Papers Show How Not To Cover Maine’s Senators
Outsourcing the news: Since at least the mid-1990s, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have had a chilly relationship. Occasional hints of the two moderate Republicans’ dislike for each other have crept into news stories, particularly after both women ended up in the U.S. Senate. But in recent years, most of the reporters and editors who were aware of the animosity either retired or took buy-outs, leaving another gaping blank space in the Maine media’s institutional memory.
So, it’s no surprise that coverage of this low-level feud has been nonexistent until this spring, when a Washington Post freelancer named Martha Sherrill unveiled the spat in a lengthy, soft-focus piece for the May 5 Lifestyle section.
You might think that Maine news operations, badly beaten on a story that had been sitting under their noses for nearly two decades, would hide their embarrassment by rushing to match or expand upon Sherrill’s scoop. You might think that, at a minimum, the daily newspapers, many of which subscribe to the Post’s news service, would reprint her story.
You might think that, but you’d be mostly wrong.
A day after the news broke, MaineToday Media Washington bureau chief Jonathan “National Treasure” Riskind put a link to the story on his blog. Another day later, the MTM-owned Portland Press Herald put the piece in a prominent place on its Web site, but not in the print edition. MTM’s Waterville daily, the Morning Sentinel, did carry an abridged version of the article. The Bangor Daily News also put the piece online, but not in the dead-tree version. The paper also ran a May 7 column by Renee Ordway (that doesn’t seem to be online) discussing the story it hadn’t printed.
And that was the extent of the coverage.
It’s almost as if nobody in an editorial position wanted to take a chance on offending the senators by making too much of their personal dispute or probing more deeply into what it means for Maine. Which would seem to indicate a severe lack of news judgment, curiosity, initiative and – above all – guts.
Balance? We don’t need no stinkin’ balance: I don’t expect much from TV news. Car crashes. Fires. Breathless lives reports from places where something happened hours ago. And a weather forecast.
It was the latter that caused me to tune in to WCSH-TV in Portland at 5 p.m. on May 6. But before meteorologist Joe Cupo told me it was almost certainly going to rain during the next afternoon’s Portland Sea Dogs game (it didn’t), I had to sit through several weak news stories, including one on a national group advocating for stricter background checks on gun buyers (this piece doesn’t seem to be online).
The piece contained short clips from a rally in Lewiston of group members and Mayor Larry Gilbert promoting legislation to tighten the rules. Then, it was time for a word from the other side. And who did the intrepid journalists at Channel 6 find to represent that viewpoint?
The National Rifle Association? Nope.
The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine? Uh uh.
A respected pro-gun-rights legislator? Sorry.
A law-abiding gun owner? Don’t be silly.
They found a convicted felon. He complained that the current law was unfair because it prevented him from buying guns. He thought that was wrong because he might need one. For something.
Never mind that this specious argument had only a tangential connection to the position being advocated at the rally. What sort of warped editorial thinking allowed this stupidity on the air in place of a legitimate opposing view?
In the future, WCSH should stick to fires. For those stories, you don’t have to get both sides.
Controversy? What controversy? Maine Sunday Telegram staff writer David Hench continued his public-relations efforts on behalf of the state’s police agencies with his May 8 story on pending budget cuts at the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. Hench devotes his entire piece to detailing how devastating to the MDEA the loss of seven agents will be when federal funds dry up later this year. He quotes agency personnel and other cops backing up this assertion.
But the MDEA has its share of critics, ranging from Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith to civil libertarians. Including reaction to the cuts from even one of them would have gone a long way toward disguising Hench’s pro-police bias.
Punch drunk: On page B3, the May 6 Morning Sentinel carried a story about attempts in the Legislature to once again legalize professional boxing in Maine. On page C1 of the same issue, there was an article about a boxing event being held in Bingham.
Maybe the latter event was for amateurs, and maybe that’s allowed under Maine law. Maybe the promoters were unaware that the state bans boxing. Or it could be this operation is run by outlaws.
I don’t know, but it might have been nice if somebody (you know, like an editor) had noticed the seeming contradiction between the two articles and inserted a line or two explaining what was going on.
Radio rotation: About a month ago, Joe Lerman lost his job as part of the morning team on Portland country radio station WPOR. Now, according to postings at radio-info.com, Lerman has landed a new gig doing much the same thing at classic hits WFNK.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.