MaineToday Media Fouls Up Lawsuit Coverage
A case of confusion: You might think that a newspaper chain, when forced to cover a potentially embarrassing court case concerning itself, would be extra careful in making sure its story was clear and accurate.
You might think so, but when it comes to MaineToday Media, you’d be wrong.
In MTM’s July 12 story on the Larry Grard lawsuit, the papers (Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel) managed to mess up just about everything.
Grard, a reporter at the Sentinel for over eighteen years, was fired in November 2009 for using an office computer to send an email from his personal account to a national gay rights group. In that message, which he thought he’d sent anonymously, he criticized the organization’s reaction to the defeat of a same-sex marriage law in Maine. The group complained to management and Grard was dismissed. His union, the Portland Newspaper Guild, contested the firing and eventually negotiated a settlement, but Grard rejected that deal. Instead, he filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming unlawful retaliation and bias because of his religious beliefs.
Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk recommended recently (the piece doesn’t say exactly when) that the retaliation claims be dismissed. Kravchuk’s decision still must be approved by U.S. District Court Judge George Singal. If that happens, a trial on the remaining discrimination count could be held in January.
Here’s the headline on the Press Herald’s website:
“Reporter loses bias, retaliation claims against MaineToday Media”
That’s flat-out wrong, since Grard hadn’t officially lost anything. And even the setback he’d suffered didn’t affect the bias complaint.
The print versions had accurate headlines, but the stories, attributed only to “Staff Report” or “Kennebec Journal,” were so confusing that I doubt most readers could figure them out.
In the first sentence, the article states Grard had “lost two claims.” That seems to indicate both the bias and retaliation complaints were thrown out, which wasn’t the case. There were actually two retaliation claims, and those were the ones that are recommended for dismissal. The religious discrimination issue wasn’t part of the hearing. Nowhere in the piece is that clearly explained.
This story reads as if it had been written and edited by a committee, some members of which had no experience in journalism. Law, maybe, but not journalism.
Error compounded: Earlier this week, I pointed out the lack of institutional memory among Morning Sentinel editors, who allowed a July 10 article misstating the past political employment of energy developer Richard Silkman to pass across their desks without changes. The piece says Silkman worked for independent Gov. Angus King, when he actually served as state planning director for Republican Gov. John McKernan.
I thought the matter was history until I opened the July 13 Lewiston Sun Journal to find an abbreviated version of the same story, complete with the error.
It’s been in print twice now without being corrected. I guess that makes it true.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.