Adios, amigo: So long, and thanks for all the fish-wrap

It’s not general knowledge yet, but Brad Tyer, who has edited the Missoula Independent for almost five years, has recently announced his resignation. As I look back at the stack of some 250 papers he has piloted from concept to print every week, he deserves some heartfelt praise for keeping Montana’s premier alternative weekly cranking out the goods and bringing readers the stories and in-depth reporting you just don’t get anywhere else.

Way back in ’02, when Brad took over the job from Ken Picard, George Bush had recently been installed as president by a Supreme Court decision, Judy Martz had just become Montana’s first woman governor, and Republicans dominated both Congress and the state’s legislature. It was in those dark and daunting days that Brad, a Texan newly arrived to Montana, helped keep the torch of hope burning for those who were outraged at the path our state and nation were stumbling down, and who longed for a brighter future. Little did we suspect that the dark times were to grow even darker in the days ahead.

As the Indy’s political columnist, I had my hands full. Martz, as many will recall, had already pledged to be a “lapdog to industry” and was busily licking the hands of the big corporations that fed her campaign. Suddenly, Montana had returned to the not-so-good old days of wide-open corporate piracy and damn the short- or long-term consequences.

Meanwhile, the attacks of 9/11 had sent the U.S. into a paroxysm of fear and paranoia unlike anything seen since the red-baiting days of the McCarthy era. Although the jets had been piloted primarily by Saudi-born hijackers, President Bush and his coterie of neo-con advisers were making plans for a New American Century in which we would dominate the globe, beginning with an invasion of Iraq. Against the wishes of the world and, as it turned out, against even a shred of evidence, Bush scared the bejesus out of the nation with threats of Saddam Hussein launching weapons of mass destruction against us and saying that the next attack could end in the mushroom cloud of a nuclear bomb. A compliant Congress went along with the ruse, not only going to war against the wrong country, but also going to war against our own citizens by passing a blistering series of laws that left America’s once-cherished constitutional rights in tatters.

In what will always be regarded as a shameful history, the mainstream media readily accepted whatever spewed from the White House, the Pentagon, the CIA and Congressional war hawks with virtually no investigative reporting and barely a whisper of dissent. In the vacuum of credible news, the nation’s independent media stepped up to the plate. Here in Montana, that meant the Missoula Independent.

People read the Indy for a lot of different reasons. There are those who revel in the arts and entertainment reviews and local happenings. Others seek a guide to the abundant opportunities for outdoor recreation with which we are especially endowed here in western Montana. And many, both in Missoula and across the state, turn to the Independent for in-depth investigative reporting and political insights. Brad’s job was to put together a talented team of writers and reporters and meet those diverse expectations in print every week—and he did a bang-up job of it.

The series of stories gracing the front page of the Indy in the last five years has truly been astounding—and fearless. From taking on the local sheriff to diving deep into Senate races, the Indy has given readers a peek behind the closed doors of politicians and officials. Throughout western Montana, it was often the Indy that blew the lid off brewing scandals, alerted citizens to pending deals and bad decisions, and held up the pressing issues of the day to the harsh light of public scrutiny. As the paper’s successes continued to build, people from far outside the Indy’s distribution radius began to seek it out online, and continue to do so to this day.

When Judy Martz went down in flames as one of the most unpopular governors in the Montana’s history, her successor, Brian Schweitzer, perhaps thought the Indy, which one D.C. magazine credited with helping elect him, was going to give him a free ride. But that’s not the way it turned out. Displaying both courage and political fairness, the Indy brought the same scrutiny to the new Democratic governor’s actions and plans as it had the former Republican governor. Both Republicans and Democrats say this level of objectivity has established the paper as a leading source for straight-up reporting—which is really saying something for a free weekly.

But of course Brad didn’t come to Montana just to edit a paper every week. An inveterate canoeist, he escaped the pressures of his job as so many of us do, in the incredible beauty and diversity of our rivers and mountains. In the process of paddling and camping on the Blackfoot, the North Fork of the Flathead, the Smith, the Madison and the Bitterroot (among many others), Montana has become as much a part of him as he has become a part of our Big Sky State.

It’s hard to estimate just how far Brad took the Missoula Independent in his time at the helm, but some things are certain: The paper’s standing as he leaves the editor’s desk is stronger than ever, and the readership broader, and deeper, than it’s ever been.

Now, however, the time has come for him to move on. The good news is that, having been inculcated into the fabric of Montana, he intends to stay in the state. Whatever the future may hold for Brad, I know I join many thousands of other Montanans in gratefully thanking him for a job well done, for giving us an alternative to the nightly news, and for keeping the light of the independent press burning brightly through many of our darkest nights.

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.
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