NY Times Goes Down on the Farm to Fawn Over Montana Sen. Jon Tester

June 4th, 2018 9:29 PM

New York Times reporter Nicholas Fandos hiked out to Montana to talk to Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana for Monday’s edition. Tester, who may be tested in the fall as he’s up for re-election in a state Donald Trump carried by 20 points, was fawned over on his farm by Fandos, both in the main story, “Senate Democrat in Deep-Red Montana Isn’t Sweating Trump’s Threats,” and also an “Inside the Times” preview on page 2.

Fandos painted a flattering picture of a folksy down-home Democrats who loved nothing better than messing about on the family farm.

Under a nearly cloudless sky on the sun-speckled northern prairie last Tuesday, Jon Tester, this state’s senior senator, had his hands deep inside a 25-year-old grain auger.


Mr. Tester had recently torpedoed the nomination of the president’s personal physician, Ronny L. Jackson, to be his secretary of veterans affairs, incurring Mr. Trump’s wrath -- “very dishonest and sick!” the commander in chief thundered on Twitter.

But Mr. Tester, a third-generation lentil and pea farmer trying to make up for a late spring, was far more concerned with a broken shear pin that had stopped his bright red auger, which he needed to raise and store leftover seed from the 1,800 or so acres his family has been working for a century....

....In a state that is still largely rural and tinged with a libertarian mistrust of big government, Mr. Tester drives a beat-up pickup truck, shoots guns and has little to say about his party’s internecine fights. Voters know where he stands, he reasons....


A few hours away, in Butte, a labor stronghold in the copper-rich mountains of southwest Montana that has been slowly shifting away from Democrats, Chris Thomas said Mr. Tester was a rare breed: He follows through.

Fandos let Tester explain away his unsubstantiated attacks on the White House doctor, who served under both President Obama and President Trump. So much for the newspaper's public messaging that facts matter "more than ever."

Mr. Tester is unapologetic about the way he handled the charges against Dr. Jackson. They were serious, including allegations that he loosely administered drugs as the White House doctor and drank on the job, and they came from serious people, he said.

The Times skipped over how red Montana looks at this time. A March Axios/Survey Monkey poll put Tester at the top of endangered Democrat incumbents, forecasting he could lose to an unnamed Republican 42 to 55 percent, with the added note that Trump has a 58 percent approval rating in Montana. Fandos avoided citing any polls on this race.

Fandos’s Page 2 “Inside the Times” had even more rhapsodic narration and even less actual journalism.

Jon Tester was obscured under the hood of a towering red tractor when I pulled up to his farm one day last week. I’d come to pay a visit and hold what I hoped would be a laid-back interview. But judging from the small clouds of pale brown dirt -- remnants from weeks of planting wheat and peas -- floating away from the machine, that did not mean Mr. Tester, Montana’s senior senator, was going to set aside his chores.


“Is your hand in there?” Ms. Tester yelled out at one point, when her husband — who has already lost three fingers -- shoved his arm into the grain auger. “You’re nuts,” she sighed when he told her to fire up the machine anyway. (He came out fine.) Here was a man, it quickly became clear, who on the farm and in Washington trusts his instincts enough that he is willing to take risks others will not. Many Montanans, he believes, prefer it that way: They may not agree on everything he does, but they know where he stands and believes that he comes by it honestly.

Tester may have the folksy farmer act down pat, but he’s certainly no moderate.

The Times has embraced Tester from the beginning. In 2006 Timothy 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."