Quality Work From a Maine Daily and Weekly
Behind the numbers: The Bangor Daily News’ Kevin Miller did a first-rate job of separating fact from fiction in his August 21 story on Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage’s impact on Waterville’s finances during his tenure as that city’s mayor (“Candidate Paul LePage: the Wizard of Waterville”). Miller dug deep to get past LePage’s campaign rhetoric and confusing figures cited by a supporter of one of his rivals to discover clear and credible numbers. It obviously took a lot of effort. Just as obviously, it was worth it. Miller continues to stake out a claim as the state’s premier political reporter, and the Bangor paper shouldn’t hesitate to give him the time and resources necessary to employ his considerable skills to the maximum.
Behind the dealing: It’s one thing for one of the state’s major dailies to do some serious investigative work. It’s quite another to expect similar diligence from a small weekly. But reporter Matt Hongoltz-Hetling of the Advertiser Democrat in Norway accomplished just that last week in his detailed look into the complex dealings surrounding plans to build a casino in Oxford County.
Hongoltz-Hetling’s story, “Tangled Web Between Casino, Ag Association,” offers a careful examination of the ties that bind the gambling developers and the local agricultural society, connections that involve large sums of money, valuable real estate, political clout, and enough questionable statements to fill a gubernatorial debate.
None of the state’s major news outlets have bothered with this seemingly local story, but as Hongoltz-Hetling showed, the implications go well beyond Oxford County and should be of interest to all voters who’ll be deciding on the casino’s fate in November.
While this piece gets a little fuzzy in places – it would have benefited from some tighter editing and better organization – the facts all seem to have been laid out carefully and thoughtfully. Top-flight work for any paper of any size.
If a tree falls in the forest: Several forest-industry organizations are sponsoring a gubernatorial debate on Sept. 2 in Brewer. But not all the candidates will be there. The groups, which include the Maine Forest Products Council and the Maine Pulp and Paper Association, have decided not to invite independents Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott.
No ethical issue there. As private operations, the tree farmers and their associates are free to limit their debate in any way they see fit.
But news organizations are a different matter. Newspapers and television stations can’t ignore some names on the ballot just because they might perceive them as having no chance of winning. If they did, they’d call into question their impartiality, not to mention violating broadcast regulations that require equal time for all qualified candidates.
So what’s it say about the biases of WCSH-TV in Portland that it’s allowing veteran reporter Don Carrigan to moderate this truncated debate? Is it possible it indicates that Carrigan’s employer doesn’t consider Moody and Scott to be real candidates and will skew its coverage accordingly?
Probably not. By why even risk creating that impression?
Sign-off shortfalls: The August 18 Portland Press Herald story by staff writer Ray Routhier on the departure of long-time morning radio host Tim Wright from WMGX (93.1 FM) in Portland had a big hole in it:
It didn’t tell readers why Wright, who had been at the station for fifteen years, left.
It shouldn’t have been too difficult to come up with some reasons, starting with the latest Arbitron ratings, which had been sent to participating stations (but not released to the public) the week before.
Even a little probing would have uncovered the fact that WMGX, once a market leader, finished a miserable eleventh with a 3.7 average quarter-hour share. Numbers like that usually signal personnel changes, particularly in the crucial morning-drive time slot.
North East Radio Watch also notes another possible reason: Wright may have been pulling down a significant salary that the ailing station could no longer afford.
Local yokel: On August 21, a copy editor at the Lewiston Sun Journal slapped this headline on a story from the Portland Press Herald:
“Auburn among cities in new pot dispensary applications”
What’s true is there were new applications for medical marijuana dispensaries, but they were for York County and the Down East area of the state. As the article correctly notes, the decision on the operators who’ll serve the area around Auburn was made several weeks before.
I suspect the harried editor glanced at the piece, saw the word Auburn and jumped to the conclusion that there was a local angle to the story. That sort of error seems to happen a lot at the Sun Journal.
Pot shot misfires: The Insight section of the August 22 Maine Sunday Telegram carried an op-ed by Charles Radis, an osteopath from Peaks Island, on what he sees as flaws in Maine’s new medical marijuana dispensary law.
Since this piece, headlined “Marijuana still unproven for many ills,” is Radis’ opinion, I assume the newspapers was reluctant to tamper with his comments, but that still doesn’t excuse allowing him to make at least two factual errors in his very first sentence.
According to Radis, “Medical marijuana prescribing is now legal in 14 states, with Maine the latest to join the growing social movement to legalize pot for medicinal use.”
In fact, medical marijuana is hardly new to Maine. It’s been legal here for more than a decade, making this state one of the earliest to do so. What was recently legalized here were licensed dispensaries to distribute the drug.
Radis is also wrong in his frequent references to “prescribing” pot. Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, doctors don’t prescribe it. In Maine, they write letters recommending its use to alleviate symptoms caused by several medical conditions.
Newspapers should encourage a broad range of opinions on their editorial pages, but they also have a responsibility to do at least rudimentary fact checking of those pieces to make sure they don’t spread false information. In this case, the Telegram fell short.
Recycling the recycler: From the Web site of the West End News, a Portland bi-weekly, on August 18:
“Ecomaine’s newly elected Chairman of the Board of Directors, Portland Director of Public Services Michael Bobinsky, is ecomaine’s newly-elected Chairman of the Board of Directors.”
Another case of what goes around comes around.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com