No Bozeman (MT) TV news outlet covers the sheriff’s office as thoroughly, and fluffily, as KBZK and anchor/reporter Judy Slate.
Her reports have included Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin participating in a “cold water challenge”; attending a Washington D.C. conference (apparently with Slate); and giving a tour of a local high school.
What she’s never disclosed in her TV reports is that she’s dating the sheriff. On her Facebook page, though, Slate doesn’t bother trying to keep their relationship a secret. (I’m told that rival news outlets have known about it for at least 14 months.)
“Slate has changed her Facebook profile pic to one of herself and the sheriff, as she has posted photos of the two of them going to the Sturgis rally, as they’ve discussed their hot tubbing plans on social media, etc.,” a Bozeman journalist tells Romenesko readers.
Three weeks ago Slate did a story about county commissioners rejecting a dog leash law. After the piece aired, Slate noted on Facebook that “I got my dogs and my man in my story last night.”
Yes, the sheriff – her man – was in that news report, too.
“The TV station – the leading TV station here in Bozeman – has become a glorified PR desk for the sheriff,” says the journalist who alerted me to this conflict. “Slate gets to have her pick of time with the sheriff and her station gets notified of news that otherwise no one would have heard about, like remote traffic accidents in the middle of the night.
“Meanwhile, our newsroom and other TV stations go through the regular channels to try to get a word from Gootkin.”
People in the KBZK newsroom didn’t want to discuss the conflict of interest.
News director John Sherer never responded to questions that I sent on Monday and Wednesday – Slate and Gootkin also ignored my emails – so I called KBZK on Thursday morning. The switchboard operator sent me directly to Sherer, and he told me: “I’m in our morning meeting and I’m not going to talk to you about it anyway.” He hung up while was I asking a question.
“We figured it should be the responsibility of KBZK’s news director to talk to her about it and to coach her on the conflict of interest,” says the rival journalist. “However, the fact that the relationship has gone on so long with seemingly no ethical guidance from the news director seems to us that they approve at KBZK.”