MaineToday Media Doesn’t Ask Enough Questions
Legally questionable: When it comes to following up on controversial statements, Rebekah Metzler, a State House reporter for the MaineToday Media newspapers, sometimes seems to be napping.
On Dec. 5, Metzler authored a piece on Gov.-elect Paul LePage’s approach to dealing with the federal government. In it, LePage reiterated his desire to have Maine join a lawsuit being pursued by twenty other states to overturn parts of the new federal health care law.
If thirty-five states join the suit, LePage told Metzler, the law “dies, automatically.”
A reporter doesn’t have to be a constitutional scholar to be skeptical about that statement. A passing grade in high school civics should provide sufficient background to raise doubts as to whether the governor-elect knows what he’s talking about. A few minutes’ use of a search engine should have raised enough questions to require some sort of clarification in the article.
But Metzler’s story didn’t contain any follow up. She just blithely moved on to other issues, leaving LePage’s statement to stand as if it were fact.
Which it’s not. Based on questions raised by Maine Web sites on the right and the left, there seems to be a reasonable likelihood that LePage is wrong about thirty-fives states being able to kill the law. And you’d think that if the guv-to-be was correct, Tom Bell, Metzler’s colleague in the MTM State House bureau, would have mentioned such a legal provision in his Dec. 6 story on the state’s new attorney general and his support for joining that lawsuit. But Bell, as thorough a reporter as MTM has, never mentions the idea. Probably because it isn’t real.
The source of the confusion may be a proposal being floated by Tea Partiers and others to alter the U.S. Constitution to allow states to void federal laws. Such a change would likely take years to make its way through the ratification process and would meet fierce opposition from many groups.
LePage appears to be seriously misinformed on the matter, and Metzler should have called him on it. Instead, the public had to wait for LePage’s transition team to issue a statement on Dec. 6 clarifying his stand.
“The Governor-Elect believes that if enough states oppose the measure it will have the effect of killing it politically,” communications director Dan Demeritt wrote. “His intent was to discuss the concept of broad-based political opposition rather than a non-existent statutory or constitutional trigger.”
Good to know somebody is doing Metzler’s job.
Unquestionably incomplete: The Web site Collins Watch ripped Metzler on Dec. 3 for neglecting to mention U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’s seemingly contradictory positions on repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy governing gays and lesbians in the military.
Metzler’s Dec. 3 story accurately reported that Collins “was the only Republican committee member to support repealing the policy when it was first considered.” But Metzler failed to mention that when the measure came up for consideration by the full Senate, Collins opposed it on procedural grounds.
The Collins Watch posting may have had some effect on Metzler’s reporting. In a Dec. 4 story, she managed to mention both of Collins’ votes.
Questionable omission: Republican activist and attorney Dan Billings (who’s also a friend of mine) had an interesting column in the Dec. 5 Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel on problems with Maine’s Clean Election Act. In it, Billings criticizes Democratic state Rep. Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth for using public money for her re-election campaign to buy a computer that she later sold to herself for 40 percent of its original price.
Billings points out that while Dill’s action was technically legal, it had the potential to undermine support for the Clean Election program by making it appear that candidates can benefit personally from taxpayer funding. What he didn’t bother to point out was that a former client of his, GOP gubernatorial candidate Chandler Woodcock, had done something similar after the 2006 election, selling computers and a digital camera for far less than the 40 percent figure mentioned in the law, a move that ended up before the state ethics commission.
The Dirigo Blue Web site hadn’t forgotten. Billings should have refreshed our memories with his own disclaimer.
A footnote on the Dill controversy: The KJ and Sentinel ran two columns on the issue (the otherbeing by my Down East.com colleague Mike Tipping ). But neither paper circulates in Dill’s southern Maine district. However, the Portland Press Herald, the KJ’s and Sentinel’s sister paper, does. So, why isn’t it running these pieces, as well? Or maybe a news story on the issues raised? Or some indication it’s aware of what’s going on?
Copywrongs: The Radio-Info.com Web site has a lively discussion going about the unauthorized use of the names of professional sports teams and star athletes in advertising on radio stations in the Portland market.
The practice is common at many broadcast outlets (“If the Massachusetts Maulers’ Joey Passcatcher had car trouble in Maine, he’d have it fixed at Mr. Greasy Hands’ Garage”), but this seemingly clever approach can result in nasty letters from lawyers seeking compensation for the unauthorized use of their clients’ famous names and reputations.
You’ve been warned.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.