Earlier this month, WGME-TV in Portland aired a heavily promoted report on charges raised by Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Allen against Republican Susan Collins, the U.S. senator Allen is hoping to defeat in the November election. The 5-minute segment was called "War of Words" and focused on Allen's charge that when Collins headed up the Senate's chief investigative committee she failed to conduct hearings on corruption and abuse by contractors in Iraq.
Anchor/reporter Gregg Lagerquist summed up the allegations: "Connect the dots and Allen claims, however indirectly, that the lack of hearings by Collins's committee cost money and, likely, cost lives."
In spite of the hype (the story is dubbed an "exclusive," even though other media outlets covered it before Channel 13 got around to it), the piece appeared to be measured and reasonably balanced, with Collins defending herself by pointing out the bills she got passed in Congress to improve accountability by contractors in Iraq and dismissing the proposed hearings as political theatrics. The story also includes an interview with a whistleblowing former employee of one of the contractors criticizing the lack of congressional oversight.
The piece contains lots of footage from Iraq, which is briefly - very briefly - identified as coming from a film called "Iraq For Sale" by a company called Brave New Films. And that's where the trouble starts.
Brave New Films is an unabashedly liberal outfit. Its output includes numerous videos attacking everybody from John McCain to Condelleeza Rice. "Iraq For Sale"
was financed in part by the advocacy group Moveon.org. Company head Robert Greenwald is a contributor to Allen's Senate campaign and provides space for pro-Allen and anti-Collins videos on Brave New Films' Web site.
These links have prompted conservatives to dismiss the WGME story as biased reporting. On the Web site As Maine Goes, editor Scott Fish wrote
, "[F]or the most part [the station] uses `Iraq for Sale' to reinforce Tom Allen's version of this (non)story." The Web site Redstate.com calls it a "hit-piece" and charges that Allen's
aggressive communications director Carol Andrews is responsible for his ability to "roll over" the Maine media.
These critics are both right and wrong. There's no question WGME should not have used footage from "Iraq For Sale" without adequately explaining the film's origin and bias. It would have been even better if Channel 13 had assembled the story with footage from Iraq and Washington provided by CBS or another legitimate news organization. It would also have helped if the station had further balanced the piece by including somebody other than Collins defending her actions. Allen was backed up by the whistleblower (who's a major player in "Iraq For Sale"), but Collins is the sole voice for her side, which leaves the piece tilted toward the Democrat. For evidence of that, consider that Allen has the story posted on his Web site. Collins does not.
That said, "War of Words" was still a lengthy report on an issue many voters will likely want to consider before deciding how to cast their ballots in November. WGME deserves some credit for devoting so much air time to such a topic.
Now, Channel 13 should devote a little off-air time to improving its ethics.Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com .