The Portland Press Herald's Odd Case of Amnesia
Whatever happened to …
It was a blockbuster story that broke in late 2007: John D. Duncan, a partner at the prestigious Verrill Dana law firm in Portland, was being accused of stealing $300,000 from clients and his partners. The Portland Press Herald approached the matter cautiously. Even though the scandal had been the talk of the local legal community for some time, the paper didn’t begin its coverage until Verrill Dana sent a letter to its clients in December apologizing for the incident. The paper also waited until reports on the matter had been filed with the state Board of Overseers of the Bar.
In stories over the next month or so, Press Herald staff writer Trevor Maxwell barely hinted at the underlying issue – whether top officials at the law firm had attempted to cover up Duncan’s wrongdoing – instead waiting until February to even make that topic the subject of an article.
This go-slow approach made it appear as if the paper, then owned by the Blethen family, was reluctant or afraid or both to challenge such prominent members of the bar.
That appearance of not wanting to mess with the local elite was enhanced once Duncan was sentenced to prison in September of 2008. After that hearing, the whole subject vanished from the Portland paper’s pages, although other media outlets made some efforts to follow up.
But for all of 2009, Verrill Dana’s problems were being dealt with without any news coverage. Even when Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Warren Silver issued a ruling in October clearing the way for certain internal documents about the case to be made public, there was no mention in the mainstream media (although it did show up in the legal press). When the full state Supreme Court decided later that same month that Silver’s decision needed more work, the Press Herald, now under new ownership, was still following the same approach of ignoring as many of the unpleasant details as possible.
It wasn’t until January 4, 2010, more than fifteen months after its last story, that Maxwell and the Portland paper got around to catching up on the Duncan affair.
In an odd journalistic decision, the newest developments in this article – the ones most editors would have insisted on placing at the top – are buried deep on the jump page.
Whether the Press Herald will now decide to deal with the host of unresolved issues touched on in its latest piece remains to be seen. I’m trying to be optimistic – even though there’s little evidence to indicate the new editors care much about follow-up.
Dead and gone: It’s now been over two weeks since Than Yim was murdered outside a private club in Portland following some sort of altercation.
In that time, there must have been a few developments in the case – determination of cause of death, identification of suspects, discovery of a motive – but if so, the Press Herald (and the rest of the local media) hasn’t bothered to report them.
A correspondent e-mailed me to say that “if Yim’s name were O’Malley or Diamon, the paper would be all over it.”
Although, if he’d been named John Duncan, I’m not so sure.
A zone of its own: Best-selling author Stephen King has switched formats at his Dover-Foxcroft station, WZON (FM 103.1), ending the simulcast of the “Sports Zone” programming of WZON (620 AM) in Bangor and replacing it with liberal-leaning talk shows from Air America and other sources.
The station is now known as “The Pulse” and may add a local talk show in the near future.
A similar progressive format failed in the Portland market in 2007 and was replaced, ironically enough, by syndicated sports shows. So, Air America’s prospects in the hard-core Republican heartland of Piscataquis County don’t seem bright. But King is not subject to the same financial pressures as other radio station owners and tends to air whatever pleases him, rather than what attracts the widest possible audience.
As Maine doesn’t go: The conservative Web site As Maine Goes has attracted the attention of an anonymous liberal satirist, who’s set up his or her own site to expose the alleged foibles of right-wing posters on AMG.
According to the author of As Maine Goes LOLZ (“lolz” is texting slang for laughing out loud frequently and intensely), parody is the only way to address AMG’s deficiencies.
“Even if I could post there directly,” he or she writes, “it would be useless because you can’t explain to an idiot that they are an idiot; you can’t explain to the paranoid that they are paranoid. So I decided to just blog about it here.”
In addition to rebuttals of some AMG postings, LOLZ also features the author’s pointed profiles of a few of the site’s more prolific posters.
I doubt any of them will be using his or her quotes in their promotional material.
Munjoy reborn: Pseudonymous blogger Thomas Cushing Munjoyhas been absent from the discussion about the Press Herald for more than six months, while he relocated to the Southwest. In addition, his old postings have vanished from the Web.
But Munjoy’s self-imposed silence is about to end. In an e-mail, he reports he’ll soon start blogging as “CitizenJournalist34.”
And another wave of revulsion sweeps the Press Herald newsroom.
High-def deficient: On January 3, I tried to watch the New England Patriots game on WGME-TV’s high-definition channel on Time Warner Cable. But WGME in Portland was also running a crawl across the bottom of the screen listing cancellations due to winter weather. For some technical reason I’m not competent to understand, this crawl caused the picture to shrink from full-screen to the old analog size.
I switched to WABI-TV in Bangor (one of the few advantages of living in the boonies is you get both Portland and Bangor CBS stations on cable), where they were foregoing informing viewers about postponed bean suppers in favor of football, so the picture filled the whole screen.
I bet I wasn’t the only one who was happy with that.
Was it something I said? Bangor Daily News columnist Emmet Meara noted the retirement of longtime BDN reporter Walter Griffin in his January 2, 2010 column.
Griffin’s departure comes shortly after the one who Meara referred to as the “Professional scold” who writes this blog took Griffin to task for his puff piece on Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.
Griffin may be gone, but my rebuke didn’t seem to affect anyone else’s decisions to fill pages with political fluff. On January 2, the Kennebec Journal borrowed a piece from the Spartanburg, S.C. Herald-Journal on how native daughter Libby Mitchell, now a resident of Vassalboro and a Democratic candidate for governor, has excelled in her new home.
As if the KJ couldn’t come up with something inconsequential of its own to say about Mitchell.
That same day, the Press Herald published an air-filled article on Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ Washington influence by freelancer Seth McLaughlin, without giving readers a clue who McLaughlin is. For the record, he appears to be a frequent contributor to such publications as Human Events (“Headquarters of the Conservative Underground”) and World Politics Review.
He also seems to be a former reporter for the Washington Times.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Unengaged with unemployment: Maine Sunday Telegram staff writer Ann S. Kim did about half the necessary work on her January 3 story on why so few eligible Mainers sign up for unemployment benefits.
Kim quoted advocates for the jobless, but no representatives of employers or business groups. She ignored the relationship between benefits and taxes. And she never mentioned the recent sharp increase in those taxes on employers in order to fund those benefits.
Maybe the Telegram figures Kim’s stuff balances off the material the Press Herald gets from McLaughlin.
Dictionary deficient: From a December 31, 2009 story in the Morning Sentinel by staff writer Scott Monroe on a Fairfield town councilor who was re-elected even though he asked people not to vote for him:
“It’s not that uncommon for public officials to be elected in cases where they aren’t formally running, said Michael Starn, spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association. … ‘They’re very unusual, but they do occur from time to time,’ said Starn.”
What’s unusual is the meaning of uncommon.
Dictionary defiant: From a December 30 story by staff writer David Hart in the Original Irregular, a weekly newspaper published in Kingfield:
“He also stated that footnotes on the budget sheets should be derived on issues that relate to splitting the budgets in this transition period to potentially reduce any mistakes in the process.”
Footnoted definitely needed.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.