Story on Monks’ Book Lacks Details and Disclaimer
The rich get different treatment: On August 11, the New York Times published a lengthy article on Millicent Monks’ new book, Songs of Three Islands, and its painful details about her prominent family’s history of mental illness.
Even though Monks lives in Cape Elizabeth, the Maine Sunday Telegram didn’t get around to covering that story until August 29, when it offered up a tepid and timid attempt by staff writer Bob Keyes to provide Monks with publicity, but also to avoid, at any cost, offending her or her relatives.
The Monks are a wealthy and influential family – she’s a descendent of the Carnegies; her husband, Robert A.G. Monks, is a force in financial and political circles – with connections to a wide range of Maine institutions and enterprises. For instance, their son, Robert C.S. Monks, is an investor in and a board member of MaineToday Media, the company that owns the Sunday Telegram.
There was no disclaimer accompanying the story noting that conflict of interest.
And that wasn’t the only thing that was missing.
While the Times story by Lisa Belkin delves deeply into the Monks’ history of mental illness, which is the principle topic of the book, the Telegram provides no similar details, other than to say, “Despite its enormous fortune, the family has been riven by tragedies stemming from mental illness that has passed from one generation to another.”
What kind of mental illness? The Telegram story doesn’t say, even though there’s quite a bit about that in the Times piece.
How did this disease affect the family? Although the New York paper mentions the uncomfortable state of relations among the Monks, past and present, the Maine publication seems happy to shy away from those intimate and uncomfortable details.
In fact, there’s precious little in Keyes’ piece about the contents of the book at all, as he relies instead on unenlightening interviews with Monks and her friends. This might be an acceptable approach if he were tiptoeing around unpleasant and unverified gossip, but that’s hardly the case here.
Keyes and his paper come off as being afraid to tread over difficult terrain, even if the Times has already cleared a path.
The trees are alright: Headline from the August 31 Bangor Daily News:
The first sentence of the story: “This long, hot summer has taken its toll on home gardens, green lawns, and farmers’ crops, but so far has affected Maine’s trees only minimally, experts say.”
By mid-morning on the 31st, an editor had finally awakened, and the headline was changed online to read, “Trees bearing up despite hot, dry summer.”
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.