Another Web Scoop, And a Candidate’s Attack
Flying high: Until now, I haven’t been that impressed with the Maine Watchdog Web site.
While Stephan Burklin, who seems to be Watchdog’s sole contributor, has occasionally uncovered some news that had gone unreported elsewhere (such as the recent sharp increase in the Maine Turnpike Authority’s budget), much of the material on the site consisted of re-spinning stories that had already appeared in the mainstream media in a more libertarian-conservative direction. That’s not surprising, since (as my DownEast.com colleague Mike Tipping has previously reported) Watchdog is underwritten by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a conservative-leaning journalistic training operation.
But Burkin more than justified his site’s existence on Sept. 23 when he posted a lengthy and detailed report on Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree’s numerous flights on a corporate jet owned by her fiancé, Donald Sussman.
While it appears from subsequent reports in the mainstream media that Pingree hasn’t violated any law or congressional rule, she has called into question the sincerity of statements she made before being elected to Congress in which she condemned elected officials who accepted rides on corporate jets.
According to a reliable source, Burkin shopped his scoop to at least one mainstream media outlet, but was rejected, before posting it on his own site. I can understand the reluctance of editors to pass on work from a biased source, but I can’t comprehend why any responsible news outlet would simply ignore Burkin’s meticulously detailed investigation, instead of using it as, at the least, the basis for further reporting.
Too lazy, I guess.
Here’s hoping for more pieces of this quality from Maine Watchdog. And here’s hoping that Web site inspires the old, tired media to get off their collective butts and do some digging.
A chill in the air: Aggressive Maine journalists (oops, can someone shut off the oxymoron alarm) should be at least a little uneasy about a request by independent Eliot Cutler’s gubernatorial campaign that the state ethics commission investigate a Web site called “The Secret File on Eliot Cutler.”
The site claims to be the work of “a group of researchers, writers and journalists who are frustrated that Maine’s mainstream media is either unwilling or incapable of adequately investigating the backgrounds of candidates for higher office,” but the people behind it have gone to some lengths to remain anonymous.
There’s little else secret about “The Secret File.” Most of the material has been reported elsewhere. Much of the rest is speculative, skewed or inaccurate. But the Cutler campaign has given the site considerable publicity by trying to convince the ethics commission to force those behind “The Secret File” to reveal their identities and the source of their funding.
I’m firmly in favor of journalists signing their work and disclosing their affiliations. But I’m equally firmly against the government requiring journalists — or pseudo-journalists — to do so, which would seem to be a clear violation of the First Amendment.
The ethics commission should tell the Cutler campaign to pound sand. If the candidate doesn’t like what the site is saying about him, he has ample opportunities to correct the record without the help of a state agency.
Any other outcome of this case threatens the future of Maine’s free press.
No Connor in Philly: Contrary to rumors, MaineToday Media CEO Richard Connor was not among the bidders on Sept. 23 for the bankrupt Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.
The papers were purchased at auction by a group of creditors for $105 million.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.