Associated Press Botches King/Women Story
Girls just want to have facts: Steve Peoples is the new Associated Press reporter in Maine, so maybe he should be given a little leeway. But not anywhere near this much.
Peoples’ April 17 story on independent U.S. Senate candidate Angus King’s alleged problem attracting women voters was riddled with assumptions based on guesses and inexcusable omissions of fact.
Let’s start with the basic premise of the piece – that King has gender gap issues. According to the article, “beneath the 68-year-old businessman's popularity is a stark political reality: For many Maine women, King is not their first choice.”
As pollster and professor Amy Fried pointed out in her blog, the only female voter interviewed in the story says that although she would have preferred Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree for the Senate seat, she’s satisfied with King as her candidate. And DownEast.com contributor Mike Tipping noted in his April 17 column in the Morning Sentinel that the only poll taken in the race to date shows King has “10 points more support from women voters than men.”
Peoples’ failure to mention that is a serious oversight.
Also falling in that category is the absence of any reference to Republican state Senator Debra Plowman, who’s one of two women seeking the open U.S. Senate seat. Peoples interviewed Democratic state Senator Cynthia Dill for his story, but completely ignores Plowman, as well as three other GOP candidates and two other Democrats. Three candidates rate only name checks.
Peoples’ story got prominent play in most Maine dailies, which should be enough publicity to turn King’s female troubles into a permanent factoid in the race, even though there’s no evidence to support that claim and plenty to refute it.
Race and national origin: Shortly after the Boston Marathon wrapped up on April 16, the Maine media started posting stories online about Sheri Piers of Falmouth being the first American across the finish line. That information apparently came from the race organizers, who had misidentified Mayumi Fujita as Japanese, although she’s now an American citizen. A correction was sent out within a few hours, but a lot of editors didn’t pay attention.
The MaineToday Media papers still hadn’t noticed the mistake a day later. Their coverage claimed Piers was “the first American across the line,” ignoring not only Fujita, but also several American men.
The Bangor Daily News got it wrong initially, but eventually revised its story from “first American female” to “first American-born female.”
The Lewiston Sun Journal posted the erroneous Bangor piece on its Web site, revised the headline when the correction came through, but didn’t bother to fix the body of the story. The Sun Journal did get it right in print.
Both this Web site and WMTW-TV claimed Piers had finished in the “top 10,” which is misleading – she was actually among the first ten women – but at least Channel 8 didn’t get sucked into the first American mistake, since it ignored that entire angle.
No left turn: Sun Journal reporter Andie Hannon covered the Tax Day rally in Lewiston on April 15 as if it were no more controversial than a bean supper or a flea market. Hannon’s story on April 16 contained a detailed listing of complaints from Republicans and conservatives about Maine’s tax system. As for those with opposing views, there’s no mention.
Hannon should have had the journalistic smarts to contact a liberal or two to challenge some of the assertions, presented as fact, made at the event. When she didn’t do that, her editor should have insisted on additional material for the sake of balance and accuracy.
And then there’s the little matter of what Hannon missed. She was apparently so busy listening to the speakers that she didn’t notice the effort to organize another tax-cap referendum. MaineToday Media’s Susan Cover wasn’t so easily distracted and got the better story.
Close to the prize: That series of stories the Advertiser Democrat in Norway did on subsidized housing in western Maine has gotten some well-deserved national recognition. On April 16, it was named a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting.
The investigation was conducted by editor A.M. Sheehan and reporter Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling (who has since moved to the Forecaster papers). While the Pulitzer went to the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., for coverage of the Penn State sex-abuse scandal, the awards committee cited the Maine paper for its “tenacious exposure of disgraceful conditions in federally-supported housing in a small rural community that, within hours, triggered a state investigation.”
Close to the word: The April 12 Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier reported with a straight face that a teacher at Biddeford High School had abruptly resigned. The weekly quoted his letter to the superintendent of schools in which he cited as a reason for his sudden departure a “total lack of disrespect” from students.
I suppose it should come as no surprise that he taught English.
(Disclosure: My weekly political column runs in the Courier.)
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.