Press Herald Inconsistent On Transparency
File under hypocrisy: For months, the Portland Press Herald has been running editorials critical of The Cutler Files, a defunct Web site filled with attacks (most of them true) on independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler.
For instance, last October, the Press Herald argued that even though the site had journalistic aspects, the First Amendment didn’t apply to it. It editorialized that the then-anonymous authors should identify themselves and comply with all campaign-finance laws. “A website, like a television commercial, is a tool of a campaign and voters should know who is trying to influence them,” the paper’s opinion piece read.
In January, the Portland paper ran an editorial calling on the state Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices to fully disclose every aspect of the anti-Cutler effort, rather than continue to keep the authors’ names secret. “Instead of identifying the website operators in the interest of transparency and common decency,” the Press Herald claimed, “the agency charged with upholding the integrity of Maine's election laws allowed individuals who made a mockery of the term ‘clean elections’ to continue hiding from the public.”
I’m all for transparency, common decency and an informed electorate. So, I’m a bit puzzled as to how the newspaper’s editorial board reconciles its position on The Cutler Files with its contradictory stance on its own secret political contributions.
If it’s wrong for Dennis Bailey and Thom Rhoads, the authors of The Cutler Files, to have concealed their identities, why is it acceptable for the Press Herald to donate ad space to the campaign to create an elected mayor in Portland and not tell its readers about it until after a citizen filed a complaint with the ethics commission?
The Portland paper claimed in a filing with the commission last week that, under the First Amendment, it’s exempt from the state’s campaign-finance laws. Somehow, its advertising space, unlike The Cutler Files or a TV commercial, is protected by the state and federal constitutions from disclosure.
I’m not a lawyer or a constitutional scholar, but I can still figure out that this is, at best, wildly inconsistent and, at worst, seriously hypocritical. Either everybody has a right to anonymous free speech or nobody does. Even more important, either a media outlet has the integrity to tell its readers in advance about its political activities and prejudices, or it forfeits the moral high ground when others engage in similar sleazy activities.
Dennis Bailey (who lied about his involvement with The Cutler Files) is hardly an ethical paragon, but at least he eventually came clean.
That’s more than the Portland Press Herald can say.
Beltway blather: I hope we can expect more from MaineToday Media’s new part-time Washington correspondent Jonathan Riskind than the condescending platitudes about this state he offers up in his Feb. 6 column
Riskind fills the news hole with the sort of flatlander-tourist drivel that demonstrates nothing except how little he knows about Maine. It might have been nice if he’d given readers of the Maine Sunday Telegram, Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal some actual news from D.C., instead.
Such as more details on a report that our junior senator, Susan Collins, and Thomas Daffron, a prominent lobbyist with deep connections to Maine Republicans, have together purchased a $700,000 four-bedroom house on Capitol Hill. (Thanks to Dirigo Blue for spotting this item, even without a correspondent in the nation’s capital.)
After the fact: The MaineToday Media papers have yet to fully cover the problems afflicting the Maine Green Energy Alliance. But that didn’t stop the papers from running an editorial on Feb. 7 that ignores not only the political implications surrounding the alliance’s failure, but also the journalist that broke the story.
As noted here last week, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting’s Naomi Schalit uncovered this mess in late January. Several days later, the Press Herald’s Tux Turkel took a half-hearted stab at the story.
Turkel shrugged off in a single short paragraph the indications of political pressure and patronage that Schalit uncovered, instead concentrating on how the weatherization program would be revamped. Too bad, because as Schalit demonstrated in a follow-up piece on Feb. 7, there’s a lot more evidence of behind-the-scenes partisan dealings still to be reported.
Radio waves: Fallout from the most recent Arbitron ratings in the Portland market: According to posters on Radio-Info’s northern New England site, Saga Communications, which owns eight local stations, is making changes after its weakest showing in many years. The Saga stations are changing program directors and personalities, in what are expected to be the first of many such alterations.
All Maine music, all the time: Maine.FM is a new Internet radio station that plays only Maine-related music. According to Radio-Info, it’s the work of Sean Demery, who moved to this state after a stint as morning host on KMIT in Seattle.
The offerings are varied, ranging from a show hosted by Spose to tracks from Gattis and Guster, a band with only the most tenuous connection to the Pine Tree State (one of its members lived here for a short time).
A bet I would have lost: The Portland Daily Sun turned two years old last week.
Like most media “experts,” I gave the free five-day-a-week paper no more than six months when it started up in 2009, in the midst of recession and increasing public indifference to print.
I’m not sure what its continued existence proves – it rarely breaks important stories, and its Web site is nearly worthless – but happy birthday, anyway.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.