Ask a Few More Questions
Campaign inane: The Bangor Daily News somehow believes it will help voters in Houlton decide who they want to elect as their state representative by informing them that independent candidate Stanley Ginish wants to reduce “wasteful programs,” “lower road weights” and “eliminate [the] new car windfall sales tax.”
Such information might be useful, if the newspaper included examples of programs Ginish considers wasteful, gave readers some clue as to the candidate’s reasoning on the road weight issue and explained just what the “new car windfall sales tax” is, because I suspect many people share my ignorance on that subject.
Unfortunately, the BDN’s brief profile of Ginish contains nothing more than an abbreviated rundown of his education, occupation, experience and a lot of difficult-to-interpret reasons he’s running. That’s because the brief item isn’t really a news story. It’s just a reprint of a short form the Bangor paper sent to all legislative candidates in its circulation area and asked them to fill out. The form doesn’t ask for specifics (Ginish’s Republican opponent, Mary DeAnne Rogan, said she’s running because “I feel God wants each of us to do our part to bring positive moral and economic changes to our government”), and it doesn’t demand explanations (Democratic incumbent Richard Cleary said he’s for “helping small business and better access to health care,” but he doesn’t say what he did to promote either of them in the Legislature).
As with all legislative candidates in northern Maine, the BDN conducted no interviews in the Houlton House race, asked no follow-up questions, performed no background checks. In short, it did nothing but publish whatever the candidates told it. And it didn’t even bother to put these anemic profiles on its Web site.
Of all Maine’s dailies, the Bangor Daily does the worst job of covering legislative races. The other papers at least go through the motions of contacting the candidates directly. While the state’s other papers don’t share the BDN’s apparent belief that potential legislators aren’t important enough to merit time with an actual journalist, they still exhibit some of the same lack of thoroughness, curiosity and context.
For example, there’s the Sept. 30 story in the Kennebec Journal on the candidates in House District 79 in the Augusta suburbs.
Republican hopeful Charles Jacques of West Gardiner is in favor of legalizing marijuana, abolishing county government and privatizing the Maine Turnpike, which ought to provide sufficient fodder for a decent story. Reporter Meghan Malloy made a perfunctory effort at reporting all this, but neglected to dig into Jacques’ background. If she had, she’d have discovered he’s a convicted felon, who claims he was framed for breaking and entering a Portland apartment in the early 1980s because he was trying to expose a plot by rogue law enforcement officials to cover up the murder of his sister.
Should this be a central issue in the campaign? That ought to be up to the voters, but they can’t make that decision if they aren’t given the facts. And the KJ can’t get the facts if it doesn’t take legislative coverage seriously enough to do some probing.
In general, the KJ and Sentinel have made an effort to provide some contrast between local pols. They’ve run Q &A pieces, giving candidates an opportunity to state their stands on taxes, energy and the economy. Unfortunately, when the answers aren’t clear, the papers haven’t done much to clarify them. In an Oct. 5 article, Democratic state Senate hopeful Diane Messer of Liberty dodged a question about changes in the state income or sales tax by saying, “I believe there is much room for improvement to our income tax and sales tax plans.” Who doesn’t?
There’s also the matter of ignoring history. In an Oct. 6 piece on the Senate District 24 race, KJ reporter Susan Cover neglects to mention that GOP candidate Kim Davis, a former House member, lost her seat two years ago after she refusing to take part in newspaper interviews or attend public forums.
Davis’ odd tactics were reported by the KJ at the time, but the public might have appreciated a follow-up question or two on why their then-representative behaved so oddly and whether she intends to do so again.
Come on, stop wasting ink on blather. There must be dozens of issues out there on which candidates ought to have clear positions, from abortion to immigration to waste-water treatment.
Get the real story.
The idea is to help people vote.
Electoral division: The Maine Sunday Telegram has at least one editor who doesn’t understand how Maine splits its electoral votes. That’s obvious from the sub-headline on the front page of the Oct. 5 edition that read in part, “McCain looking to win at least two electoral votes here.”
In a two-way race, Maine can’t divide its four electoral votes so that any candidate gets two. The state awards one vote to the winner of each congressional district and two to the statewide winner. That allows 4-0 or 3-1 splits, but not a 2-2 tie. A refresher course on all this might be in order before election night.
We’re great: The Lewiston Sun Journal got carried away with its coverage of itself on Oct. 5. The Sun Journal devoted nearly a full page of its shrinking news hole to a gushing piece by news editor Mark Mogensen on the 25th anniversary of the debut of its Sunday edition.
Whether the paper, the first in Maine to use extensive color, was ever “Groundbreaking” (as the headline described it) is debatable, but there’s little question that these days, it rarely pushes the envelope. Why that is might make a much better Sunday feature than this one.
It’s difficult to figure who would want to read so much about such an obscure anniversary, besides Sun Journal publisher Jim Costello, who’s the subject of a sidebar piece and is extensively quoted in the main story.
Probably just answered my own question.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.