November 20, 2007
If you're trying to conceal your shadowy past, the easiest way to do it might be to work for the Kennebec Journal in Augusta or its sister daily newspaper, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville. For the second time this year, the two papers, which share the same editorial staff, have left significant information out of news stories about a former contributor.
The latest examples are articles on 2nd District congressional candidate John Frary posted on the papers' Web sites on Nov. 19 and in print on Nov. 20. Neither political reporter Susan Cover (Web) nor staff writer Betty Jespersen (print) mentioned that Frary had been a columnist for the KJ and MS the previous year until being, as the candidate put it in a news release, "dismissed for excessively persistent criticism of the Dirigo Health Plan."
Frary's weekly column was dumped in December 2005, after he ignored the editors' pointed suggestions that three columns in a row about Dirigo were enough. He submitted a fourth column on the same subject, which the papers rejected. Frary said he'd quit if that decision wasn't reversed. It wasn't, and he did.
City editor Joe Rankin said omitting that information from the stories about Frary's candidacy was a mistake. "We should have had that in there," Rankin said. "I don't know why it got left out." He said he would discuss the matter with both reporters and run a clarification in the papers on Nov. 21. In addition, the issue of Frary's departure is scheduled to be the subject of a mini-editorial on Saturday, Nov. 24.
In June, the KJ and Sentinel had a similar case of amnesia (see "Lost in the archives") with regard to David Cheever, who was then a candidate to be appointed state archivist. In Cover's first piece on Cheever's possible appointment, she referred to him only as a "former journalist," neglecting to mention he'd been the papers' editorial page editor and had departed under a cloud. Later stories did make note of his employment at the KJ, but not the circumstances of his departure. That material didn't make it into print until after Cheever had won confirmation from a legislative committee. Only then did readers learn he'd resigned after allowing a guest columnist to run a racist attack on Somali immigrants. And the only reason that information made it into a story at that point was because it was mentioned by a legislator during a public hearing on Cheever's nomination.
In June, Eric Conrad, the papers' editor, explained the omission occurred because the KJ and Sentinel had an agreement with Cheever limiting what they could say about the reasons for his departure. Asked if readers should have been informed of that agreement, Conrad said that was an "interesting point." He could not be reached for comment about the Frary coverage.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com .