Clueless Coverage of Casinos
Bad bet: MaineToday Media State House reporter Ethan Wilensky-Lanford usually covers simple stories – public hearings, press conferences, news releases – where his interpretive skills aren’t overly taxed. Somebody says one thing. Somebody else says another. Slap it together in reverse-pyramid form, and call it a day.
But as legislative sessions wind down, the issues tend to become more complicated, and that seems to be taxing Wilensky-Lanford’s journalistic abilities to their limit.
On March 31, the state House of Representatives started debating a divided report from the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee on whether to allow casino gambling in Maine. Wilensky-Lanford correctly noted in his April 1 story that the House rejected the recommendation of a majority of the committee to limit the gambling measures that would be placed on the November ballot to whether there should be a casino in Oxford County.
But he missed most of the rest of what was going on.
According to more complete coverage by Rebekah Metzler of the Lewiston Sun Journal and Kevin Miller of the Bangor Daily News, the underlying currents were far more complicated than Wilensky-Lanford made them out to be.
His story – which ran in the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, and Morning Sentinel – made it appear as if there were only two factions in the debate: those who favored letting the public vote on the Oxford casino alone, and those who wanted to include a competing measure on the ballot that would have authorized casinos in Oxford, at Hollywood Slots in Bangor, and in Washington County.
That wasn’t the case, as both Metzler’s and Miller’s stories made clear. Some legislators also wanted to permit an expansion of gambling at Hollywood Slots for a limited time to gauge the effects, while others sought a policy on casinos that they said would be more comprehensive. Pro- and anti-gambling lawmakers were mixed and matched in confusing coalitions on all sides of the issue.
It wasn’t just Wilensky-Lanford who seemed confused. Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s A.J. Higgins, a normally reliable State House veteran, offered up a muddled piece on April 1 that made it sound as if the pilot project at Hollywood Slots and the three-casino option were part of the same amendment.
In fact, they’re competing plans.
On April 2, Wilensky-Lanford gave it another try, this time with somewhat better results (maybe he read the competition’s stuff). He finally explained that there were several proposals, not just the two he had initially covered. He broke the news that the amendment calling for a test run of casino gambling at Hollywood Slots was no longer going to be offered. And he gave some sense of the myriad coalitions forming around the various plans.
Most of that should have been in his first piece, but at least there are signs he’s learning.
She shoots, she doesn’t score: MaineToday Media went all out to cover President Barack Obama’s Portland appearance on April 1, assigning three reporters, three photographers, and a columnist to the event. Overkill? Perhaps, but a refreshing change from the often-perfunctory coverage the company usually offers.
The most unusual member of the MTM team was Jenn Menendez – up until now, a sports reporter – who was given the assignment of covering the crowd outside the Portland Expo (normally, a sports venue, so maybe that’s why). Menendez did pedestrian pieces on attendees who like Obama, on protestors who don’t care for the president, and on people with tickets who were turned away.
The first and last items got front-page play in the Press Herald (for no good reason). The second was buried inside, seemingly inviting the anti-Obama crowd to claim media bias.
More curious was the Morning Sentinel’s use of Menendez’s story on the pro-Obama crowd (which contained a one-paragraph mention of those with opposing viewpoints, mentioning only that they were present) on its front page under the headline, “Some spectators praise Obama; others pan him.”
The panning was in short supply in that article.
When the letters of complaint pour in from Republicans, Tea Partiers, and other disgruntled types, they’ll be justified.
Getting there early: From a story by staff writer Rebekah Metzler in the April 2 edition of the Lewiston Sun Journal:
“Giordano said she and her husband first began protesting on April 15 last year at an anti-tax rally in August.”
They’re also usually in line to vote by September.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com