It’s Puff-Piece Season At MaineToday Media
Gushing from Washington and Augusta: The MaineToday Media newspapers – the Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel – devoted a lot of space this past weekend to stories with little value, other than to inflate the egos of the people being written about. Two major feature pieces lacked any semblance of news hooks, contained questionable assessments of their subjects, and ignored unpleasant facts that might have given the articles different slants.
MTM Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan “National Treasure” Riskind’s June 12 puff piece on Emmett S. Beliveau (“Mainer moves in White House inner circle”) goes to extraordinary lengths to make its subject, the chief of staff to the White House chief of staff, appear more important than he is. Riskind claims Beliveau “holds down a key place in the White House power structure,” but presents almost no evidence to support that contention. He quotes Beliveau’s family and friends praising his diligence and hard work, but offers little proof he has any impact on government policies affecting Maine or anywhere else.
The only hint that Beliveau might have some juice comes from Democratic U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud – described by Riskind as “a powerful guy in his own right,” even though most congressional rankings place him well down in the House’s lower ranks – because the congressman frequently calls on Beliveau to bring issues to the administration’s attention. The other member of Maine’s delegation mentioned in the story, Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe (who actually is a powerful person in her own right), said she hadn’t spoken to Beliveau since he took the job back in February.
There was probably a small story here of the local-boy-makes-good variety. But Riskind’s attempt to turn it into a blockbuster piece about a major power broker doesn’t come close to fitting the few facts he presents.
Still, Riskind’s work looks restrained when compared to staff writer Beth Staples’ June 12 profile for the Sentinel and KJ of the new chief of the Maine State Police. Staples informs her readers that Col. Robert Williams “will honor the state’s largest law enforcement agency’s legacy and embrace emerging technology.” She writes that Williams “feels honored to be entrusted to lead the force that formed in 1921 and has core values of integrity, fairness, compassion and excellence.”
Someone should explain to Staples the difference between journalism and public relations.
The story touches in passing on budget problems facing the state police, but quickly moves on to press-release-like paragraphs on the new chief’s background and philosophy (“he will lead by example”), as well as his questionable assertion that a new radio communication system and increased reliance on computers and social media can overcome the effects of years of staff reductions and inadequate budgets for equipment.
But who wants to wallow in all that controversial stuff.
Un-Cover-ed: MaineToday State House reporter Susan Cover did a reasonably thorough job in her June 11 story of reporting the details of the budget compromise reached by the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. But Cover neglected to explain one crucial aspect of the deal, and her editors failed to follow up on that omission.
In her third paragraph, Cover writes that committee co-chairman Patrick Flood “presented an amendment offering $20 million in future revenue from wholesale liquor sales to help prevent any budget gap.”
And then, she drops the subject.
I suspect most readers would have no clue as to the implications of Flood’s proposal. I certainly didn’t, until I read two pieces in the June 13 Bangor Daily News, one from Mal Leary of the Capitol News Service and the other by the BDN’s Kevin Miller. Both articles explained that the extra money, slated in part for transportation programs, will come from a yet-to-be-negotiated new contract to operate the state’s wholesale liquor business, although neither story ventured into the complex political dealings that will be necessary to complete such a transaction.
There’s a lot more to be said about this matter. Let’s hope Cover, once she recovers from covering a week of late night budget meetings, picks up where she left off.
There’s a word for that, but this isn’t it: I’m reasonably liberal when it comes to quirks in spoken English. If some guy in a bar uses “irregardless” in a sentence explaining why he can beat the crap out of me even after downing three boilermakers and a martini, I’m not going to make a fuss over his use of nonstandard vocabulary.
Printed English composed by sober writers is a different matter.
When Bangor Daily News columnist Renee Ordway told readers on June 11 that she doesn’t like to reveal “what political party I’m registered with,” she made a common mistake.
One registers to vote, but enrolls in a party.
Ordway also notes that she’s not a “registered independent.” She’s correct. There’s no such thing in Maine. Voters who don’t belong to a party are officially termed “unenrolled.”
Call me petty, but I think that if somebody is going to write a column about a subject, that person should have a working knowledge of the meaning of the words involved.
On a related note, Associated Press reporter Glenn Adams is obviously no music critic. If he was, he wouldn’t have been fooled by the homophone in a quote he used in a June 13 story on the accomplishments of the current Legislature. Adams wrote that Maine Chamber of Commerce President Dana Connors said the session set “the right tone and cord.”
For those who heat with wood, perhaps. For all others, it ought to be “chord.”
Editors at the Lewiston Sun Journal and Morning Sentinel didn’t catch that mistake, but somebody was awake on the copy desk at the Bangor Daily News and inserted an “h.”
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.