Tribune’s Education Reporter Doubles Down On Arntzen Hit Piece

Sarah Dettmer, the Great Falls Tribune’s education reporter, seems to have it out for Elsie Arntzen.

Yesterday, Dettmer published a heavily self-referential, self-congratulatory article to explain away some of the blowback from her hit job on the freshly-elected Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Republican Elsie Arntzen.

Dettmer writes:

Then, Great Falls Public Schools Superintendent Tammy Lacey stood up to ask her question about federally funded preschools. It was a tense moment. The biggest player in education in Great Falls was politely, but pointedly challenging the biggest player in education in Montana.

As further research on Dettmer’s part would indicate, there is virtually nothing that Arntzen — a state official — can do to change federal funding of preschools. And there was nothing “polite” about Lacey cheaply invoking Arntzen’s granddaughter to frame what should have been a substantive question. Evidently more concerned with gamesmanship than with policy, the GFPS Superintendent seemed to relish poking at the OPI chief.

Nevertheless, Dettmer established her moral authority as a journalist to intervene — against Arntzen:

The fact is the story changed. As a journalist, I cannot sit in the back of the room and listen to a publicly elected official avoid her constituents’ questions and then go back to the office and not address it. It is my job to hold officials accountable for their words and actions.

Dettmer conceded that the crowd reaction affected her reporting.

I focused more on the audience reaction than I typically would in an article, but in this case I thought it was important to bring the reader into the room and to capture the palpable emotions. This was not a typical introductory meeting.

What exactly did Dettmer expect? One of the worst-kept secrets in Helena is that Democrats, Eric Feaver and the MEA-MFT, can’t stand Arntzen (a Republican), and that — in this venue — Arntzen was speaking to a room full of hostile administrators and union members who detest her. Yet, Dettmer deliberately chose to omit this necessary context.

She concluded in a similar vein:

Despite Arntzen’s claims in other publications that I misinterpreted her words through my transcripts, I look forward to working with the superintendent over the coming years and hope we can move forward with a professional relationship.

But, I will continue to hold her and her administration accountable for their words and actions just as I hope she does for me.

On this, Dettmer isn’t wrong. Arntzen, a government official, should be held accountable — and so, too, should Tammy Lacey, the School Board, and Great Falls Public Schools.

But by singling out Arntzen’s administration — and no one else’s — what does that tell you about which way the Tribune leans?

Reader interactions

6 Replies to “Tribune’s Education Reporter Doubles Down On Arntzen Hit Piece”

  1. According to Dettmer, “I came back to the office in, I admit, a panic. I had recordings of the conference, rambling notes, recorded information I KNEW TO BE FALSE and the duty to accurately convey what happened in that room.”

    Two such “facts” are written about in Dettmer’s self-justification piece: whether she was a principal and whether OPI was under an “internal investigation.” She says, though, that she had to verify whether these were true.

    Then, as far as the investigation, Arntzen says, a company is “contracted to do a review of policies related to reporting student proficiency data to the federal government.” So, saying that is an “investigation” is false?

    Admit it, Sarah. You felt allegiance to the people in the room, a bunch of progressive Democrats on the dole. Being administrators, most of them make high five figures or more. And they don’t like Republicans. Some “quite audibly rebuked” Arntzen. In other words, they were rude and heckling her.

    Then you print that her rambling answers make no sense?

    You did a really great job of slanting this story to make Lacey look like our lily white savior, and Arntzen look like a bumbling idiot, if not an evil, child hating idiot. Hey Sarah, let’s try this. I’ll put you at a podium in a room full of people who can’t stand journalists. Then, we’ll ask you questions, and boo and jeer (excuse me, audibly rebuke) your responses. Our ‘fearless leader’ will stand up and make a cheap, personal and public attack against your family. Then, we’ll ask you some more questions and, when your intimidated answers come out, we’ll print them word for word to slant the story against you. Nice work all around.

    No one believes you but your partisan, Prog friends.


  2. This is why the GF Tribune has lost credibility in the eyes of so many folks.

    The selective concern for honesty and integrity in public officials is on display here for all to see.

    Where was the Tribunes concern for honesty and integrity from public officials when local candidate Tracy Houck repeatedly and intentionally lied to the Tribune reporter, the state COPP and everyone in Great Falls after she was caught cheating on her campaign finances?

    Where was all this self-righteous passion for journalistic integrity when it was proven beyond question through a citizen public records request that Tracy Houck not only lied to everyone over and over again but also submitted back-dated, fraudulent documents to the Commissioner of Political Practices?

    Crickets. So don’t try to peddle all this phony bs about how concerned your paper and reporters are about speaking truth to power and holding public officials accountable for lying. If you can’t be honest and fair about the integrity and ethical issues surrounding a locally elected official you shouldn’t be trusted, and won’t be, to do so for any public official.


  3. I think Dettmer nailed it. Arntzen’s responses were meaningless meanderings. Can’t see where you guys are coming from here.


  4. I’ve actually had the misfortune of listening to Ms. Arntzen. The reporter did indeed nail it.

    You can call it a “hit piece” but only if you consider a factual reporting to be so.


  5. Sarah Dettmer… the mediocrity of the small town mind.


  6. Like my old Italian friend used to say, you vote’a the crap, you GET’A the crap! This woman is what you voted for. Accept that. She’s your prize, but I wouldn’t be too happy about that!


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