Speak No Ill Of The Dead
Selective histories: When a public figure or someone who has attracted public notice dies, the Maine news media tends to treat them as if all their sins had been expunged from the record, no matter how serious those trespasses happened to be.
There were two glaring examples of this sort of incompetent and incomplete coverage in the Portland Press Herald last week.
Former Democratic U.S. Representative. Peter Kyros died on July 10 at the age of 86. Two days later, MaineToday Media Washington bureau chief Kevin Miller turned out an article on Kyros’ career that was notable mostly for what was left out.
While noting that Kyros supported the fishing industry and came to oppose the war in Vietnam, it glosses over the four-term congressman’s stunning defeat in the 1974 elections by little-known Republican David Emery. As even cursory research would have revealed, Kyros was involved in an automobile accident, possibly alcohol-related, in Washington that year, after which he left the scene without notifying police. He also took his re-election for granted, running a lackluster campaign in the midst of the Watergate scandal, apparently assuming anti-GOP sentiment would assure his victory. Emery used that seeming indifference to capitalize on the theme that Kyros was out of touch with Maine.
As for his post-congressional activities, Miller wrote that he worked “for several firms active on Capitol Hill, advocating for scientific and medical research.” Come on, can’t we call a lobbyist a lobbyist?
There’s no mention of Kyros’ disastrous attempt to return to the House of Representatives in 1976, a move derailed by the discovery that his supporters had forged many of the signatures on his nominating petitions.
This sort of negative information need not be the central focus of a story written after someone’s death, but there’s no excuse for not at least mentioning it in order to provide context. Otherwise, the reporter risks skewing his piece, sometimes to the point where his credibility could be questioned.
For an example of that, check out Press Herald police reporter David Hench’s July 13 story on Matthew Blanchard, who was shot to death on July 11 on India Street.
Blanchard may have been the victim in that still-unsolved crime, but Hench’s effort to brush aside his less-than-exemplary background by claiming in his first sentence that “Tragedy had forced Matthew Blanchard to re-evaluate his life” is little short of absurd.
While his girlfriend’s death in a car accident is mentioned, Hench’s decided not to repeat the information that Blanchard was driving the car when it happened and was facing criminal charges in the case. Nor did he delve into why Blanchard had had little contact with his young children. And what about the whole question of why a guy with a broken leg (suffered in the aforementioned car crash) was hobbling around some of the less hospitable parts of the Portland peninsula in the early morning hours supporting himself on a bicycle? Doesn’t that raise some questions about how serious Blanchard’s alleged re-evaluation of his life actually was?
Whenever someone dies, it’s easy for a reporter to get swept up in the grieving of his friends and relatives. The people who knew the deceased want to recall the positive stuff and downplay the negative. That’s understandable. But it’s no excuse for ignoring reality. However painful it might be for the survivors, it’s essential to quality journalism to make sure the full story gets told.
Freeport freebie: Current Publishing, which puts out six weeklies in York and Cumberland counties, is starting a seventh paper to cover Freeport, Pownal and Durham. The Tri-Town Weekly will put out its first issue on July 18. Publisher Lee Hews said the press run would be about 7,600 copies, which will be mailed to every home in its circulation area, as well as offered free in numerous locations. The paper will be edited by Mike Higgins, who’s been at Current for seven years, during which he served as a reporter, sports editor and Web editor. Higgins lives in Durham.
Hews said the area (where she also lives) is underserved by the media, and there is considerable demand from advertisers for a locally based paper.
(Disclosure: My weekly political column and other writing run in some Current publications.)
The secrets behind uncovering secrets: John Christie, the co-founder of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, has posted a short video on YouTube explaining how his organization uncovers important stories. While most reporters won’t find much there that they didn’t know, it should prove helpful for the public in understanding where such revelations come from.
MaineYesterday.com: Last week, after I mentioned in this space that MaineToday Media’s Web site still listed Scott Wasser as executive editor of its daily papers, even though he’d departed in March, the errant page was hastily deleted. But there’s still lots of stuff on the poorly maintained MaineToday site that’s equally out of date. For instance, contrary to the posting here, Rob Evans is no longer chef/owner of Hugo’s restaurant in Portland and hasn’t been for months. And the “Stories of Maine” page hasn’t had a new posting since March. The contest section is even worse. It’s been dormant since 2009. Several other pages have become little more than repositories for spam.
This is a long way from what editor Angie Muhs promised last year, when she said the “new” MaineToday would be feature news, weather, sports, and community information, as well as entertainment listings. Muhs and the rest of the staff that was supposed to make all that happen have long since moved on to other pursuits within the company. But maybe there’s somebody around who still has time to clean up the mess they left behind.
(Thanks to pseudonymous media critic Thomas Cushing Munjoy for discovering some of these deficiencies.)
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.