Controversy? What Controversy?
Bland is better? Every daily paper in the state ran some kind of story in the last week or so on the three candidates running for Maine attorney general. Some of the pieces did a little digging – Mal Leary of Capitol News Service came up with a couple of interesting points in his article in the Nov. 28 Bangor Daily News – some did little more than reprint the candidates’ resumes (the Associated Press, the Kennebec Journal) and some seemed more fascinated by campaign techniques than by qualifications – Matt Wickenheiser’s Dec. 2 piece in the Portland Press Herald devotes a lot of space to the politicking, but none to the contenders’ strengths and weaknesses.
A few Web sites and blogs weighed in on the contest, including Down East’s Mike Tipping, with varying degrees of bite.
But only one media outlet looked into the AG candidates’ backgrounds and discovered serious discrepancies between what was claimed and what actually happened.
Maine Public Radio’s A.J. Higgins produced a lengthy and detailed piece on Nov. 26, examining numerous instances in which AG hopeful Sean Faircloth appeared to have inflated his accomplishments.
Higgins’ reporting was ignored by the major newspapers, but seems to have been followed closely by the people who selected the AG, Democratic members of the Legislature. On Dec. 2, they handed the party’s nomination (which is tantamount to election) to one of Faircloth’s rivals, Janet Mills. Although none of the reports on Mills’ victory that I saw included her margin of victory, two legislative sources told me the vote wasn’t close and that Higgins’ story played a significant role in Faircloth’s defeat.
(Disclosure: My wife works for the Office of the Attorney General.)
Editing is worse: On Dec. 2, the Bangor Daily News ran a Press Herald piece on its front page on President-elect Barack Obama’s selection of Susan Rice as United Nations ambassador, under the headline “Obama taps Mainer for U.N. envoy.”
Rice is the daughter of a Maine native and has visited the state, where her family still maintains a summer home. The BDN didn’t post the story or the erroneous headline on its Web site, nor did it run a correction in today’s edition.
The Lewiston Sun Journal has thrown the book at a man convicted of possessing child pornography. A headline in the Dec. 3 paper announced “Man gets 70 years on porn charge.” The Associated Press brief below says the man actually got 70 months.
The unusually lengthy sentence is omitted from the online version of the headline, so maybe somebody noticed.
These kinds of errors are inevitable when copy editing has been classified as a luxury at most dailies in the state. And the sloppiness doesn’t stop at the headlines. A front-page story in the Dec. 2 Press Herald took its time getting to the point.
In the first paragraph of Trevor Maxwell’s piece, readers learn that an Eliot man, who had been arrested, was “preparing for the end of the world” by stockpiling guns.
But neither paranoia not gun collecting is a crime. So why was he taken into custody?
In the second paragraph, there’s a passing mention of “a marijuana growing operation.” But the subject never comes up again. If the guy was charged with being a dope dealer, there’s no mention of it here.
Finally, in the third paragraph, Maxwell gets around to telling us that the guy who was arrested is a felon, which means he isn’t allowed to possess firearms. That’s what this is all about.
A good editor would have insisted that information be put in the first sentence, bumping the sensational end-of-the-world garbage down the page. A good editor would have required the reporter to follow up on the pot-growing angle and what charges might result. A good editor would have asked why this arrest involved federal agents and wasn’t simply handled by the local cops.
Good editors at Maine dailies seem to be as common as black flies in December.
Director is hired: With the start of the new year, Mike Lange of St. Albans will become the executive director of the Maine Press Association, the organization that represents the state’s paid-circulation daily and weekly newspapers.
Lange will replace Jeff Ham, who’s headed the group since 2002.
Lange is a former editor of the Moosehead Messenger in Greenville and the Advertiser-Democrat in Norway, with two decades of journalism experience. He refers to himself as “semi-retired,” since he does freelance work for the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and the Kennebec Journal in Augusta. He’s also a frequent poster on the As Maine Goes Web site, where he sometimes comments on media issues.
The MPA originally had hired Robert Long, city editor of the Times Record in Brunswick, for the director’s job. But before Long could assume the part-time post, he was elevated to managing editor at the TR with expanded duties that precluded his taking the MPA position.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.