Update: Here is the Sen. Jason Priest affidavit that the Billings Gazette didn’t want to share with readers.
A Billings Gazette print edition story about Montana State Sen. Jason Priest — he’s accused of attacking his 4-year-old daughter, his estranged wife, and her boyfriend — told readers to go to the paper’s website to read the charging documents against the Republican lawmaker.
State Sen. Jason Priest
But readers who went to billingsgazette.com only found the story about Priest; there were no court records.
“This wasn’t some shameless ploy to get people to log onto our website,” writes editor Darrell Ehrlick. (His column from last month was reprinted this week by the Montana Newspaper Association.) “Instead, it was a decision — after reading through the documents — that they simply should not be there.”
Why not? Because, says the editor, the details in them “paint a picture that is deeply troubling.”
First, the case involves children. And to the extent that we can, we try to shield them, although in many instances that’s impossible or difficult.
More importantly, I believe the court documents could paint Priest in a harsh light. And, just as much as I am a fervent supporter of the First Amendment, I am also a big believer in the due process that says it’s up to the courts to decide Priest’s innocence or guilt.
Ehrlick tells readers he decided that “these documents were too damning and too extreme to print,” and “if you want to get [them], they’re located in Carbon County and you’re more than welcome (and entitled) to read them or make copies.” (Isn’t this the editor literally telling readers to take a hike — down to the courthouse?)
He adds: “We followed some of the oldest and best journalism advice out there: Just because you can print something doesn’t mean you should.”
I asked Ehrlick in an email, then in a brief phone conversation, if the decision to pull the documents was the publisher’s. He wouldn’t answer that, or any other question I had about the matter. I’ve left a message for publisher Mike Gulledge, who is also vice president of sales and marketing for all Lee Enterprises newspapers.
Note: I couldn’t find these documents on any site. Please let me know if you track them down. Update: The Carbon County Clerk of Courts office and the Carbon County News told me the charging documents aren’t online. | Update 2: The affidavit is now posted here.
* Editor: Why we didn’t post the Sen. Jason Priest documents (billingsgazette.com)
* State Sen. Jason Priest pleads not guilty to criminal charges (billingsgazette.com)