Maine Media Mistakes of the Week
It’s the error that can’t seem to get completely corrected.
It began on July 20, when Mainebiz magazine published a story about a $30,000 donation to Maine Medical Center in Portland by an entity called “the Herald-Pingree Fund.” According to the article by staff writer Robert Cook, John Lamb, the hospital’s communications director, said the fund “is sponsored by the Portland Press Herald and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.”
The news that the state’s largest daily newspaper and its incumbent 1st District congresswoman, a candidate for re-election in November, were jointly operating a charity caused considerable consternation. Posters on the As Maine Goes Web site speculated on the political implications and the likelihood of biased news coverage. In media circles, there were e-mails questioning both the Press Herald’s ethics and the accuracy of the story.
Within a few hours, Pingree’s communications director, Willy Ritch, posted this comment:
“The Mainebiz story is not correct. The donation came from the Harold Pingree Fund – no relation to Congresswoman Pingree. Congresswoman Pingree was not involved in this project nor, as far as I know, was the Portland Press Herald.”
Shortly afterwards, Mainebiz corrected the story online, explaining that the actual donor was the Harold A. Pingree Fund, which was founded by a now-deceased Portland doctor of that name.
Editor Carol Coultas said Cook, who’s new to the state, misheard the name. Coultas said somehow in the editing process, the story came to include the spurious connections to the Press Herald and the congresswoman.
“There was an assumption that was incorrect,” she said. “It wasn’t just my mistake, but it was ultimately my mistake.
“I didn’t catch it. I didn’t check it. I just took it that it was Connor following through on his promise of doing public service in the community.”
Coultas said a correction in the print edition of the bi-weekly magazine will run in the next issue.
And that would have been the end of the matter, except the Press Herald decided to do its own story on July 23, setting the record straight.
While that piece, by staff writer Matt Wickenheiser, lays out the facts – including a self-serving comment from Connor about how the whole incident “makes us aware of being vigilant ourselves. It also reinforces within us the need to quickly admit and correct mistakes” – the sub-headline contained an error. It referred to “Sen. Pingree’s office.” Pingree is a representative, not a senator.
So much for vigilance.
The mistake was corrected after a few hours online, although, contrary to Connor’s promise, there was no admission of the screw-up.
Maybe in tomorrow’s paper.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com