Ridin' with the Law
In on the arrest: Westbrook police know how to time a bust. The local cops staged (and I do mean staged) the apprehension of Abbas Al-Hamdany of Gorham on Nov. 21 for maximum public exposure. Al-Hamdany was taken into custody at his Main Street convenience store in Westbrook in the afternoon, giving the TV reporters who accompanied the officers plenty of time to get their video ready for the early evening newscasts and allowing print reporters to turn their copy in without having to work late on a Friday.
No wonder the coverage was all positive.
Al-Hamdany is charged with cocaine trafficking. According to a story in the Portland Press Herald by staff writer David Hench, Westbrook Police Chief William Baker invited the media to witness the alleged drug dealer being led away in cuffs “to send a message to the community that regardless of a person’s standing in the city, police will not tolerate drug activity.”
Al-Hamdany’s “standing in the city” had apparently been enhanced by his frequent appearances in local news stories about the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He is an Iraqi refugee, according to the paper, and had been involved in an unsuccessful effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War.
I’m not sure how the local media found out about Al-Hamdany’s heroic history, but I suspect it was because he told them about his past deeds. Or some of them, anyway. As it turns out, he neglected to mention he’d been convicted of dealing coke in 1998 and sentenced to federal prison. As far as I can tell, that fact hadn’t been reported until his most recent arrest made news. That leads me to suspect that no Maine reporter has ever checked up on Al-Hamdany’s background, including his claim of being a member of the Iraqi resistance.
Regardless of whether Maine journalists got conned by this guy, that’s still no excuse for them letting police pull an even bigger scam. Allowing reporters to ride along and cover suspects being taken into custody is an old trick, pioneered by former Portland Chief Mike Chitwood. It makes the cops look like they’re addressing some important community concern, even if the dude they’re nabbing is a minor player in the local crime scene.
It’s not the job of the news media to make the police look good. It is the job of journalists to question why the bust they were allowed to cover is any more newsworthy than the “several unrelated arrests in neighboring communities” that took place that same day, according to the Press Herald. It’s the job of committed reporters to follow up on this action by getting more facts. The Press Herald story mentions that police didn’t provide such details as how much cocaine Al-Hamdany allegedly sold. Sounds like the makings of a follow-up story, but as of today, I haven’t seen it. Police were reported to be planning additional arrests. If they ever happened, the information didn’t reach me.
I’m not arguing that reporters and photographers should never ride along with the cops to cover an arrest. But I am saying that before they do, they should be prepared to ask hard questions, gather complete information and wear their skepticism like Kevlar.
Otherwise, its’ their credibility that could end up on trial.
In the loop: This past week, nearly every newspaper in the state ran a story, in the wake of Gov. John Baldacci’s announcement that he planned to cut state aid to local education by $27 million this academic year, detailing how much schools in their areas stood to lose. Nothing wrong with that, but just throwing out those numbers, as the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and the Sun Journal in Lewiston did does little to provide readers with context. Taxpayers wondering why their districts got hit harder than their neighbors were given no useful information.
Leary explains not only how much various school districts will lose but why, sorting out the complexities – and inequalities – of the funding formula in straightforward language.
Out of a job: According to North East Radio Watch, WHOM in Portland (94.9 FM) has “parted ways” with morning host Dean Rogers. The Web site blames Rogers’ departure on “budget cutbacks.”
Rogers has been a fixture in Portland radio for four decades, as well as serving as the public-address announcer for the Portland Sea Dogs minor-league baseball team.
It quotes Richard Connor, who might soon be the publisher of the Blethen Maine Newspapers, saying the Guild, the largest union at Blethen, may be changing its ways. "Certainly, the reputation of the Guild in the industry is that it's tough to deal with," Connor, the president of the Wilkes-Barre Publishing Company, told the magazine.
He goes to on to say the Guild in Maine is cooperating with his group, Maine Media Investments, to buy the paper through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. But he added that union members will still have to agree to concessions. Forbes said he “indicated they could include some staff reductions due to a weak advertising market.”
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.