Matt Gouras: Montana’s Liberal Media Activist for the Associated Press

A Media Trackers Montana review of articles published by Associated Press reporter Matt Gouras shows a consistent bias by Gouras in favor of liberal politicians and causes.  In nine out of ten of Gouras’ recent articles, he praised Democratic policymakers, criticized Republicans, or both.  The only article that appeared critical of both Democrats and Republicans — an April 3, 2012 dispatch entitled “Lush life: Campaign trail posh for both Tester, Rehberg” —  is still clearly slanted against Rehberg, as Gouras generously quoted partisan attacks from CREW, an organization that files ethics complaints predominantly against Republicans.

A recent Media Trackers Media Accountability Project article highlighted the left-wing bend of an October 2010 article penned by Gouras, which read more like campaign literature for Sen. Jon Tester than a straightforward news article.  “Farmer Jon: US Sen. spends weekends plowing fields,” the headline blared. Since that report, Gouras has continued the trend of slanting his reporting to the left.

Last week, Gouras reported on a Montana GOP court challenge to the recent decision by the Office of Political Practices to dismiss a complaint against the sitting Attorney General, Steve Bullock, a Democratic candidate for governor. The court challenge alleged that the Office of Political Practices unfairly dismissed the complaint based on politics.  The arguments in the case focused on the fact that Bullock raised money for his gubernatorial run for months without officially declaring for that office or reporting the funds raised as going towards that campaign, practice which is illegal under Montana law.

Rather than reporting on merits of the complaint or on the courtroom proceedings, Gouras wrote the article as an indictment of the GOP’s legal counsel for his role in a recent U.S. Supreme court challenge of Montana’s corporate contribution limits.  The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in that counsel’s favor.

“The court case also featured a seemingly ironic change of tune for major players in some high-profile cases dealing with Montana campaign finance law,” Gouras wrote, planting the hook in the beginning of his article. “Montana Republican Party attorney Jim Brown has argued in federal court that many Montana campaign finance laws are onerous and unconstitutional. He serves as local counsel for a conservative group that successfully challenged the state’s 100-year-old Corrupt Practices Act in a battle that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. But on Thursday he argued that disclosure on campaign forms of the office sought by a candidate is critical to the political regulation ‘scheme.'”  The clear subtext, complete with scare quotes around “scheme,” was that Brown was an unprincipled hypocrite.

Media Trackers found another prominent example only three days prior in the Helena Independent Record, where Gouras turned what might have otherwise been a run-of-the-mill column on a public listening session on defense cuts into a campaign piece which favored Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Tester. In the center of the report on the official forum, which was hosted by Rep. Denny Rehberg and featured defense expert James Jay Carafano from the Heritage Foundation Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), Gouras inexplicably refocused the article on the campaign perspective of Tester.

“Tester campaign spokesman Aaron Murphy criticized the town hall as a taxpayer-funded political stunt,'” Gouras wrote.  “The Tester campaign argued that Rehberg was in Congress, before Tester was elected in 2006, at a time when the Democrats say other cuts were made to Malmstrom Air Force Base in northern Montana.”

A broader Media Trackers examination of nearly thirty Gouras articles from 2012 showed that articles about wildfires or law enforcement — specifically criminal investigations or parole board hearings — were the only articles free from any overt political bias.

“[Gouras] is the left’s go-to guy in this state when it comes to favorable treatment in the press” said one conservative insider in an interview with Media Trackers.  “In the State of Montana, conservative policymakers have no reasonable expectation of fairness from the Associated Press. Gouras spins the truth in favor of the left every single time.”

“What can we do?” the conservative asked. “He will go after us if we speak out.”

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