What I Learned On The Way To City Club PLUS The Benefit Of Knowing When To Keep My Mouth Shut

by Travis Mateer

I do my best to take criticism when it’s warranted, like when one of my street contacts pointed out the early morning interaction we had, and how the hour (8:30ish am) wasn’t appreciated. Ok, I thought, how about 10:30am–so that was the timeframe of my drop-in to the Russell Bridge encampment to see if I could speak with Eric THEODORE Tennant before my profile on him posted, and speak with him I did!

Was it a productive conversation? Nope, because THEODORE was asleep under a tarp and not very happy that my conversation with his peers roused him from his stupor, and ALSO not very happy that I mistakingly called him by the name Eric instead of the name he prefers, which is THEODORE, a detail the Missoulian reporter, David Erickson, definitely included in this article, among other stuff (emphasis mine):

Tennant is a 24-year-old homeless man living in a makeshift encampment of tents under the Russell Street Bridge in Missoula. He goes by “Theodore,” and he’s been homeless since the age of 18. He grew up in Superior, a small town an hour’s drive west of Missoula.

He can talk for a long time about why he’s living unhoused, but in the end, the simple answer is that he just hasn’t found or been provided with any option that works for him.

Tennant spent most of the winter in Missoula’s Emergency Winter Shelter on Johnson Street, which was set up during the pandemic after the city’s other homeless shelter, the Poverello Center, hit capacity.

Some of the emphasis in the quote are things I find noteworthy, but that last point of emphasis is because NO, the Johnson Street Shelter was NOT set up because of the pandemic. How do I know this? Well, because I wrote about the loss of the Salvation Army as the winter overflow location, which necessitated the opening of the Johnson Street location. Please note the date of this article is 2019!

Is anyone suing the reporter, David Erickson, for providing misinformation to the public, like Matt Sullivan is doing to City Councilman, Daniel Carlino? Or how about Ellen Buchanan? Is anyone suing her and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency for referring to supporters of SB 523 as criminals for the alleged crime of spreading misinformation about Tax Increment Financing? No, instead we’re making impassioned comments at City Council, but that didn’t go so well last night. More on that at the end of the post.

While I easily eviscerated the agenda-driven coverage of the recent Missoulian article (linked above), it does get a little frustrating to have so much reality so effectively ignored by local media. I’m doing my best to fill the void, but so far my “model” of content creation is not viable, long term. That said, it’s still nice to go on-site to record short clips like this one:

After this recording–where I explain that it took THREE WHOLE DOLLARS to purchase my copy of the Missoulian (which I used as a visual aid for the rest of the day)–I biked along the river trail and had ANOTHER conversation with a tent-dweller in the park. This guy was already drunk at 10:30 in the morning and he defended his life choice by telling me he’s 34 years old. Also, a few months ago, he was in Spokane. I suggested he avoid having a fire in his barbecue grill, and to pick up the trash around his tent.

When I finally got to City Club, it took ALL my energy to keep my mouth shut during the Q&A. The panel, moderated by Lee Banville, featured Jim Strauss, John Adams, and Maritsa Georgiou. One of the quotes I wrote down didn’t come from any of the panelists, but from Banville, who I thought did a pretty good job engaging the audience. Here’s the quote: “Less local news means more polarization”. Yes, I think that’s true.

After the official City Club presentation, and the Q&A, I chatted briefly with John Adams about my old blogging days at 4&20 Blackbirds and my newish attempt to break the narrative control on some local stories, like the one that earned me a SECOND point-of-order last evening at Council. I guess describing the intangible benefits of directing the Poverello Center while keeping your mouth shut about about certain things wasn’t appreciated by our placeholder Mayor who just so happens to be have been a very recent board member of the Poverello Center.

The comment that got me shutdown was actually my second of the evening. My first comment went just fine. Should I have kept my mouth shut? We’ll explore that question in a subsequent post, which will feature my comments, along with some others that probably have some on Council questioning their love of DEMOCRACY!

I’m also considering publishing an image in that subsequent post regarding what happened to Sean Stevenson inside the Poverello Center on January 3rd, 2020, because it might shed more light on the seemingly inflammatory things I’m saying.

The Missoulian is certainly not at risk of shedding light on anything important, but I consult their coverage anyways. Here’s how this dying medium reported on the moderated conversation about its conspicuous death rattles:

There are lots of people ready to donate to news organizations and journalism nonprofits, according to Lee Banville, the director of the University of Montana’s School of Journalism.

But there’s an insidious catch, one that has ramifications for the future of democracy that depends on an informed citizenry.

“The thing is, people are very quick to give money to things that agree with what they say,” Banville told a crowd at a City Club Missoula forum on Monday. “They’re very slow to give it to things that don’t. And I will just say, just chew that over.”

That assessment is troubling for news organizations that try to publish objective stories and depend on readers paying for news that often doesn’t align with their preconceived opinions or interests. It makes sense, in that context, why certain news sites would be incentivized to publish content that gives consumers what they want to hear, even if it is untethered from the facts.

The link provided by the Missoulian goes to its coverage of the Fox/Dominion lawsuit settlement, which is funny, considering the Missoulian’s own reporter didn’t report on the provenance of the Johnson Street Shelter accurately.

One final point before I wrap this post up. I doubt the point-of-order would have been so disruptive–with a fellow critic of Tax Increment Financing quickly adding to the inability of Mayor Hess to maintain control by shouting in support of my ability to comment–if the director of MRA hadn’t recently engaged in such unproductive (and potentially slanderous) fear-mongering when she declared that local citizens like me are engaging in CRIMINAL levels of misinformation.

If Mayor Hess and the rest of the ZOOEY ZEPHYR PRO-DEMOCRACY BRIGADE want to make City Council chambers a safe space free from impassioned criticism that doesn’t align with their agendas, that’s fine with me. I can adapt. And YOU can help by supporting Travis’ Impact Fund (TIF), or making a donation at my about page.

There is so much more to come, so stay tuned and thanks for reading!

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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4 Responses to What I Learned On The Way To City Club PLUS The Benefit Of Knowing When To Keep My Mouth Shut

  1. TC says:

    Man – you captured it perfectly – Missoula IS Double Standard town! So more apt than Zoom Town (which was really good btw). That descriptor is now stuck in my brain. Bravo!

  2. J Putman says:

    I found it interesting at the City Club event that the panel members were lamenting about the general public not wanting to be engaged or informed, while the local government (mayor, city council, county commissioners, school board) would rather have the general public be uninformed and disengaged. Is it any wonder that Missoula has plenty of bars, liquor stores, casinos, and dispensaries?

  3. John Kevin Hunt says:

    “If Mayor Hess and the rest of the ZOOEY ZEPHYR PRO-DEMOCRACY BRIGADE want to make City Council chambers a safe space free from impassioned criticism that doesn’t align with their agendas, that’s fine with me.”

    It’s not fine with me.

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