Jack Wiegman

It was a pleasant January 20, 2018, a Saturday. We fired up the tired old Ford and rolled out to Paradise, Montana. This whisper-of-a-town was eager for company. This time it was the exonerated Cliven Bundy with friends and family to tell us how he had won against colossal odds.

As a long-retired journalist I decided to take notes and later compare with the works of young reporters working for regional media. I caught some errors.

We were all in a school gymnasium. The place was packed on the main floor and on the balcony. Many were standing with many more outside wishing to get in. I counted 450 packed inside and gave up.

Reporters lied to claim only 200.

There were a few “protesters” who had no intentions of protesting but only of disrupting. Those people may have been brought by some of the eight or ten paid reporters in attendance. Protesters did not succeed at disrupting.

The local Sheriff’s Department treated Cliven Bundy like a new Elvis. It was smiles and handshakes as they made the place secure and safe. Officers were delighted to meet Bundy and his entourage. Reporters didn’t mention that.

Mr. Bundy explained that the media stereotype of “Anti-Government” simply was not so. Two reporters grimaced angrily. He said government was essential to everything he and his peers were doing. He knew law because of his difficult experience with it. Later in their stories, reporters simply reiterated faulted claims made in earlier court cases. Every one whose articles I found ignored the final decisions of the courts involved.

As the evening progressed reporters concentrated on taking pictures and not on writing about the material presented. There was a lot of material. Ryan Bundy spent almost two-years in prison without valid charges against him. Cliven Bundy spoke about lying prosecutors. He explained that he was lucky; Rural people usually have no defense against big-time courts with their professional speakers. There is hopelessness at any trial and his was no exception. Reporters did not address that.

Cliven Bundy said, “We have the right to have witnesses testify on our behalf.” Prosecutors almost succeeded at denying that right but reporters did not mention the problem in their media stories.

Mr. Bundy made a plea to people to stand up for their rights. Sometimes, he said, government artificially generates fear as it did at Waco and Ruby Ridge. Reporters failed to mention that problem in their stories.

Reporters were distracted. In fact, one seemed to be idly reviewing his email.

A speaker, LaVoy Finicum’s widow, was a witness to the Finicum killing by errant law officers and said that “cameras are our best weapons of defense.” She explained that after all the people got out of the Finicum truck, officers opened up and shot up all the windows yet they had no warrant for anything they did. Reporters didn’t care about that.

At the end of the meeting, Cliven Bundy stood with calloused hands and a body that was bent by the hard work of ranching. He asked for continued adherence to the law. “Read the Constitution,” he pleaded. “Vote good people into government.” Reporters did not react at the scene or in their stories.

Despite the tightly-packed crowd, the audience had listened intently to all that was said. Instead of going home at the late-night end of the presentation, they stuck around for hours to share experiences, knowledge and concerns. Some recounted having been lied about by journalists.

John H. Wiegman is a retired broadcast journalist and engineer, and author of "Extremists In Our Midst."