WVOM Uses Political PR Guy As Fill-In Host
Something Fish-y: Talk station WVOM (103.9 and 101.3 FM) in Bangor and Augusta is using substitutes this week to fill in for vacationing morning co-host Ric Tyler. On Oct. 10 and 11, the replacement will be Scott Fish, owner of the conservative website As Maine Goes. Fish is smart, articulate and has a radio background (including a stint on WVOM), so the choice would seem reasonable. Except for a little problem concerning his other job.
Fish is also the communications director for Maine Senate President Kevin Raye, a Republican. That raises all sorts of issues not only related to Raye’s current duties in the Legislature, but also to his likely congressional candidacy in 2012. It didn’t take long after Fish announced his radio gig for the question of potential conflict of interest to surface on AMG.
Dan Billings, chief legal counsel to GOP Gov. Paul LePage, called Fish’s radio stint “bizarre.”
“The problem with having a staffer as a guest host is that someone who is on a politician's payroll can't do anything but repeat the party line,” Billings wrote in a posting on AMG. “Scott can't say on WVOM what he really thinks about what is happening in Augusta. He can't publicly disagree with his boss.”
Fish brushed aside that concern in his own posting: “My current employment at the State House is but a blip in my 22-years in Maine politics. Of course I can answer questions honestly, even when the honest answer is, ‘I can't answer that question,’ or, ‘Contact me off-air.’ But that situation is true of plenty of radio hosts, guest hosts, and guests.”
I’m not aware of any regular hosts with this sort of conflict. Guests, including politicians, are generally clearly identified as representing a point of view that they have no qualms about promoting. Guests hosts ought to be chosen for their ability to speak freely.
And public-relations people should stay in their caves.
Hyping the hysteria: Nearly every news outlet in Maine has done an over-the-top piece on the threat posed by “bath salts,” the synthetic drug recently outlawed in Maine. Recent examples include the Maine Sunday Telegram (“In some parts of the country, though not in Maine, delusional users have reportedly killed themselves or their family members”), the Bangor Daily News (“It has been linked to more than one death in the state”) and the Maine Public Broadcasting Network (“a growing number of paranoid and violent users”).
For some more measured analysis of the problem, check out Lance Tapley’s article in the Oct. 7 Portland Phoenix. Tapley examines the issue in a less emotional, more rational fashion, sort of like the way all journalists are supposed to approach their jobs.
Tapley’s factually based conclusions: Fears of an epidemic of psychotic bath-salt users are being fueled by the media coverage, not by actual incidents. Claims the drug is more dangerous than other illegal substances appear to be unfounded. And even supporters of stiff prison sentences for users and dealers admit that alleged solution is unlikely to deter anyone or correct the problem.
Kudos to Tapley for resisting the mob mentality and getting at the facts.
(Disclosure: My weekly political column runs in the Phoenix.)
Digging deep: While I’m on the subject of quality reporting, I would be remiss not to note the Oct. 8 story in the Bangor Daily News by staff writer Seth Koenig on how increases in ocean acidity are affecting Maine clam flats.
Koenig avoids the alarmist approach, building his case about how higher pH in the water is turning productive flats into “dead muds” through a careful assessment of academic studies, field research and interviews with clam diggers and others with a stake in the outcome. He also points out the unsettling lack of activity on the part of state regulators, hampered by budget and staff cuts that have resulted in their doing little more than observing the situation.
A fine investigative story by the Bangor paper. Let’s hope there’s plenty of follow-up.
Color my world: On page B3 of the Oct. 10 Morning Sentinel, accompanying a story on improvements in Augusta’s business district, there’s a photo with this caption:
“PAINTED LADIES: Several buildings in downtown Augusta have been changed from white to a variety of bright colors.”
Some clever editor decided to print the photo in black and white.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.