The Idaho Way: Idaho professor’s book on media, democracy


Welcome to The Idaho Way newsletter from the Idaho Statesman.

By Scott McIntosh, opinion editor

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Democracy is messy. It’s noisy, rancorous, contentious, sometimes untruthful and sometimes can be used in dangerous ways to kill democracy. That’s a feature, not a bug.

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Scott McIntosh is the Idaho Statesman’s opinion editor.

The beauty of democracy is that all voices are heard. The danger of democracy is that all voices are heard.

That’s the paradox of democracy.

And that’s the subject of a new book, “The Paradox of Democracy: Free Speech, Open Media, and Perilous Persuasion,” by Zac Gershberg, associate professor of journalism and media studies at Idaho State University, and Sean Illing, a senior writer at Vox.

“This is not the book we had thought we were going to write,” Gershberg told me in a video interview. “We thought we were going to write a book that was very much, ‘Oh, democracy is dying,’ and stuff like that. And there’s a lot of books like that out there right now.”

Instead, Gershberg and Illing look at how advancements in communication have always disrupted democracy, going all the way back to Athens and the ancient Greeks.

“They had a whole host of different new forms of communication from developing rhetoric to the role of writing, itself, became this controversial thing and there was ostracism and crazy politics,” Gershberg said. “And we’re like, ‘Well … this is actually more consistent with our experience, let’s say in 21st-century American politics.’ ”

And when the history of the struggle for democracy is matched up with the history of developments of modes of communication, they began to see the recurring theme of technological advances that, at each step of the way, brought on great democratization but also led to great disruption that threatened the very existence of democracy.

Read my full column here on why I came away optimistic about the future of democracy. And watch my full interview with Gershberg.

Boise Pride fallout

People sit on the sidewalk and in the grass to listen to Drag Story Time at the Boise Pride Festival on Sunday, Sept, 11, 2022. Sarah A. Miller

Last week was a week of cruelty and kindness, a week of rhetoric and honest conversation, a week of hatred and love, writes Idaho Statesman editorial board member Maryanne Jordan.

The bigotry spewed by Dorothy Moon and the leadership of the Republican Party comes as no surprise. Attacks on people different from themselves have nothing to to with policy and the public good, and everything to do with fundraising through exploitation. It’s bad enough when it targets adults, but going after kids is a new low, even for this bunch. Their behavior is sadly no surprise, but the response has been heartbreaking.

Read Maryanne Jordan’s full column here on why staying silent is not an option.

Water deal averts crisis — for now

Irrigation water is siphoned into a farmer’s field in Caldwell. Darin Oswald

The big dust-up between Magic Valley surface water users and Eastern Idaho groundwater users came to an end last week in a successful deal, writes Statesman opinion writer Bryan Clark.

The up-to 105,000 acres of farmland that was on the verge of having irrigation shut off will be protected from curtailment for this year. But the deal will require painful cuts for Eastern Idaho agriculture nonetheless.

In exchange for not shutting down irrigation just ahead of harvest, the groundwater users agreed to purchase and provide 30,000 acre-feet of water (about one-eighth the capacity of Lucky Peak Reservoir) next year and another 15,000 the following year. That’s in addition to the significant reductions they’ve already made in the past seven years.

And looking further on the horizon, more trouble is brewing.

Read Bryan Clark’s full column here on why this problem isn’t going away anytime soon.

Heritage Foundation gives Idaho high education marks

Ridofranz Getty Images/iStockphoto

You’ve probably heard the claim: “Idaho is the worst in the nation for education.” But what if it’s really one of the best? It all depends on what you’re measuring. Earlier this year, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, ranked Idaho last in the nation for per-pupil spending. Scholaroo ranked Idaho the 39th public school system in the nation for school quality.

The problem with these rankings is that they focus on inputs rather than outputs. The NEA looks only at inputs (spending). And while Scholaroo considers measures of school quality, its rankings are nevertheless distorted by the faulty assumption that higher spending is a proxy for better quality.

Shouldn’t rankings reward states that are better stewards of the taxpayers’ money?

That’s the thinking behind the conservative Heritage Foundation’s new Education Freedom Report Card — a survey of all 50 states in the areas of education choice, academic transparency, regulatory freedom for schools and return on investment for taxpayer spending on education. Heritage ranks Idaho third in the nation for education freedom overall and first for return on investment.

You can the full guest opinion from the Heritage Foundation here.

$1,200 cab ride from Boise to Bend for an abortion

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An attendee at Planned Parenthood’s Bans Off Our Bodies rally for abortion rights holds a sign reading “Idaho the women as property state” outside of the Idaho Statehouse in downtown Boise on Saturday, May 14, 2022. Sarah A. Miller

Last month, when one of Idaho’s many new anti-abortion laws was being challenged in court, the governor tried to declare that the issue was over.

“Our nation’s highest court returned the issue of abortion to the states to regulate,” Idaho Gov. Brad Little said. “End of story.”

The story, though, is not only not ending, it’s twisting in unforeseen ways. The governor need only look around his own state.

Take the story of the $1,200 cab ride.

Around the time the governor was attempting to close the book on the matter, a Boise woman, one of Little’s own constituents, was calling a taxi and lighting out for Oregon. More than 315 miles later — for a cab fare of $1,200 — she got dropped at a clinic in an office park in Bend, one of the closest places left where Idahoans can get reproductive health care.

You can read the full column here from Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat.

Idaho’s abortion law consequences

A sign reading “My body my choice” is taped to a hanger taped to a streetlight in front of the Idaho State Capitol Building on May 3, 2022. People gathered in downtown Boise at both City Hall and the Statehouse to protest the news of the Supreme Court draft leak indicating that Roe vs. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey will be overturned. Sarah A. Miller

Promoting health is the mission of my work as an obstetrician/gynecologist. Practicing medicine in Idaho, I fear for my patients and for my peers in the medical community. New government mandates restricting access to reproductive health care in Idaho will harm pregnant people and physicians.

Read the full column here from Dr. Amelia Huntsberger, a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist who has been practicing medicine in rural Idaho for 10 years.

I’m listening

Send me your story ideas, news tips, questions, comments, or anything else on your mind. You can reach me via email at

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What you’re saying

This week, we received letters to the editor on wind farms next to the Minidoka National Monument, the plot behind electric vehicles and rules prohibiting some e-bikes. You can read these and more letters by clicking here.

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Scott McIntosh is the Idaho Statesman opinion editor. A graduate of Syracuse University, he joined the Statesman in August 2019. He previously was editor of the Idaho Press and the Argus Observer and was the owner and editor of the Kuna Melba News. He has been honored for his editorials and columns as well as his education, business and local government watchdog reporting by the Idaho Press Club and the National Newspaper Association. Sign up for his weekly newsletter, The Idaho Way.
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