Down East 2013 ©
Truther consequence: I’m not a fan of wimpy newspaper op-ed pages. I like opinion pieces that challenge conventional thinking, offer fresh insights and raise the blood pressure of readers who disagree with them. I don’t see many such pages in Maine newspapers, where the bland musings of syndicated columnists and government bureaucrats leave little space left over for controversy.
None of that should be taken to mean I want op-ed pages filled with lies. But that’s exactly what I got from the Times Record in Brunswick in a bizarre piece it ran on Sept. 11 .
The column by Stephen Shaw of Brunswick was titled “A skeptic’s view of 9/11.” It offered up a selection from the tired litany of falsehoods put forward by the “Truthers,” a fringe group that believes the U.S. government was somehow responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Virtually all the assertions put forward by this cult of crackpots have been thoroughly discredited, but facts scarcely matter to these extremists. They should, however, make some difference to the Times Record.
Publishing such tripe, particularly on the anniversary of the deaths of thousands of innocent people, is insulting and insensitive. It leaves us to wonder what standards, if any, the Times Record has for its op-ed page. It demands an explanation.
“What’s next?” Times Record reader Dan Billings of Bowdoinham asked in a letter to the editor that he also forwarded to me. “Columns by Holocaust deniers? Claims that LBJ had JFK killed? A detailed analysis of how the U.S. government faked the moon landing? Op-eds about how the CIA created AIDS to kill minorities?”
Times Record Editorial Page Editor James McCarthy had not returned a phone call seeking comment by the time this item was posted.
Covering themselves: The Portland Press Herald finally got around to mentioning the price its new owner received for the paper’s downtown real estate – although you’d have to be a thorough reader to find it.
As reported here  and in the Portland Phoenix last week, MaineToday Media sold off the Press Herald’s Congress Street headquarters and its old printing plant across the street in July for a combined $5 million. That information is tucked away in the daily paper’s Sept. 12 story by staff writer Tux Turkel about the state of the downtown commercial real-estate market .
Can’t find it? It’s right there in paragraph sixteen.
Still no mention in the Press Herald of the sale by MaineToday of its Chestnut Street parking garage to a property management company, though.
That wasn’t the newspaper’s only self-coverage slip-up.
The Press Herald was careful to note in a Sept. 14 article by staff writer Tom Bell on the fortieth anniversary of the Franklin Towers public housing project  that one of the developers of another affordable housing project in Portland is Robert C.S. Monks, a member of the MaineToday Media board of directors. (The paper neglected to make that connection in an earlier laudatory piece on the development .)
But somebody at the Press Herald should know enough about ethics to understand that it isn’t sufficient just to mention potential conflicts when they show up in print. The Press Herald also has to avoid the appearance of going easy on Monks by not covering all of his newsworthy activities.
On the conservative Web site “As Maine Goes,” Portland gadfly Steven Scharf claims Monks and a partner are asking the city for a substantial property tax break  as part of their bid to buy the Baxter Library building.
I haven’t verified Scharf’s claims, but if they’re even partially correct, the lack of coverage in the Press Herald is disturbing. While this neglect could be the result of an oversight (it would hardly be the first important local story the paper has missed), it could also be a case of avoiding asking a board member potentially embarrassing questions.
In either case, the appearance of conflict of interest by omission seems unavoidable.
Loose with the truth: On Sept. 14, the Morning Sentinel ran this intriguing headline in its local section:
“New invasive plant emerges .”
New? Not exactly.
The story by staff writer Betty Jespersen is about purple loosestrife, which was introduced into the United States in the nineteenth century and has been considered a nuisance in Maine for more than a generation. Nothing in Jespersen’s piece indicates the problem with loosestrife is recent, so that claim in the headline appears to be a figment of a copy editor’s imagination.
In the future, please save the flights of fantasy for your novel.