One of the many mysteries that seems to pervade the state political landscape is the existence of MTCowgirl, a shrill anonymous blog run by state employees who’ve been involved and working in Helena for at least the last decade or more. Many people have tried to figure out this mysterious person behind the persona who seems to have a nasty habit of leaking politically expedient information and call everyone they don’t agree with names. Many prominent Democrats have used the anonymous forum to spout talking points about their political opponents, never once pausing to wonder why they seem to need to use anonymous attack blogs to spout their opinions about anonymous speech in politics.
[Editor’s note: a quick list of known or likely Cowgirl writers appears at the bottom of this post]
I’ve never been particularly enamored with the blog, since I’ve often found the writing to be riddled more with hyperbole and personal shots than real substance. If you actually research the history of claims made, many of them have turned out to be patently wrong and based on nothing more than speculation and a need to fuel political fires in the state and direct the conversations of their leftist base and the media to their chosen narrative. (Cowgirl told me Steve Daines wasn’t even going to run for Senate because things were so bad for him!)
However, one recent article on Salon did spark my interest. More on that in a moment.
If you had to guess the characteristics of the person who’s running Cowgirl, what are some traits you’d list?
Does this seem like an avatar that any self-respecting feminist or woman in general would choose for themselves? It meets almost every caricature of a woman that most modern feminists hate. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Pink earrings/hat/belt. Huge boobs. Unrealistically tiny waist with midriff showing. This is basically Adolf Hitler’s wet dream of a woman, and yet for some reason we’re supposed to believe that a woman decided this was to be her vision of herself to the world. No, this caricature could have only come from the mind of a man.
Almost certainly government employee, at least since Brian Schweitzer was governor.
In one of the only pursuits of Cowgirl, it was found that they were accessing state computer systems through an open network with an IP address linked back to the Department of Administration. An article in Politico and carried widely at the time even quotes Brian Schweitzer’s “senior counselor” Eric Stern as denying any knowledge of the blogger. The time period in question also corresponds almost exactly with the time Governor Schweitzer was elected and sworn into office, along with his trusted advisor. In addition, having access to the Capitol gives Cowgirl a paid gig to go back and do oppo research on political opponents through access to government documents from before 2004.
Fierce loyalty to Brian Schweitzer
One thing that also came out of the debacle involving the exposure of the pseudonym using taxpayer resources was also the mystery of how documents sensitive to political opponents of Schweitzer suddenly started appearing in public. The Associated Press at the time indicated Mr. Stern had committed several ethics violations in related to documents in a COPP complaint against Governor Schweitzer, and other media outlets at the time noted that Stern wasn’t even licensed to practice law in the state when all the complaints against the governor were being investigated. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle characterizes MTCowgirl’s fierce pattern of defending Schweitzer and using the site to attack his critics thusly:
“It’s not the first time the anonymous Montana Cowgirl — an ardent backer of Gov. Brian Schweitzer — has raised suspicion. The blogger has refused to reveal his or her identity.
Past posts by the blogger have even released on the Internet potentially incriminating Department of Labor enforcement documents sent to one of Schweitzer’s political critics — even before one of those letters was received by the businessman being investigated. The Labor Department said those documents were never released to a member of the news media or public.
The blogger also has arduously defended the governor, and lampooned even those fellow Democrats whom Schweitzer has been at odds with — such as senior U.S. Sen. Max Baucus.
Eric Stern, senior counselor to the governor, said the governor’s office knows nothing about the identity of a blogger who was promised anonymity by his or her former hosts at the liberal Left In The West blog.”
I have no clue when they first met, but Schweitzer and Stern have a lot in common and work well together, from a political standpoint. Both share interests in environmental matters ranging from coal in Montana to preserving the outdoors. When Schweitzer was finally term-limited out, Stern ended up as the Deputy Secretary of State under Linda McCullouch, along with Schweitzer’s daughter, Katrina. Both are still listed as employees on the Secretary of State’s office directory. One would have to argue pretty hard to imagine they were both given these positions exclusively because of their qualifications, and not because of any political connections they both have to the elder Schweitzer. But then again, what would happen if you just appointed people as favors and not based upon qualification, right? It’s not like basing hiring decisions on favoritism would do anything drastic, like cause the entire Secretary of State’s website to crash on Election Night, right? Oh…
For a bit of history, Stern also plays prominently in several Schweitzer blowups we’ve seen in the past few years. Let’s explore that to better understand the relationship and where Stern/Cowgirl fits in.
Brian Schweitzer calls out Mitt Romney’s “polygamous” past
Because it’s one thing you can always count on with Schweitzer, a lack of class, in 2012 Brian Schweitzer was quoted by a reporter saying he thinks that Romney’s Mormon faith, and in particular, his father’s links to a polygamous Mormon commune in Mexico could hurt his presidential chances. Schweitzer was doing his part by making an assertion and innuendo to get into the media consciousness. Once it blew up in the national media that Schweitzer was again running his mouth off again to smear a political opponent, Stern et. al had to do some damage control.
It’s worth noting here that Cowgirl runs a post on the exact same day that the Daily Beast runs the story of Schweitzer’s quotes.
Let me take a line from that post:
“Schweitzer also made a somewhat unusual point: that Romney, who has degraded and insulted hispanics during his Republican primary, will be unable to discuss his personal Mexican heritage as a way of making himself more palatable to Latino voters.”
Note, at this point, the media was only covering what Schweitzer had said about his father’s background on a polygamous commune. They got what they wanted. An outrageous claim, via Schweitzer. It was Cowgirl who on the very same day was reminding people that the reason point here was not the polygamous commune, but Romney’s struggle to sell himself to Hispanic voters because of his earlier offensive immigration positions. The very next day, when the media wanted “clarification,” did Stern suddenly start sending out press releases to let everyone know that they got it all wrong, what he really meant was what was posted on the anonymous blog the day before you media dummies! Romney’s immigration stances were what was so bad, not the polygamy!
It’s interesting to note one thing, and that is the change in Stern’s response to various media outlets, of which Politico took notice. Here’s the initial statement that was given to The Daily Beast, the same outlet that originally ran Schweitzer’s comments:
“The governor believes exactly what he said: that Romney is in a pickle. He’s in serious trouble with Hispanics because he took a crazy, extreme position on immigration during the primary (deport even those who may have come here illegally 50 years ago who have children and grandchildren who are naturalized citizens)…Romney will probably not choose to highlight his own family’s connection to Mexico as a way of reaching out to Hispanics, because that history involves a polygamy colony, which is something that Romney doesn’t like to discuss.”
However, someone realizes this might be a tad harsh of a statement to make on a national stage, so it changes to:
“The governor meant what he said, precisely. It has nothing to do with Mr. Romney’s faith or the Mormon church, both of which the governor knows reject polygamy,” Schweitzer adviser Eric Stern said in a statement to POLITICO. “Rather, Mr. Schweitzer was describing a strategic problem that Romney faces, politically speaking: that Romney is in serious trouble with Hispanic voters because [he] took an ultra right-wing position on immigration during the primary; that to reach out to Hispanic voters Romney would probably like to be able to discuss the fact that his father was born in Mexico; but, that this is awkward for Romney to discuss, because it requires discussing, as well, the fact that his father was born into a polygamy colony.”
For the record, here’s what The Daily Beast actually reported Schweitzer saying the same day Cowgirl was praising his “unusual point” which is never actually in the article:
While discussing swing states, Schweitzer said Romney would have a “tall order to position Hispanics to vote for him,” and I replied that was mildly ironic since Mitt’s father was born in Mexico, giving the clan a nominal claim to being Hispanic. Schweitzer replied that it is “kinda ironic given that his family came from a polygamy commune in Mexico, but then he’d have to talk about his family coming from a polygamy commune in Mexico, given the gender discrepancy.” Women, he said, are “not great fans of polygamy, 86 percent were not great fans of polygamy. I am not alleging by any stretch that Romney is a polygamist and approves of [the] polygamy lifestyle, but his father was born into [a] polygamy commune in Mexico.”
So Stern twice puts out statements saying that Schweitzer both “believes exactly what he said,” and “meant what he said, precisely.” However, if you read the above paragraph, he never was quoted as saying that at all. The only place that point existed until Eric Stern and Brian Schweitzer started doing damage control was on an anonymous blog linking to the original Daily Beast piece.
So let’s establish a timeline.
April 19th, 2012:
~Schweitzer tells Ben Jacobs of the Daily Beast Romney will have a tall order ahead of him, and gives 3 more quotes about the polygamous commune. Not one mention anywhere of Romney’s immigration stance.
~That same day MTCowgirl publishes an article the same day, and claims Schweitzer highlighted an unusual point about Romney’s immigration stance being unpalatable to voters, although if you read the article Cowgirl actually links to, this point isn’t made anywhere. From the headline to the lede to the long quotes from Schweitzer, there is only one mention of him doing poorly with Hispanics, and that is in the context of the polygamy issue. Romney’s stances during the primary coming back to haunt him don’t appear in the article anywhere at this point, only on the Cowgirl blog.
April 20th, 2012:
~National media wants clarification, so “special counselor” to Governor Schweitzer Eric Stern sends out strongly worded press releases telling the media they totally missed the point! It was all about the immigration stances, not the commune! I mean, the commune was icing, but it was the immigration stances, dummies! Official stance of governor Schweitzer then changes and softens several times, depending on which outlet contacts Stern.
This is all documented. One would have to think pretty hard to find some sort of explanation in which Cowgirl posts a link to the Daily Beast article summarizing it with talking points on immigration stances that aren’t in the story, then Stern comes out the next day and corrects all relevant media to the original talking points posted anonymously the day before. I find it hard to believe this is all just some coincidence, considering the timeline.
Side note on Schweitzer/Stern forming relationships with “news” entities
One thing I’d like to note is the relationship between Stern/Schweitzer/Cowgirl et al and particular “news” outlets. It’s pretty widely known among the Montana press corps that while Schweitzer was in office they loved to pick and choose which journalists got the scoops and phone calls back from the Governor. When Schweitzer originally gave the interview in which he called out Romney for his “polygamous” past, it was Daily Beast who got the scoop. When it came time to calm the media firestorm the first outlet to get the first draft of Stern’s redirection about Romney’s primary problems was the same media outlet, The Daily Beast.
Then, when a reporter wanted a free trip to Montana to follow Brian around his property doing manly things and calling gay men gay and women whores, it was National Journal who got the scoop. Now it’s 2015 and when Schweitzer/Bullock/Stern/MTCowgirl and company need a vaguely reputable sounding “news” agency to report their oppo research, guess where it comes from? For example, on April 10th MTCowgirl links to a public document Gianforte submitted to the Bozeman City Commission opposing the NDO on issues of religious freedom proclaiming it’s really a secret Crusade on Hallowen. On April 13th guess who does a speculative profile of Gianforte citing the exact same email? If you guessed National Journal, give yourself a bell!
Brian Schweitzer stays in the media with Senate/Presidential Speculation
Between leaving office in 2013 and his National Journal article in June of 2014, Schweitzer did not stay silent. In spring of 2013 when Sen. Max Baucus retired, almost all the press turned to Schweitzer and waited like salivating wolves for Schweitzer’s announcement to run for Baucus’ seat. In some ways, it’s feasible to imagine that Schweitzer helped force Baucus out. As early as June 2011 Cowgirl was putting out meat for the base showing Schweitzer beating Baucus by 20 points in a primary matchup. Cowgirl continued hammering Baucus in the twilight of Schweitzer’s term for his pocketing of evil Koch dollars. A month after Schweitzer vacates the governor’s mansion he’s still putting up polling for the base showing Baucus going down in a primary and speculates,
“my take has always been that such a matchup will never occur. Baucus will either run uncontested with Schweitzer moving on to another career; or, if Schweitzer does decide to jump in, Baucus will jump out. A third scenario is that Baucus jumps out even without Schweitzer running, to take a job as a judge or ambassador.”
Despite campaigns to ‘Draft Brian Schweitzer’ for the US Senate, (hey Montana liberals, ever wonder where all that money you donated for Brian’s Senate campaign ended up?) and most belief among Democrats and the media that he would get in, Schweitzer bowed out literally hours before he was set to announce a run for Baucus’ seat. While only some will know the exact reason Schweitzer ended up choosing not to run, he and Stern essentially had two choices. The last time Brian had run for a Senate seat against Burns in 2000, he had lost. Now he was anticipating running in a off-year election, already tough for Democrats, and he was going up against a National Media and Republican Opposition Research team that was going to be much harder on him than the state media had ever been. And he still had the presidency in 2016 to run for!
(As an aside, I don’t know why any Democrats would still support Stern/Schweitzer at this point. He’d already had spats with Tester, the man who took the Senate seat away from Burns he couldn’t quite wrestle in 2000, and now he basically forced out a strong incumbent who was a fundraising powerhouse for the state political machine so he could…back out at the last minute and leave the party with no bench, no strong candidates and no more Baucus DC Rolodex to help divert money back to Montana Democrats. If you want to know why John Walsh’s name eventually got scratched off a plaque at the Army war college and trace it back far enough, you can easily blame Schweitzer. If you want to know why the state just hired a woman who lived in DC 11 of the past 13 years, that DC Rolodex void left by Baucus is a good start.)
Schweitzer bows out of Senate race, kills Presidential dreams with foot-in-mouth disease
So Schweitzer chose the latter. He set up a TV studio to be a television pundit in the meantime and raise his national profile. He said folksy things to everyone who would listen, and generally put himself in a position that one might want to be in for a Democratic primary. While some in the base would question his positions on things like the 2nd Amendment, coal etc. he also started publicly attacking Obama and Clinton as corporatists and in bed with Wall Street. Let me say here that in this regard, Schweitzer was right. For one, the base is way more in love with people like Elizabeth Warren than Hillary, and we’ll see the desire of the Democratic base to not be handed again yet another “palatable” candidate by their overlords play out over the next 6-9 months. Second, the first primaries are not in ultra-liberal states. Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are not liberal like California, New York and Illinois are liberal. Republicans can still win in those states and have huge rural populations, so a Democrat like Brian Schweitzer probably has a better chance in those early states than some might want to give him.
And what was Brian supposed to think? He was getting plenty of great press, more TV time etc. by filling in the populist, anti-Hillary narrative the media loved. Time did a profile of Brian in which he laid out his qualifications and made some comments about the corporate nature of people like Hillary and Obama. But then came National Journal piece, and it was just a bit too much for the base. In the profile Schweitzer said he had his “gaydar” pinged by Eric Cantor and that southern men tended to be effeminate. He also referred to Sen. Dianne Feinstein as a sex worker for her hypocrisy on NSA spying. His comments later became reprinted as calling Feinstein a whore, and he was forced to “deeply apologize” for the insensitive remarks.
‘Feminist’ blog Cowgirl/Schweitzer surrogate defends calling Actual Feminist Icon a “Whore”
One thing that stands out is MTCowgirl’s take on the situation a few days later. Let me quote provide a few quotes. “Not Schweitzer’s finest moment and comments that must here, on a feminist blog, be condemned.” “I do suppose calling a politician a whore is a unisex thing too:” What self-described feminist liberal female would ever defend calling Sen. Feinstein a whore?!? These are the same politicians who went to the New York Times proclaiming a dress code asking for sensitivity to cleavage and skirt length was Republicans declaring a War on Women and wanting to drag women back to the 1950s and Mad Men days!
This wholly affirms my belief that the chief author of the blog is a MALE Stern, and not at all female. Much in the same way no self-respecting feminist, liberal female would choose a blonde-haired, blue eyes, large breasted, small-waisted, mid-riffed avatar for themselves, no self-respecting liberal feminist would do anything but wholly denounce characterizing feminist icon Diane Feinstein as a sex worker. For reference, Dianne Feinstein is held up as a saint of 2nd wave feminism since she courageously stood in front of live television cameras and announced to the world the death of gay rights icon Harvey Milk. No one who describes themselves as a feminist female would ever try to defend Schweitzer’s words here. No, this spin can only come from the Schweitzer camp itself, and the man who until a few days prior was helping steer the gravy train to Iowa and might have still held out hope for a presidential run and was doing damage control.
Eric Stern as author and media commentator
Deputy Secretary of State Stern has quite a prolific online life aside from managing and writing Cowgirl, just ask himself through his Wikipedia profile. (According to the Wikipedia page edits, while some edits have come from California and long-deleted Wikipedia user profiles, the traceable IP addresses that do the largest amount of editing oddly enough go to Helena, Montana.) On his Facebook page, he regularly promotes his gigs at Salon.com, MSNBC… oh I’ll just let him tell it himself via his Wikipedia. “He has also written as a guest columnist for the New York Timesand Salon Magazine and has been a political commentator on MSNBC, CNN, the Larry King show Larry King Show and Bloomberg TV andRadio.He is a former Clinton Administration aide and a graduate of Columbia Law School and Connecticut College. He led Mexico’s 2003–04 effort to acquire a Major League Baseball franchise. Stern’s father is David Stern, former Commissioner of the National Basketball Association.”
Unfortunately as Cowgirl found out in 2010, having a prolific online life can sometimes come back to haunt you. Writing style, subjects and “facts” that you often include actually can be very helpful in acting like an online fingerprint. Mr. Stern as both personas has a handful of things that he writes about regularly in many forums. These include his Jewish heritage, his hatred of the Koch Bros and Americans for Prosperity, and debunking Sean Hannity and evil right wingers.
Commonalities between Stern and Cowgirl
Before I go into specifics, I want to comment on some things both Cowgirl and Stern have in common. One is a tendency to act very vitriolically and condescendingly in their writings. Both are filled with name-calling including the same jibes at “wingnuts,” “nutjobs,” “imbeciles,” “idiots” etc. Tea partiers are particularly evil to both, being often called stupid and racist no matter which persona or outlet Stern chooses to pen for. Second, an obsession with the Koch brothers and Americans for Prosperity. I don’t even think this one needs explaining. He’s even gotten to help Schweitzer write columns for state newspaper accusing them of hypocrisy.
Stern’s Salon pieces display many similarities and obscure references only shared by Cowgirl
On Tuesday, April 21st Stern penned another column for Salon entitled, “Kochs Defeated in Montana: 6 lessons the country can learn from this rural Western State.” The article includes the normal Stern/Cowgirl anti-AFP/Koch hate, but one tidbit struck out at me, this line:
“Next they brought in a man who was once part of a religious cult whose members all descended into a bunker on March 15, 1990, believing that the world would end that very day.”
Huh? Who in their right mind would ever know so much about another person as to know that they belonged to a cult that descended into a bunker in 1990 thinking the world would end? I’m so glad you asked.
I didn’t know what that statement meant. It was so niche, so obscure, so inside, that you really would have to know what Stern is talking about to understand the reference. It took some Googling, but I finally found this Syracuse University Political Science Dissertation that gave me the reference. It refers to the Church Universal and Triumphant, a quasi-religious group near Gardiner whom apparently former AFP director Henry Kriegel used to be a member of.
If you Google search Henry Kriegel and various combinations of “CUT/Church Universal” etc., very little comes up. One is an original article in the LA Times, which is where I assumed Stern found the information originally. There is also one other small mention in an MHRN newsletter from 2011, a little after a year after Cowgirl first reported the mention. However, aside from Stern pulling up this tucked away fun fact last week for his Salon piece, there are almost no other mentions of this fact, aside from Cowgirl’s website. And it’s not as if Cowgirl just casually mentioned it once. “Henry Kriegel” is one of the tags that comes up so often that there is a 2nd page of articles with the tag. Cowgirl includes the Kriegel/Cut tie over,and over, and over, and over, and over, and over.
If it’s one thing that Democrats and liberals hate, it’s minorities who identify as conservative. Democrats routinely lecture everyone on how they and their policies are the only ones who really care about women/blacks/Hispanics/gays/Jews etc. Which explains why a liberal New Jersey transplanted Jew who’s wrote in the New York Times about the Jewish experience in Montana might seem a bit… obsessed with a conservative New York transplanted Jew who works for Republicans and headed an organization he LOATHES and spends significant portions of his time under both monikers attacking. Once you realize that Stern is no longer just attacking evil, stupid Tea party Republicans, but another man of his faith, who also chose Montana as his home, who is also a Koch puppet evil, stupid Tea party Republican, then you can understand why the tag “Henry Kriegel” is one of the only topics on MTCowgirl that has been written about so much it requires multiple pages of search results for the tag.
Similarities in writing
Now, I want to get into some more actual substance that I believe prove Stern is the primary author and mastermind of the Cowgirl blog. I suppose if you were trying the case, it would be very easy to just say it’s entirely coincidence that anti-Koch pieces suddenly show up in Montana newspapers by Schweitzer, show up on Cowgirl and then also show up in Stern’s pieces in Salon.
One thing that has emerged in the last several years in more and more use is the assistance of computer technology to analyze writing samples. While primarily used in academia to prevent plagiarism and fraud among students (ask John Walsh), they can also be used to compare writing styles, sentence structure, use of words and such for authors. In testing my theory I took several samples of Cowgirl’s writing and ran them through programs like University of Texas – Austin’s stylometry software, among others. When I did, among a half dozen samples, every time I was given scores of 80-92% confidence that Cowgirl and Stern’s writing was one in the same. I don’t suppose you have to believe me, but try it out for yourself if you wish.
Stern uses “Nutjob Bill” lists for public and anonymous personas
In addition to the commonality of use of insults, special inside knowledge of Stern press releases before they are released to the public, special attention to other Jews he believes are evil traitors for having different political philosophies etc., Stern’s public pieces and passions match up almost exactly. Let’s compare:
Stern does a piece for Salon in February citing the “10 truly bizarre Tea Party Bills.”
One week later Cowgirl does a “Nutjob Bills in the Montana Legislature” piece.
Let’s compare the bills:
Stern in Salon:
1) Prepare for National Ammunition shortage (SB 122). (same as Cowgirl)
2) Establish Armed Militias in Every Town (SB 130) (same as Cowgirl)
3) Require that nipples and areolae be fully concealed; prohibit “simulated genitalia” (HB 365) (same as Cowgirl)
4) Montana Legislative Dress Code. (not same)
5) “Encourage Critical Thinking in the Classroom” HB 321 (not same)
6) Allow Concealed Weapons in Bars, Banks, and on Campuses (HB 371, SB 143). (same as Cowgirl)
7) Ban “Foreign or Religious Law” From American Courts (SB 199). (same as Cowgirl)
8) Return All Federal Lands to State Ownership (LC 1758 et al) (same as Cowgirl)
9) Nullify All Federal Gun Laws (HB 203). (same as Cowgirl)
10) Allow Hunting With Silencers (HB 250). (same as Cowgirl)
1. Exempt political ads by churches from campaign finance laws by classifying them as news reports. LC 1942 by David Howard (R-TEA Park City)
2. Require federalism training for state employees. LC 1760 by Jennifer Fielder (TEA-Noxon)
3. Create a state militia and outfit them with uniforms. SB 130 by Roger Webb (R-TEA Billings)
4. Ban Sharia law from Montana courts. SB 199 by Janna Taylor (R-TEA Datyon)
5. Force the secession of all federal public lands within MT borders from the United States government. SB 274 by Jennifer Fielder (TEA-Noxon)
6. Prohibit the state Board of Education from establishing math and reading standards. HB 376by Debra Lamm (TEA-Livingston) and rescind any math and reading standards the state may already have established. HB 377 by same.
7. Prohibiting the use of technology for controlling human activity and outlaw the indoctrination of children for global citizenship. HB 583 by Randall Pinocci (TEA-Sun River)
8. Eliminate the ability of law enforcement to use animal shelter staff to assist in the rescue and sheltering of animals in cases of alleged animal cruelty and abuse, because animal shelter staff are probably terrorists. HB 179 by Theresa Manzella (TEA-Ravalli County)
9. Allow hunting with silencers. HB 250 by Kirk Wagoner (R-TEA Jackson Creek)
10. Allow hunting of mountain lions and wolves with silencers. HB 450 by Kirk Wagoner (R-TEA Jackson Creek)
11. Legalize even more hunting with silencers SB 295. by Mark Blasdel (R-TEA Kalispell)
12. Legalize guns and rifles in school parking lots. HB 320 by Carl Glimm (R-TEA Ashley Lake)
13. Legalize guns and rifles in office parking lots. HB 505 the official title of which is “establish employee safe travel to work laws”, by Matthew Monforton (TEA-Bozeman)
14. Lift the prohibition on carrying concealed weapons in bars, parks, and schools. HB 371 by Rep. Kerry White (TEA-Bozeman)
15. Legalize guns on college campuses. by Rep. Cary Smith SB 143 (R-TEA Billings)
16. Allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon. HB 298 Bill Harris (R-Winnett)
17. Nullify all federal gun laws. HB 203 by Rep. Art Wittich (R-TEA Bozeman)
18. Encourage the manufacturing of ammunition to prevent a national shortage. HB 122 by Matthew Rosedale (R-TEA Glendive)
19. Allow anyone to refuse to vaccinate their children for any reason. Amendment to HB 158 by Rep. Greg Hertz (R-TEA Polson)
20. Make it illegal to don a costume that would make it appear you might be naked or which includes a prosthetic anus. HB 365 by David “Doc” Moore (R-Missoula)
21. Prohibit the use of drones to spy on hunters or interfere with “post-hunting activities.” HB 278 by Jeff Essmann (R-TEA Billings)
How much cross-over? Out of the 10 mentioned by Stern in Salon, 8 of them are also duplicated on Cowgirl. (Though, to be fair, the Montana Dress Code was never technically a bill.) Obviously someone as intelligent as Stern wouldn’t make the pieces word for word, but the substance here is close to being identical.
“Crazy Bill” lists are actually not a recent feature of Cowgirl. Cowgirl compiled a list for the 2013 session, and the 2011 session.
Stern uses identical Cowgirl “Nutjob Bill” content in Tedx Whitefish talk
Here’s where it gets very interesting and Stern may have failed to properly cover his tracks. In addition to all the fame Mr. Stern has seen through his columns at Salon, New York Times yadda yadda yadda, he applied and was accepted to give aTedx talk in Whitefish in 2014. The subject of the talk was “Montana and America’s Energy Future.” Here he is on stage giving his talk:
While most of the presentation is smart information on coal and renewable energy sources, one thing stood out to me, a slide about bills in the Montana legislature, pictured behind him. Why is this even in a “non-partisan” presentation about energy? Stern can’t help himself except to wink and nod to the audience the “crazy” bills all come from one party (not his).
Let’s see the slide behind him a bit better.
There’s something fishy here. If you compare the bills listed in the slides where Stern acknowledges he’s not supposed to be political in a Ted talk, but does so anywhere, they look very familiar, almost identical in some cases. Look back at his recap of the 2011 session.
Here’s the same graphic, with the bills almost in the same order, much of the text copied WORD for WORD from the Cowgirl post to Stern’s. Text that matches the Cowgirl list is circled in red.
Here’s the original post from Cowgirl showing the first 5 entries matching word for word:
Notice how almost everything from the wording, the spacing, the hypens, the Capitalization, the order of the crazy bills etc match. Interestingly enough, of the 3 “Crazy Bills” that don’t match the Cowgirl post, at least one is mentioned in the comments of the same “Nutjob Bills” post by Cowgirl.
Stern signs Tedx legal release form claiming authorship over material identical to Cowgirl post
Well… Stern just loves his alter-ego so much he probably just copy and pasted the list, you say! No. You can’t say that. Eric Stern is a graduate of Columbia University law school. His own self-written Wikipedia page touts him as the personal legal advisor to Schweitzer.
Tedx is a pretty widespread thing now and several have been hosted in Montana. One requirement of all Tedx speakers no matter where the conference is held is the signing of a release form that is standard for all speakers. Here’s part of that release form:
“You affirm that: (i) you have the full power and authority to grant the rights and releases set forth in this Release; (ii) you are the sole author of the Presentation;”
Yes, that’s correct. Eric Stern, Columbia law school graduate (although, maybe not an actual lawyer in Montana?) and senior advisor to Schweitzer signed a public document stating every word and slide that of Tedx speech is his own original work. Not copy and pasted from a blog, but his own original work, which just happens to match word for word anonymous Cowgirl blog. Even the language wasn’t changed that much. In going from Cowgirl to Tedx he just changed the title from “Nutjob Bills” to “Crazy Bills,” although the deragatory language standard with all Cowgirl/Stern writing still remains intact.
There is one more part to that release:
“If any third party claims that the use of the Presentation violates its rights, you agree to cooperate fully with TEDx__ and TED to defend against or otherwise respond to such claim.”
You want to guess when Cowgirl is going to come forth and claim copyrights on his own work being plagiarized by Stern? Don’t hold your breath too long…
I also wonder about the reputation of Tedx. Tedx is like a cultural wet dream for liberals. What would the international organization think of one of their presenters besmearching their goood name? Would the larger Tedx organization need to do a full investigation to see why Mr. Stern’s content matches exactly an anonymous attack blog run from Helena with taxpayer dollars? One would hope they would be just as eager to investigate this discrepancy as those in politics.
Let’s recap the connections, shall we?
1) Cowgirl is written by a “female” writer who has no trouble using one of the most stereotypical sexist avatars in existence and is also a liberal feminist who defends Schweitzer’s use of whore in describing a feminist icon. As a side note, I also don’t think that Cowgirl is gay. Gay rights organizers in the state have previously called out Cowgirl for homophobic posts attacking Republicans’ masculinity. Additionally, Cowgirl has attacked Baucus for his Koch connections, but hasn’t attacked Baucus for his anti-gay ads in the 2002 Senate race, even praising the homophobic attacks against Mike Taylor because he is married to Republican legislator Janna Taylor. People who identify as women or gay (or even liberal) generally don’t generally show such callous disregard for flippant instances of attacks on minorities, especially if they actually identify with that group themselves.
2) Stern has long history of government employment under Schweitzer and now McCulloch/Bullock. Has access to numerous government documents to do research on political opponents on taxpayer dime.
3) With such a small state there are really only a handful of people with as extensive and in-depth knowledge of the Montana political landscape. Stern has a legal background, and serves as Deputy Secretary of State. Cowgirl accuses “tea partiers” of breaking very specific Election Laws very few people outside of lawyers and SoS staff would even be familiar with, much less know the ins and outs, histories etc. of such a broad range of political figures in the state. Very few people would also have the means to immediately research such topics without working in Helena.
4) Stern has history of going after political opponents and improperly contacting judges in COPP complaints regarding Schweitzer’s activities.
5) MTCowgirl and Eric Stern both write extensively about the same subjects. ie AFP, Koch Brothers.
6) Stern article from April 21st contains obscure reference written about almost no where else, but documented thoroughly and repeatedly on MTCowgirl site. Similar upbringings on the East Coast, Jewish heritage, political interest etc. further solidify links between Kriegel/Cowgirl/Stern. (Next time you see Cowgirl qualifying every mention of Greg Gianforte as a “right wing billionaire transplant from New Jersey,” remember that Stern also grew up in New Jersey)
7) The same day Schweitzer’s article about Romney’s polygamy appears in National Journal, Cowgirl writes a post praising Schweitzer for an “unusual point” about Romney’s immigration position in the primary being off-putting to Hispanic voters. This “unusual point” doesn’t actually appear in the article, but does appear the next day when Stern sends off frantic press releases to national media clarifying what Schweitzer really meant.
8) Stern and Cowgirl show more fierce loyalty to Schweitzer in media speculation while Schweitzer is leaving office and stays in the press bashing Baucus until his retirement, during speculation he will run for Senate, buildup of Senate announcement, eventual drop-out, and then from time Schweitzer continues speculation on presidential run until Feinstein comments. Cowgirl tries to defend Schweitzer to base after large outcry over Schweitzer’s comments, and uses blog to help further speculation on Schweitzer’s political plans and get opponents out of the way.
9) Cowgirl is almost outed when in 2010 his IP address is able to be traced to the Department of State Administration in Helena. Eric Sterns goes on record saying the governor’s office doesn’t know the identity of the blogger, but confirmation is had that state systems are being used for the blog. Many state employees also now bring personal laptops to work to avoid their activity being traced through FOIA requests or IP traces.
10) Stern has written publicly attacking the same issues and people in Salon and other outlets. Stylometry analysis of various pieces put 80-90% confidence in the authors being the same. Consistent use of same attacks on people, organizations and totally obscure facts also puts same fingerprint on the “two” writers.
11) Cowgirl has written 3 periodic “Nutjob Bills” pieces from the 2011, 2013 and 2015 legislative sessions. Pieces from the 2015 session that also mirrored Stern’s public pieces on Salon contain over 80% of the same information from the piece on Cowgirl.
12) Stern gives Tedx Whitefish talk in May 2014 and signs legal release stating all information in his speech and slideshow are by his own exclusive hand. Large portions (80% total) of the list match word for word, space for space, punctuation for punctuation, sequence for sequence, exactly to a 2011 piece by Cowgirl.
13) Interestingly enough, almost everyone I’ve asked about this subject names Eric Stern as the author of Cowgirl, although several authors believe he has help. Art Wittich has even named him on his Twitter as the author. I also find it strange that this “anonymous” author is able to get so many people, including Democratic legislators and officials to write guest pieces for the blog. The more I researched this piece, the less I got that it was a “secret” of any sort that Stern was writing as Cowgirl, and more that it would take an outright admission by Stern for it to matter.
I think the information I’ve compiled is thorough enough that Stern needs to start answering questions about specific instances. Specifically things like 1) Why did Cowgirl have information that was released to the press a day after Schweitzer’s Mitt Romney interview that wasn’t contained in the original interview? and 2) Why would you sign a release to the Tedx organization stating you are the sole author of your presentation when it’s so easily traced back to a 3 year old piece by Cowgirl? 3) How does Stern explain writing obscure information about Kriegel’s past when that information is found no where else, but is referenced often on Cowgirl’s blog? These 3 specific instances go far beyond the plausibility of mere coincidence and show a direct link between Stern and the Cowgirl blog.
What happens now? Well I suppose it depends on a couple of things.
#1 How much will the press do their job?
Conservatives have been rightly angry about the bias displayed by the mainstream media in Montana and how much scrutiny is given to Republican candidates vs. Democrats. But at the same time, this is a juicy story and one that deserves to be investigated. For a political crony of Brian Schweitzer to not only be using state time and resources to run anonymous attacks on his political opponents (of both parties, I might add), but for him to be kept on in McCulloch’s office at the Secretary of State in the same political favoritism job that was also given to Schweitzer’s daughter is most likely criminal. Whether Bullock or McCulloch owed Schweitzer, kept Stern and his daughter on as a favor or thought it was good politically to keep him on the payroll to continue using his taxpayer salary, benefits and pension to go after Republicans is something that needs to be answered. I would love to know how the press would treat a Republican administration if it was allowing state employees to bring personal laptops to work to conduct state business in a way that can’t be traced or subject to FOIA requests. How would the press respond it if were a governor Martz or Hill using state positions and cash to do off the books attacks on political opponents?
#2 How much could this feed into Republican’s narratives of corruption in 2016?
The Schweitzer/Stern machine is done, with the latest foot-in-mouth episode ruining their Disney presidential dreams. But Bullock is still very much alive and kicking in the governor’s mansion, and may face a strong, well-funded opponent if Gianforte or another heavy-weight like Hill or Rehberg get in the race. The GOP was very effective in 2014 in tying charges of cronyism around Bullock’s neck in his appointment of Walsh to Baucus’ Senate seat without any public input. Walsh’s history of being reprimanded for personal gain in his role as Adjudant General and later having to resign his campaign in disgrace when it came to light he plagiarized his master’s thesis at the Army War college give the GOP something any smart political operative is going to run with and tie back to Bullock and his judgment of who he appoints around him. Does Bullock really want to sit by and defend a has-been he appointed as a favor to Schweitzer in hopes it might help him? On balance, I doubt the benefits Stern provides through his government job used to research opposition and post it anonymously on a shrill blog only read by political wonks outweigh the noose that could be hefted upon Bullock’s neck as more incidents of political cronyism come to light and pile on to his public image. With Bullock being a #1 target nationally of groups like the Republican Governor’s Association, they might prefer he keep Stern around so they have more to throw on TV and mail next year. Only time will tell…
In addition to Stern, many believe other people, perhaps as many as a dozen, have at one time been Cowgirl writers, especially considering the “evolution” of the blog since Schweitzer left office. Here are a few of the other hypothesized authors:
Jessica Rhoades. She worked with Stern under Schweitzer and is supposedly Stern’s girlfriend. One reporter stated they were able to get someone with a female voice on the phone to claim to be Cowgirl. Rhoades was also connected to the IP address scandal, reported here in the Bozeman Chronicle and here by one of Montana’s top political reporters, John Adams.
The Department of Administration, provided with detail on the IP address of some posts, was able to identify that the blogger had been accessing — all day long at times — the state wireless guest system through a hookup in the Office of Public Instruction using an Apple Macintosh laptop.
The agency spokeswoman at the time, Jessica Rhoades, said it was not coming from the agency.
Rhoades, who recently went to work for the governor’s office, said the agency’s information technology found at that time the wireless system could theoretically be accessed by someone sitting in the parking lot.
If Stern’s girlfriend, another public employee, is also using her position to attack people anonymously, it will only feed into the evidence that Bullock and the Democrats are stacking more people into state government for the purposes of attacking Republicans with taxpayer dollars and using state positions as rewards for allies.
Jesse Laslovich. Former state legislator and Democrat candidate for state offices. Someone with higher political ambitions should be grilled on the campaign trail about connections to anonymous blog that has repeatedly abused state resources to attack political opponents.
Jayson O’Neill. Was Schweitzer’s communications director and has bounced around working for multiple state agencies.
Vivian Hammill. Schweitzer’s chief of staff who has been tied to at least one political retribution scandal.
Wow, I’m not sure where to begin.
First of all, this is certainly the best post on the site in some time, and should receive the most traffic for some time to come. I expect with the post’s length, it’ll show up on the top page of Google for “who is Montana Cowgirl” for some time. So I applaud you for that.
I like the amount of research you did with this one. I’ve never heard of this Eric Stern link, myself, and I’m not sure I completely buy it. Oh, I suppose it’s a possibility, but I don’t feel he’s any more possible than other people that have been working in the Capitol for years. And honestly, I’m not wholly convinced that site is coming from the Capitol.
You sure seem to go after Schweitzer a lot, I will say that. And then you go off on this tangent about Romney. I was enjoying the post until you went that route, and then I lost a bit of interest. I scrolled down a bit…and saw how long this post was, and then lost interest. Besides, aren’t those guys old news? Furthermore, your heavy reliance on quotes points to me that you’re going a 4&20 route, and that’s kind of lazy.
But then, you did ditch your audience for months and months there, but now you’re back. That’s one thing with MT Cowgirl – consistency. Everyday, or close enough, and for years and years, that site has put up content. And people like it!
I know it’s frustrating, but what can you do?
Jessica Rhoades has tweeted under Cowgirl at legislative hearings this session. The authors are careful not to officially post a new blog during state hours, but they are assembled on state time, and tweeting happens as well.