How to Cover a Maine Gubernatorial Race
At last, some guts: As I’ve noted before, the profiles of gubernatorial candidates that have been running lately in the Maine media, in particular those in the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News, are notable for their lack of depth. The stories tend to rehash material that’s already widely available – much of it reads as if it were taken from the candidates’ Web sites – while providing little insight into where these politicians really stand and how they would behave if elected governor.
Fortunately, there is an exception to this wave of mediocrity. The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting has produced solid pieces on several of the leading contenders, highlighting their strengths and flaws. The center’s latest effort by contributing writer Jeffrey Clark (former senior editor at Down East) is of particular note.
Clark points out discrepancies in Mitchell’s claims of bipartisanship (“In 1996, The Democratically-controlled legislature changed the rules to allow a budget to be passed with only a majority vote — meaning the Democrats could ignore what the Republicans had to say”), notes shifts in her positions on issues (“Her early support for Baldacci’s signature Dirigo Health program has morphed into something just short of outright dismissal”) and examines her spotty record on taking money from political action committees (“Her opinion … seems to shift depending on who is benefiting from them”).
Clark doesn’t uncover any instances of corruption or unethical behavior, but he does offer a clearer view of the kind of chief executive Mitchell would be than either the Portland paper (“It may seem hard to believe, but at one time Libby Mitchell was an outsider trying to break into Maine politics”) or the BDN (“Mitchell has the mannerisms and speaking style of someone accustomed to delivering both classroom lessons and political speeches”).
If only the center’s work inspired the daily papers (and broadcasters, none of whom subscribe to this service, even though it’s free) to skip the fluff and get to the meat … but hey, I can dream, can’t I?
Puffed piece: Here’s why no news organization – no matter how small or understaffed – should ever run a press release from a politician without clearly identifying it as such and checking the facts:
Because (duh!) the information contained in those releases is often skewed to benefit the sender.
This apparently isn’t obvious to the weekly Original Irregular in Kingfield, which is in danger of becoming the official campaign publication of Republican state Rep. Tom Saviello of Wilton. Saviello is running for the state Senate this year and has been bombarding the local media with columns, releases, and photo ops. The Irregular prints most of them without any indication of editing.
On May 19, the paper published a press release from the legislator under the headline “Saviello posts outstanding voting record.” In it, the paper (or, more likely, Saviello) claimed his participation in 95.5 percent of all roll call votes during the 124th Legislature merited the “outstanding” designation.
A quick glance at the state Web site would have revealed otherwise.
Of the 151 members of the Maine House of Representatives, ninety-one had voting attendance records that were the same or higher than Saviello’s. Several had perfect 100 percent ratings. The average for all House members was 94 percent, which puts Saviello’s number at just over the hump on the bell curve, hardly sufficient grounds for the “outstanding” designation in any medium except a self-serving press release.
No-name reviewer: On May 18, the Lewiston Sun Journal ran a glowing review of “The Poacher’s Son,” a new mystery novel authored by Paul Doiron. (Doiron is the editor-in-chief of Down East magazine, Down East books, and this Web site.) A Sun Journal editor added a note at the beginning of the piece, mentioning that Doiron would be giving a reading at a Farmington bookstore. What the editor didn’t bother to do was attach a byline to the article.
So who wrote it? Somebody at the newspaper? Doiron’s publicist?
Hard to tell if the lack of attribution was just bad editing, an ill-advised attempt to make the article seem more local, or outright plagiarism.
Well-known name returns: Controversial journalist Larry Grard has resurfaced, some six months after being fired from the Morning Sentinel in Waterville for sending an anti-same-sex marriage e-mail from his office computer to a national gay rights group.
Grard, with help from two conservative organizations, is suing his former employer, claiming he was dismissed last November because of his religious beliefs. In the meantime, he’s filed at least one story for Hometown Newspapers in Newport, parent company of the Somerset Times, Piscataquis Times, and SV Weekly.
The May 11 story reports on a meeting of Tea Party members in Waterville. No mention of their position on same-sex marriage.
Well-known name calls it quits: There’ll be a little less local programming on WZON radio in Bangor (620 AM) for the foreseeable future. According to the Bangor Daily News, Jeff Solari, the sports station’s afternoon host for the past five years, is leaving to become director of business development for a local law firm. Solari told the paper the move brings to an end his twenty-three-year run as a broadcaster. He said the uncertain nature of local radio contributed to his decision to make a career change.
WZON program director Dale Duff said that at least temporarily, he’ll fill Solari’s old time slot with ESPN programming and has not yet decided on when – or whether – the station will hire a replacement.
FOI FYI: The Society for Professional Journalists Maine Chapter is sponsoring a workshop on Freedom of Information, featuring SPJ’s national FOI chairman, Dave Cuillier.
It takes place at the Wishcamper Center, University of Southern Maine in Portland, on May 27 at 5:30 p.m.
According to an e-mail from SPJ Maine president Jeff Inglis, “This will be a step beyond the ‘FOI 101’ sessions we've all endured a lot of – and will take a look at how to really use FOI in our reporting.”
The event is free, but donations will be accepted. For more information contact Inglis at email@example.com.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org