Just the facts, or at least your version of the facts

J.P. Plutt
Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Opinion, fact, truth. Men and women have mulled the meaning of these words for generations.

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” – Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

The topics are a constant point of consideration in the newspaper business. You can arrive on the scene of a story and ask five different people what happened, and you could get five different versions of what the witnesses believe to be the truth.

When you cover a court case, there are two sides, and each presents their version of the facts with sworn testimony. Not surprisingly, the facts as presented usually conflict. Then a jury or a judge decides which set of facts are true, or most plausible. Innocence or guilt hang in the balance.

“There are no facts, only interpretations.” – Friedrich Nietzsche.

Religion and politics are two subjects with which you will be rewarded with a heated argument should you choose to debate someone with an opposing view. In my private life, I find it best to respect the beliefs of others and not go there. I know from experience that a person passionate about their beliefs will not change their opinion based upon what I might offer up as my contradictory view.

“People will generally accept facts as truth only if the facts agree with what they already believe.” – Andy Rooney.

Politics, a subject that in my opinion has become more and more polarized as I get older, is most definitely a hot-button subject. The quest for power in the most powerful country in the world seems to have become a 24-7, 365 mudslinging party. It is a disheartening and tiring charade, but maybe that is how it has always been. Perhaps it is just my opinion that the state of politics in the United States continues to devolve, and that really it is a healthy exchange of ideas.

“If you want to rip the heart out of a democracy you go after the facts. That’s what modern authoritarians do. You lie. All the time. Then, you say it’s your opponents and journalists who lie.” – Maria Ressa.

At the Tribune, we’ve been on the Jan. 6 D.C. riot story since the get-go. M.P. Regan did an excellent feature on local reaction to the events for our Jan. 13 edition. He sought out the opinions of Rep. Tom Welch (R-Dillon), Dillon Police Chief Don Guiberson, and Dillon City Councilperson Mary Jo O’Rourke, all of whom were appalled and saddened by the events; and Hank Muntzer, a person who was at the riot and shared a different opinion.

Dillon Tribune reporter Casey S. Elliott broke the arrest by the FBI of Muntzer, for his role in the riot with a story in our Jan. 20 edition. It was an exciting day around the office. The Associated Press and KXLF-TV called and sent e-mail messages congratulating the Tribune “on scooping us all,” for breaking the first such arrest in Montana, and asked if they could use parts of the story, “with attribution of course.”

For our next edition, I assigned Elliott to further develop the arrest story, with updates on the charges and his legal status. I assigned M.P. Regan to reach out to Muntzer and do a feature on Muntzer’s views and opinions of his involvement and experiences with the riot and subsequent developments. Both stories appeared side-by-side in last week’s paper.

This week, we have a letter on this page critical of our coverage. It is the writer’s opinion and I am I am happy to print it.

I should just let it go at that, but I do disagree with the writer’s assessment. First and foremost, his anger or judgment directed at M.P. Regan is misguided. I assigned the story and set the parameters, so if there are any fingers to be pointed, they should be pointed in my direction. I feel Regan did an excellent job of capturing the mindset and unfiltered opinions of a man who traveled to our nation’s Capitol, participated in a riot, came home, and then got arrested and jailed on federal charges.

The letter writer has a totally different view of the story and I certainly respect his right to express his opinion. I will say Muntzer’s opinions in the story are not unverified -- they are his opinions.

“I don’t blame anyone for having a different opinion than me as to what’s really going on, you know, or a different opinion on their beliefs. That’s just the way it is. Without differences, we would have a very boring society,” concluded Muntzer in last week’s story.