Deadlines sometimes force
journalists to create rather than just report news
and there were few newsworthy items in the first
week of Montana’s 63rd legislative session. Since I
am an empathetic public servant and understand
writer’s block, I pitched idea-starved journalists a
softball in the House Ag Committee on Thursday. Here
is the story.
Representative Christy Clark (R-Choteau) sponsored
two bills for the Montana Department of Agriculture.
The first bill, HB114, was an “act revising the
definition of garbage for use as animal feed,” and
the second, HB115, allowed “alternative livestock
ranch animals and rabbits to be slaughtered” in
facilities simultaneously processing cattle. Both
were simple, but necessary half-page bills. House
Bill 114 altered a definition so Montana Code
conformed with Federal Code regarding regulations
instituted years ago requiring the cooking of
garbage fed to swine so as to break the trichinosis
House Bill 115 was a simple catch-up move granting
regulatory permission for slaughter procedures
already in practice. With its passage, all
alternative livestock such as elk and rabbits can
now be commercially harvested in the Treasure State.
(Followers of the Montana Sportsman Alliance will
read the previous sentence as an endorsement for the
commercial harvest of our wild elk herds. Put down
the Kool-Aid; the threat to our wild elk herds is
from wolves, not HB115 or the GOP.)
Facing a terrifying news deadline, an un-named
reporter spotted Rep. Clark’s HB114 and HB115 and
thought he smelled a story. Adding the details of
the two bills, he arrived at the hunch Montana was
building a pork slaughter plant. Representative
Clark told him he was wrong, but he made her promise
not to spill his scoop to other reporters. She
laughed, agreed and then told us this story while
waiting for House Ag Committee to convene. During
the live-audio question phase of the public hearing,
a brilliant idea ricocheted inside my skull. “I’m
going to give that poor reporter a storyline,” I
thought deviously. With Chairman Randall’s
permission I grabbed the microphone and asked,
“Representative Clark, HB115 allows the slaughter of
rabbits. Am I correct?”
“Yes,” she responded.
“Bunnies?” I emotionally offered as if I was getting
a lump in my throat.
“Yes,” she fired back.
“The Easter Bunny?” I added making my voice quake as
if I was near an emotional breakdown.
“It allows the harvest of commercially raised
rabbits,” she said as she rolled her eyes in disgust
at my questioning.
“Mr. Chairman, no further questions,” I stated
matter-of-factly as laughter erupted around the
committee room. “Because he was listening, I just
wanted to give Representative Clark’s poor reporter
With the rap of Chairman Randall’s gavel, the Ag
Committee adjourned and this brings me to my point.
During the session, when you see headlines such as
the GOP barbequing the Easter Bunny, expect the
story to be based on a fib. Unlike the state run
media, in my column I tell you when I am stretching
the truth. I purposely stretched this headline just
to make a point.