Covering, or Not, a Commissioner's Resignation
Hooked on press releases: The news that Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Norman Olsen had resigned broke on July 20 in the form of a bland news release from the office of Gov. Paul LePage. The state’s press corps initially treated the matter as curious – Olsen had only been in office six months – but not remarkable. That is, until Olsen put out a 1,600-word statement leveling a number of serious charges against the LePage administration. Only then did the media swing into action. Sort of.
Broadcast coverage was, as usual, superficial, focusing on the more sensational aspects of Olsen’s claims, but involving virtually no digging into their credibility. Even the normally reliable Maine Public Radio was slow on the uptake, waiting until the next day to produce its first in-depth piece. Even then, public radio’s coverage was driven more by press releases from the various parties than by any serious digging.
The best first-day article came from the Lewiston Sun Journal’s Steve Mistler, who comprehensively covered the issues behind the resignation, but didn’t spend much ink dealing with Olsen’s allegations.
The MaineToday Media papers regurgitated the press releases in a story by staff writer Rebekah Metzler, but ignored most of Olsen’s charges. That was an odd decision, because the ex-commissioner had accused LePage of refusing to help Portland’s fishing industry and seeking to establish another fishing port elsewhere. That seems as if it would be front-page fodder for MTM’s Portland Press Herald, but it got hardly a mention until the city’s mayor put out a release on July 21 asking for a meeting with the governor to discuss this alleged slight. Metzler finally got around to that little matter on July 22, although she still barely skimmed the surface, while the Sun Journal’s Mistler was probing deep into the background of the conflict, carefully assessing many of Olsen’s allegations. Meanwhile, in the Bangor Daily News, Matt Wickenheiser took a long and thorough look at the Portland issues, the same issues the Portland paper still didn’t seem to find all that interesting.
What strikes me as most significant about all this controversy is that there appears to have been ample evidence that Olsen was in trouble with the state’s politically potent lobster industry (and possibly with LePage) long before this came to a head in the governor’s office on Wednesday morning. Other than a passing mention of some comments the commissioner made at a forum several months ago, nothing of this conflict made its way into news stories. No reporters or editors were curious enough about what was happening behind the scenes to make some inquiries, even though several stories later said rumors of Olsen’s ouster were circulating widely.
Maybe that’s because nobody put out a press release.
Journalistic judge: The July 22 Bangor Daily News carried an Associated Press story on possible reforms of Maine’s Clean Election Act after a court ruling that declared part of it unconstitutional.
Online the piece is correctly credited to the AP’s Glenn Adams. But in early editions of the print version, the byline reads, “George Singal.”
Which would be a serious conflict of interest, seeing as how Singal is the judge who made the ruling.
Could someone wake up the copy editor?
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.