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Stench of Legislative Dysfunction Drives Reporter Away from Pierre

It’s hard to get reporters to cover the South Dakota Legislature and state government in general. The geographic isolation of Pierre, where the Legislature meets in the dead of winter, and laws that favor secrecy deter rigorous journalistic scrutiny and protect the insular (some might say incestuous) Capitol culture of corruption. The Executive Branch’s newfound hatred of local journalism isn’t helping. The lack of coverage of Legislative affairs is getting so bad that South Dakota newspapers are having to rely on charity to keep eyes on the Capitol.

Covering the Legislature is also like working in the sewer, and reporter Dana Hess just can’t take the stink any more:

I just couldn’t take the crazy any longer. I couldn’t take the effort wasted on legislation that’s designed to bully and hurt. I couldn’t muster the vigor it takes to write objectively about resolutions that are good for nothing more than political posturing.

…In journalism circles in South Dakota, we often bemoan the fact that there are fewer and fewer reporters writing about the Legislature. Now there’s one less and I feel bad about that. But not bad enough to force myself back into the press box and try to write objectively about legislation and resolutions that I know are by turns silly, symbolic, wrong-headed and cruel [Dana Hess, “Confessions of a Former Legislative Reporter,” Rapid City Journal, 2021.12.31].

When things are objectively bad—when legislation is proposed to force one woman’s religion on public school students, to bully children, and to whitewash the teaching of history—an objective journalist can and should report that those things are bad. Journalists like Dana Hess should not be shackled into some pretense that they are completely neutral and live outside the community that will be affected by bad laws. That pretense doesn’t stop Kristi Noem and the Republican Party from attacking the media for reporting facts.  Instead of being cowed by an implacable and power-hungry Pierre elite, journalists should embrace their calling as advocates for basic human rights and a healthy, inclusive community.

When Pierre stinks like a sewer, reporters have no obligation to seek out parties who will tell us the Pierre elite are pooping daisies. We need newspapers and other reporting outlets to liberate their reporters to tell us, “This stinks, and here are the stinkers.” The opportunity to tell the truth, the whole truth, might make it easier to keep good reporters on the Pierre beat.


  1. larry kurtz 2022-01-03

    We all know this. Pierre was made the capital to be a media desert by design.

    From 2016.

    Bill Janklow’s idea of public broadcasting can’t cover Pierre effectively because its funding is reliant on the South Dakota Republican Party, the Associated Press can’t do it because they’ve been neutered so has the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. South Dakota’s teevee stations are bound to Republican advertisers and nobody reads college publications. There is an exodus of journalists leaving the profession for public relations jobs as the media lurch to drive the message to the extreme right.

  2. Nix 2022-01-03

    That’s not fresh stink.
    The smell lingers from Bill Janklow.
    The GOP in Pierre are just the leftover turds in Bills toilet.
    If I could just…..reach…the handle.

  3. grudznick 2022-01-03

    Pretty funny and ironic, enit?
    Usually it’s the stench of “reporting” that drives people away from serving in government.

  4. 96Tears 2022-01-03

    Actually, I long for the days of Bill Janklow as Governor because, despite his own brand of hubris and shrewdness, Janklow knew how to govern. With a few exceptions in Pierre (i.e., Lee Schoenbeck), nobody knows how to govern. They don’t care to try or learn. The worst are Noem, Ravnsborg and Gosch. The sense of entitlement is all that drives their ambitions. Doubling down on stupidity and cruelty to ape and one-up their heroes in D.C. (Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz) seems to guide their actions and statements.
    No wonder why a guy close to retiring like Dana Hess, never known to make waves as a reporter, can’t find a professional reason to continue drafting news from rampant, systemic idiocy. For the life of me, I don’t know why a journeyman reporter like Bob Mercer cares to subject himself to the upside down world in the State Capitol, except for the fact that his scope of reporting includes the state agency offices, commissions and boards.

    Having imbeciles in the legislature is not new. There are also a lot of talented, dedicated folks who work in those state government offices (remember that Hughes County did not vote for Noem). Perhaps blame for the outrage rests with voters who have expectations of their state government, but send fools (like Novstrup) election after election to waste time and space that could have been occupied by people who want to govern and make their state government work for the people.

    If that cesspool stinks, it will take more than slapping the faces of oafs who have no capacity to understand public service. Nothing will change until that other political party gets off of life support and offers 105 choices beyond the rotten choices offered by the SDGOP.

  5. Donald Pay 2022-01-03

    96Tears is right, mostly. Certainly the Legislature is a sick institution, and has often had it’s share of imbeciles. I watched the Legislatures of the early 70’s and then the 80’s and 90’s. The best Legislatures were when the parties were evenly split; the worst were when the Republicans held near total power. And state workers are generally smart folks. Yeah, sometimes they don’t get things right, but mostly they do a good job.

    Janklow was a complex character, but I didn’t find him particularly competent in governance in the areas I followed. I thought his hubris crippled his shrewdness. He had some good ideas and some bad ideas. His bullying sunk him to Noem’s level, in my opinion.

  6. jerry 2022-01-03

    96 Tears, that was brilliant and spot on. Yes, until 105 actual choices are offered, there will be no government in Pierre.

  7. WillyNilly 2022-01-03

    Republicans have increasingly shut out independent press in favor of conservative media. I think it must be very difficult to interview someone who expects a reporter to skew words and events in their favor. The public doesn’t want it and it only makes the reporter look bad. As far as local reporting goes, I tend to still read and watch what is available but the real news comes from blog sources. Not that I accept everything but it is often a starting point to try to learn more.

  8. grudznick 2022-01-03

    Reporters all skew words to drum up drama. Just look at that KELO woman. All laundry is dirty to her.

  9. larry kurtz 2022-01-03

    We all know Pierre is a media desert by design.

    There is an exodus of journalists leaving the profession for public relations jobs as the media lurch to drive the message to the extreme right. Bill Janklow’s idea of public broadcasting can’t cover Pierre effectively because its funding is reliant on the South Dakota Republican Party, the Associated Press can’t do it because they’ve been neutered so has the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

    South Dakota’s teevee stations are bound to Republican advertisers and nobody reads college publications. I quit following the South Dakota Newspaper Association on twitter because its feed reads like a bulletin from the South Dakota Republican Party. The Pierre Capital Journal is a joke so are the radio stations based in the capital city. Reservation border towns like Pierre have always been influenced by the Klan, John Birch Society, the TEA movement and now by the extreme white wing of the Republican Party.

    In 2015 the Center for Public Integrity gave the state an ‘F’ for its culture of corruption and it just keeps getting worse.

  10. Jake 2022-01-03

    Plain Truth=people tend over time to get the government they deserve….. In SD, decades of Republicans holding the reins of power have made the horse of state circle the drain more and more rapidly and we are sinking faster and faster…..

  11. David Newquist 2022-01-03

    At the time when personal computers moved into people’s homes, a group of journalists, academics, and other professionals in this northern tier of states created a bulletin service called the Northwest Data Base. It featured a journalism review which assessed the news media, how, and what it covered. In one of its discussions, it was concluded that South Dakota won the distinction of having the weakest press corps in the region.

    Some reporters had bandied about a rumor that the governor at the time had a paramour parked in an RV a handy distance from the governor’s residence in Pierre. There was much prattle exchanged, but little substantive, verified information. At the same time, rumors about a former McGovern aide-become-Senator, Gary Hart, were floating around Washington, D.C., about his womanizing, and Hart denied them, challenging the press to stake him out if they were so inclined. Journalists from the Miami Herald were so inclined. They set up surveillance on him, did a search for other evidence, and caught him red-handed and scarlet-faced. Although he had aspired to run for president, his political career went down the tube at that point.

    The reporters from Pierre were chastised for not taking that kind of initiative to either prove or disprove the rumor that teased them so much. Their reply was that even if they got such evidence, their employers would not publish or broadcast it. The media within the state would do nothing to blemish the pristine, god-endorsed image that the people have of themselves. Those journalists left the state for the most part or resigned themselves to processing press releases.

    That’s how things work in Pierre and explains why South Dakota competes with the banana republics for having a dysfunctional democracy.

  12. Arlo Blundt 2022-01-03

    Well….seems to be unanimous. The Legislature and Executive Branch have fallen into the Chasm of Mendacity …they cannot be retrieved.

  13. Mark Anderson 2022-01-03

    Oh come on grudz your service would be second helpings of selve service.

  14. grudznick 2022-01-03

    Mr. Newquist, why did you not simply go knock on the door of this recreational vehicle and snap a couple of polaroids and then write about it on your fancy new personal computers and then post the handbills on the bulletin boards around the town, on cork, and on the bulletin boards on the BBS which was rampant at the time, and filled with libbie trolls? Why did you not knock, and post, sir?

  15. Bob Newland 2022-01-03

    It is sad that Dana Hess’s plaint will go largely unheeded. Those who care are already shunted to the inconsequential stack. Among us inconsequentials—we who understand Dana’s documentations—we have already suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes; we empathize to little avail. Our reward is to endure either no notice or the nothingness of things like grudznutz, whose pale satire is worse than physical torture.

  16. Bob Newland 2022-01-03

    As for grudznutz and his criticism of David Newquist, mr grudznutz seems to have been privy to, and have partaken in, the goat suckings. Its persistent semi-knowledgeable observances amount to a confession of accessory to crime.

  17. Porter Lansing 2022-01-03

    I’ll answer that, grudnix
    Highway Patrol guards.

  18. grudznick 2022-01-03

    Oh, yeah, Mr. Lansing. I didn’t think about that. This governor fellow Mr. Newquist hearsays about would post a few red flashing cherries around this beater Winnebago parked down by the river, because that would be less obvious than just putting the young lady up in a nice townhouse.

    You and Mr. Newquist sure have a dandy fancy entertaining story there.

    Stamp it “grudznick approved.”

  19. Curt 2022-01-04

    I add this unrelated tidbit to this thread … that dastardly AP reporter Stephen Groves has written that Scott Amundson has resigned his State Govt Office. Who is he? He’s the successor to Sherry Bren – former Director of the Appraiser Certification program.

  20. mike from iowa 2022-01-04

    Cory is keeping an eye on that situation, Curt.

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