Deplorable Pabst Legacy Round 2: Failing Up

by Travis Mateer

Before yesterday’s post on the deplorable legacy of Missoula County Attorney, Kirsten Pabst, I didn’t realize Pabst is running unopposed this year to keep her job. Since no one apparently wants her job, no one in the media seems interested in critical coverage of her office because what’s the point? Missoula County voters don’t have a choice.

That means we’re stuck with Pabst for FOUR MORE YEARS.

It’s already been a long slog with Pabst. To get a sense of what I’m talking about, let’s go back to Pabst’s statement in 2015 after Krakauer’s book came out. Here is some of the damage control from that statement talking about the new programs and the new day that allegedly arrived seven years ago:

In all of the hubbub, the importance of our new program and efforts at improving sexual assault prosecutions has been in the shadow. Now is not the time to refute the many factual errors in the book. While the charges the author has made against me, the Missoula County Attorney’s Office and my predecessor, are inaccurate, exaggerated and unnecessarily personal, he is correct in that our investigation and prosecution standards needed to be improved. That has been done. Ask the Montana Attorney General’s Office. Ask the US Department of Justice. Today is the day to celebrate our new direction.

In essence, we’ve taken a look at everything we do as an office and re-written it in accord with best-practices. Our whole approach has shifted from being process centered to victim centered. Our community has banded together, rolled up our sleeves and is breaking ground on great and permanent changes in the area of sexual assault prosecutions. The Missoula County Attorney’s Office is committed to taking the lead and becoming the flagship model for other communities facing similar challenges. To do that, we are examining past practices, studying the nation’s best practices and engaging in specialized training.

Reading this now, in 2022, makes me wonder what Pabst has actually been doing. Failing up? At least one seemingly informed commenter makes a compelling case, but before we get to that, here’s Pabst from that bullshit book, “To Prosecute”, explaining how she was going to communicate with the public better:

How do you keep the community informed about and involved in these policy and practice changes?

I feel strongly that I have an obligation to communicate with the citizens who elected me. The best way to do that is to have an open and ongoing dialog with them via the media. Among my avenues to do so, I appear on a weekly radio show where I run through new complaints my office has filed and talk about new programs such as diversion. I also respond to media requests for information to share what we can with the public about individual cases.

Yes, Pabst goes on the radio to consistently provide updates on what her office is charging, but there are other dynamics at play before the Attorney’s Office even gets involved, and that would be the investigative work done by public institutions, like the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office.

The full statement Pabst provided seven years ago speaks a lot about facts and tries to minimize emotion (while using emotion to gaslight victims), but here’s the thing about facts: to be considered, they have to be collected in the first place. If that doesn’t happen, then what is a County Attorney to do?

While Pabst feels strongly about her obligation to communicate, so do members of the public. Despite being an old article, there’s a relatively new comment from just 4 months ago worth considering, so I’ll reproduce it in full below.

I think that does it for a quick round 2. Thanks for reading!

And, if that’s hard to read, here’s the comment in quote form:

It’s hard to fathom how Kirsten Pabst continues to be employed in the legal profession after what’s she’s done, let alone in a position of such trust, and with such power over many of the people she’s harmed over the years in her relentless pursuit of prestige.

Pabst’s statement is infuriating but also should be treated as a master class in dishonestly effective crisis PR. She skillfully weaves a distracting straw man argument hinting that Krakauer assailed her simply because of her (abysmal) record of prosecuting rape cases, completely sidestepping and not bothering to explain all of the damning revelations in the book. She also cleverly tries to stoke tribalistic pro-Missoula defensiveness by insinuating repeatedly that Krakauer is out to get the town that he supposedly is so “obsessed” with. And then she buries all of that underneath long winded, sometimes irrelevant fluff meant to deflect blame while portraying herself as a hero for sexual assault victims (which might come as a surprise to the ~90% whose cases she ignored in her prior job). If you manage to get through Pabst’s statement, you’d be forgiven for not realizing that she didn’t actually get around to addressing any of the very serious issues that Krakauer’s book reminded us of. Though she vaguely implies factual errors in the book (as if a book that prominent and no doubt vulnerable to lawsuits if anything could be construed as defamatory wasn’t fact checked and lawyered down to the tiniest detail), many of her misdeeds were already known from independent sources. If that wasn’t enough, Pabst is notorious for lashing out against the press when it is reported that her office mistreated and ignored credible accusations of rape. Despite some vague and unapologetic suggestions that certain (quite small, no doubt) things could have been done better, nowhere in this statement does Pabst show recognition, let alone remorse, for what she did to countless victims, both as a prosecutor and, quite menacingly, as a defense attorney in private practice.

I congratulate Kirsten Pabst both for this obnoxious statement and for continuing to fail upward, no matter the cost to the women of Missoula and the University of Montana. If only she would turn her impressive skills of self protection and promotion toward the public good. At some point, the rush of professional success fades and we (at least those of us with a conscience) are left reflecting on whether we lived a good life. I sincerely wonder how Kirsten Pabst is able to sleep at night.


About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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2 Responses to Deplorable Pabst Legacy Round 2: Failing Up

  1. TC says:

    I find that the City/County has adopted a new cliched word to utilize in their PR/Narrative control campaign (so many meaningless words – buzzword bingo must be a daily game in our Gov’t offices!) In this case the word(s) are “Best Practices”. One hears this a lot – in homeless issues, by the prosecutors office, by law enforcement, etc. It is cover for all failings – “we were using Best Practices ™!!!
    But Best Practices according to who? Me? You? Some think tank? A group sitting around a table postulating on sterile and impersonal data sets? Perhaps as demonstrated by those exemplars of good government found in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle?
    Just listen to how often our local government will deploy this term for cover when cornered

    • Author Unknown says:

      That same thought has been percolating my mind lately as well. Many who practice best, fail miserably when duty calls. Which seems to have zero relevance. The best failures are always rewarded by another chance to fuck up even more! Followed by even greater accolades, as the pinwheel keeps spinning and the rabbit holes get deeper.

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