Down East 2013 ©
Picky, picky: In theory, MaineToday Media’s new “Truth Test” feature is a good idea. It’s supposed to take politicians’ public statements and carefully fact-check them. Used judiciously, this kind of journalism ought to result in a useful service to the voting public.
So far, that’s rarely been the case.
“Truth Test” – which runs in the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel – is researched and written by Michael Shepherd, a recent University of Maine graduate. Shepherd has talent, but he lacks experience. And he also appears to lack any kind of editorial guidance.
While “Truth Test” has occasionally dealt with important claims by candidates, it most often has delved into what amounts to trivia. On June 6, it decided Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud had uttered a falsehood  when he claimed he was outspent two-to-one by Republicans in his first race for Congress a decade ago. In fact, Michaud and once-and-future challenger Kevin Raye both spent about the same amount, but a spokesman for the congressman said the statement included outside spending by political action committees and parties, an amount he could only estimate. Shepherd decided the claim “is simply not supported by the facts” and called Michaud’s statement false.
I tried to find definitive numbers for the amount of spending by non-campaign sources in the 2002 2nd District race and came up short. But there’s ample evidence the Democratic and Republican parties poured millions into Maine in the final weeks before the November election, much of it on “issues” ads both for and against Michaud. At most, I’d have said the congressman’s claim couldn’t be verified. To go further than that seems to be less about reporting and more about editorializing.
But the Michaud piece raises an even more important question than whether he exaggerated. Which is:
This whole matter was a long time ago and of no relevance to the current campaign. There are plenty of questions about Michaud’s record (and Raye’s, as well) that are of far more consequence to voters. Why not devote the “Truth Test” feature’s limited resources to them?
This is hardly an isolated incident. On June 25, Shepherd set out to find whether independent U.S. Senate candidate Angus King went too far in claiming the federal tax code is 73,608 pages long . In reality, those are the number of pages in the latest version of the Standard Federal Tax Reporter, a privately published volume on tax law. The Internal Revenue Service version is a mere 5,296 pages.
Shepherd concludes King was fibbing.
Again: Who cares?
This is scarcely the most important issue in the Senate race. It’s scarcely even an issue at all. So why waste space on it when there’s so much else of substance being debated?
At least, “Truth Test” is non-partisan in its irrelevance. On June 23, it found GOP Senate candidate Charlie Summers guilty of straying from the truth  for claiming, “Obamacare is now poised to take control of [one-fifth] of our economy.”
Shepherd’s own research showed that’s at least arguably correct, depending on the timeframe and the political slant of the expert being asked. But even if it’s moderately off the mark, it’s hardly a central issue in the health-care debate. Why not focus on something that is?
“Truth Test” is a decent idea, even though the execution doesn’t live up to the concept. With better reporting, better editing and more considered decision making, it could come closer to fulfilling its potential. Here’s hoping MaineToday does some upgrading.
Hail Hale: Legendary Bangor broadcaster George Hale gets a chance to reflect on nearly sixty years in Maine radio and TV in an interview  with Mike Dow of WKSQ (94.5 FM) published in the Maine Edge.
When local radio finally breathes its last gasp (next week? next year?), this will be a valuable artifact of what was once an important medium.
And you thought low-level jets were bad: Headline posted briefly on the Portland Press Herald website on the morning of June 25:
“Complaints about bears soaring across Maine”
Until this is straightened out, it’s probably best not to wash the car.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org .