This year Christmas arrived at the Indy on Sunday, Dec. 10. Santa left a blue plastic bag holding a lump of coal. There, hiding sheepishly below the fold on the front page of the local daily, was the headline “Schweitzer defends brother’s role.”

From what, one might have wondered?

Well, from widespread curiosity about and discomfort with First Brother Walter Schweitzer’s sans portfolio role in seemingly every nook and cranny of state government. Such curiosity and discomfort was first given voice almost two months ago in the Indy story “The Walter Ego”—just one bit of information readers wouldn’t have learned from the Lee piece, penned by the estimable Mike Dennison and Jennifer McKee.

We were reminded of April’s John Morrison affair. Lee beat us on that one by a few days. (The lovely rumor is that Morrison delivered the “news” of his long-ago infidelity to Lee in a preemptive strike, before we could get to press with our examination of the public-service implications of that infidelity.) The Missoulian’s headline then was “Morrison: Relationship didn’t alter fraud probe.” Then too the daily allowed the subject of its “investigation” to deny soft-pedaled after-the-jump allegations before readers had a chance to skim paragraph one.

Butte’s Montana Standard headlined the Walter Schweitzer story “Brother helping brother.” Helena’s Independent Record called it “Brothers in Arms.”

We think those headlines—and the story that ran beneath them—pretty well sum up our idea of the functional differences between the “mainstream” and “alternative” presses: If you want to know the official answer to the burning questions of the day, cautiously packaged and vetted by the powers that be, read Lee. If you prefer an independent exploration of the substance of the question, well, you know where to turn.

None of this is to imply that the Missoulian, or Lee, or any of its particular writers, are putting out bad papers. Far from it. They take far more flack than they deserve from blog jockeys and punks like us. The same Sunday Missoulian also carried Tyler Christensen’s dogged localization of the Wal-Mart drug-discount story. A day later came Michael Moore’s honest and actually kind of touching obituary for former Indy copy editor and community institution McCarthy Coyle. With the latter, the Missoulian did what we think a good daily, on the rare occasions it doesn’t get there first, ought to sometimes do instead: expand on the story, introduce it to more people, take it further.

We would have liked to see them do that with Walter.

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