he was an underdog to a better-financed and better-known Democrat who was being promoted by the party establishment.

After Mr. Tester won the primary by a huge margin, Daily Kos posted a picture of him on its site, with the caption, "Say hello to the next senator from the great state of Montana."

Mr. Tester is also a favorite of the band Pearl Jam, which promotes many liberal causes. But his tie is personal. The area around the town of Big Sandy, population 658 and falling, produced not only Mr. Tester, but also Jeff Ament, the bassist for Pearl Jam. The band did a concert in Missoula this year for Mr. Tester.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Tester spoke often of how "regular folks" just "haven’t been given much of a shake." He is distrustful of global trade agreements that have hurt farmers, and big drug companies and health maintenance organizations that he says have put medical costs out of reach for many people.

Asked why he became a Democrat in a region that has been overwhelmingly Republican for the last generation, Mr. Tester said: "It started with my parents, who always said the Democrats work for the middle class. And in agriculture, Franklin Roosevelt did a lot of good things."

That reference cycles back to the Times line that Tester is your grandpappy's Democrat.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis