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Longtime Montana political reporter Chuck Johnson has died

Chuck Johnson
Posted at 9:34 AM, Mar 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-06 14:22:12-05

HELENA — Longtime Montana journalist and political reporter Charles S. “Chuck” Johnson has passed away.

Lee Newspapers, which Johnson had worked for, was the first to report on his passing. MTN has been able to confirm the information with friends of Johnson.

Johnson was regarded highly and well-liked by his fellow reporters who covered the happenings at the Montana State Capitol and politics in Montana. He was always happy to teach and inform new reporters who were covering Montana politics.

Johnson was a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism, and in 2022 he received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Montana State University

As noted when receiving his honorary doctorate, Johnson had a reporting career that spanned over forty years. He covered 22 Montana legislative sessions, seven governors, nine U.S. senators and 10 U.S. representatives, and reported on the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention for the Associated Press. His reporting was widely regarded as clear, fair, and balanced.

Born in Great Falls and raised in Helena, he began his career in 1967 through an internship with the Helena Independent Record. Johnson’s first full-time reporting position was for the Missoulian, where he worked from 1972 to 1974. He then returned to Helena and began reporting for the Lee Newspapers State Bureau, then at the Great Falls Tribune Capitol Bureau in Helena. His work included serving as bureau chief from 1984 to 1992. From 1992 to 2015, he served as bureau chief for the Lee Newspapers State Bureau.

Johnson retired in 2015, although from time to time he came out of retirement to report on political issues or offer his commentary on an issue or candidate.

Retired MTN Chief Political Reporter Mike Denison knew Johnson for much of his over four-decade career. In a statement to MTN, Denisson reflected on his old colleague and friend:

Chuck was the consummate news professional, but, more importantly, an all-around great guy. I think that’s what made him so good — people trusted him and knew he was totally fair, so when he had to hold someone accountable and perhaps write a less-than-pleasant story about them, it had all the more credibility, because you knew he didn’t have an agenda or anything personal against the subject of the story.

He also was one of the most unassuming people I’ve ever known. People knew him, he was a public figure of sort, but you never got the sense that he cared much about recognition or getting credit for doing the difficult job that he did so well for so long.

His legacy will be many things, but a big part of it has to be his mentorship and assistance to many younger reporters (myself included), always making himself available to help us learn the journalistic ropes that he knew so well.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte released this statement:

“Susan and I are deeply saddened with the passing of Chuck Johnson, our friend and a giant in political journalism. From the countless reporters whom he mentored generously to the state he loved so dearly, Montana has lost a legend. For over four decades, Chuck served the people of Montana as a fair, honest, affable, tenacious journalist with a deep passion for his craft. Susan and I mourn the loss of Chuck and pray for Pat and their loved ones.”

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester released this statement:

“Chuck Johnson was a reporter’s reporter – always prepared, and always speaking truth to power. As a journalist, his integrity, commitment to truth, and willingness to hold people accountable earned him the respect of readers and elected officials alike, from both sides of the aisle. Chuck was a great reporter and even better man – and after keeping Montanans informed for decades, he will be sorely missed by family, friends, and countless others in the Treasure State. Sharla and my thoughts are with his family.”

Social media reactions to the passing of Johnson:

Devastated to hear this news. Chuck was a true legend and I’m so honored to have called him a friend. Sending so much love to all who love him, which makes up a massive group.

— Maritsa Georgiou (@MaritsaGeorgiou) March 6, 2023

Chuck hired me at 22 years old to cover the Montana Legislature, one of the only women do to so, and he had my back as a mentor and friend since. He was a walking encyclopedia who knew more about Montana politics and history than anyone. Devastating.

— Kathleen McLaughlin (@kemc) March 6, 2023

Great journalist. Better man. #mtnews #mtpol

— Tom Kuglin (@IR_TomKuglin) March 6, 2023

I'm sad to hear this and sorry to see you go, Chuck, you set the example for us all.

— Jackie Coffin (@Jackie_Coffin) March 6, 2023