Maine Reporters Coy About Cutler File Authors
Play Doe: I wasn’t at the Dec. 20 meeting of the state ethics commission at which a $200 fine was levied against one of the anonymous people behind a defunct Web site called “The Secret File on Eliot Cutler.” But I’m told by those who were there that the testimony – particularly that of the attorney for Cutler, a former independent candidate for governor – left little doubt as to the identities of those responsible for that effort. While the site’s shadowy staff continued to be referred to during the hearing as “John Doe I” and “John Doe II,” their real names were said to be obvious to most of those in attendance.
Under circumstances like that, you might think some enterprising reporter in attendance would confront a Doe or two and get their reaction to events. But that’s not the way it’s done in Maine journalism these days.
MaineToday Media reporter Rebekah Metzler left plenty of clues as to the Does’ identities in her story, but stopped short of naming names, as did the normally more courageous A.J. Higgins at Maine Public Radio.
The Associated Press piece was more superficial and appeared to have been written by someone who had trouble following the proceedings. So, maybe the AP reporter really didn’t have a clue about who’s involved.
I understand why the ethics commission decided not to reveal these names, since to do so might have some impact on a possible court case by the site’s authors. But journalists are under no such legal restraints. They can report anything they can demonstrate to be true.
Unless they’re too timid. Or lazy.
Paid in full: Speaking of Cutler, I’ve had a number of e-mails from journalists and politicians concerned that last week’s revelation that the Portland Press Herald gave free advertising to a political action committee involved in the campaign for an elected mayor in Portland could also indicate there were other such secret donations. In particular, there was speculation the newspaper had aided Cutler’s gubernatorial campaign.
Not so, but I can see how some people could come to that conclusion.
Cutler ran a lot of advertising in the Press Herald, but none of it shows up as an expenditure on his campaign finance reports.
Thanks to some help from the staff at the state ethics commission, the mystery was solved. They explained that Cutler bought the advertising at a charity auction last spring for $10,000. It was listed as an in-kind contribution from the candidate to his campaign on April 12.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.