Beem Attacks Non-Profit News Operation
Off the Beem: The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting has annoyed a liberal journalist by producing what he calls “So What?” stories.
In the May 9 Forecaster newspapers, columnist Edgar Allen Beem accused the center, a non-profit news outlet that provides investigative pieces to many Maine newspapers for free, of pursuing a “strange, conservative line of inquiry.” Beem, who also is a contributing editor for Down East magazine, added that many of the MCPIR’s reports would look “at home” on the Web site of the right-wing think tank the Maine Heritage Policy Center.
Among the stories he cited as examples of poor coverage was what he terms an “alarmist report made to order for deficit hawks” on the state pension system. According to Beem, the only problem with paying off the massive unfunded liability in the retirement fund “is an artificial one caused by a legislatively imposed deadline.”
In reality, the deadline was imposed not by the Legislature, but by an amendment to the Maine Constitution (an amendment proposed and supported by state employee labor unions and Democratic politicians), a fact the center noted prominently in its thorough report on the consequences of not appropriating sufficient money to eliminate the debt.
Beem then attacks the MCPIR’s series on the Maine Green Energy Alliance, a failed program to weatherize housing. The pieces exposed the close ties between that group and Democratic Party operatives, calling into question whether grant money to the alliance was being used for political purposes. Beem claimed that once the group “realized its strategy for weatherizing homes wasn’t working, it said so and gave the remaining money back.” As even a cursory reading of the center’s series would reveal, that description is disingenuous at best, deliberately misleading at worst.
Reporting by MCPIR exposed a major ethics loophole in Maine law, one that allowed legislators, most of them Democrats, to direct money to non-profit organizations where they were employed. The lawmakers weren’t required to report that conflict of interest. The center’s series was directly responsible for a change in the law to require more transparency. To that, Beem concluded that since nothing illegal was uncovered, it’s “all about appearances.”
Ethics so often is.
A recent piece from the center revealed that the University of Maine System had hired an unusual number of ex-members of the administration of former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, often without considering other candidates. Beem claimed that since the people in question were, according to him, qualified for the jobs, it’s no big deal. Others, including the university system’s new chancellor, seem to think these practices ought to be carefully reviewed.
What Beem really wants the center to do is go after the administration of Republican Governor Paul LePage and his allies. He accused MCPIR of being a “conservative lapdog” for failing to expose LePage for trying to do pretty much what he promised to do when he was running for office.
There’s a “so what” story if ever there was one.
It’s not as if the center shies away from reporting negative news about the GOP. The record shows MCPIR has displayed no hesitancy in exposing Republican foibles. For example, there’s its recent report on a former party treasurer who used creative financing involving public money and GOP funds to buy himself a camper.
Republican House Speaker Robert Nutting’s experience manipulating Medicaid funding got a complete airing in an MCPIR piece.
And then there was the article on how the LePage administration’s Department of Environmental Protection has carried on Baldacci-era policies for allowing a paper mill to keep polluting while also receiving public funding.
In short, there’s no evidence for Beem’s claims of bias at the center and nothing that backs up his allegation that the MCPIR isn’t producing journalism of consequence. Its stories are at least partially responsible for tightening the state’s financial disclosure law, improving the dam safety inspection program, putting more checks and balances into the bail system for those accused of domestic violence and getting some of that weatherization funding returned.
“We don’t write opinion,” center co-founder John Christie said when asked about recent pieces critical of Democrats. “When a certain party has been in power for thirty years, that’s where the power is, and that’s where the stories are.”
Unless, like Beem, you have an agenda of your own.
Home again: For those wondering how Mal Leary, the veteran State House reporter who runs Capitol News Service, is doing in the wake of his recent hospitalization, here’s an update he posted on Facebook:
“I am home after the week from hell. Kidney stones that turned into a massive infection, pneumonia and a heart attack. Thank you all for the calls and cards and posts, and the kind words and help many of you gave Susan when she really needed a boost. The cardiac cath showed mild damage from the heart attack, but uncovered the need for a bypass. That is next after the doctors say I am ready for it. Again, thanks for your best wishes and prayers, Mal Leary.”
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.