Down East 2013 ©
White noise: Initial news reports on July 20 that five black men had raped a woman on the Back Cove trail in Portland on the night of July 19 prompted dozens of comments on the Web site of the Portland Press Herald , many of them openly racist.
While it appears the Press Herald removed some of the more outrageous remarks, it left enough in place to call its standards into question.
“Most likely this act of barbarism is random and will be down played by the media due to the race of the suspects,” wrote one anonymous poster. Another concluded – based on no evidence at all – that the attackers were Somali immigrants.
“There are no Fathers around to teach them,” someone identified as “JWR” wrote, “the Mothers are still and will probably be in culture shock the rest of their lives, so permit me to offer up this suggestion. We the citizens will teach them, you come to school with your pants hanging down your a--, you get sent home. You talk your jive out in the street you get lead pipe or baseball bat up side your head. I don't give a damn about sociology, you people should have about all that before you open the door to these people who are their country's worst of the worst.”
There was other, uglier stuff, too.
There’s really no excuse for providing a forum for this garbage, particularly since the attack turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by the alleged victim .
Which brings up a related subject: The news media could have done more to mitigate the impact of this erroneous report by displaying a measure of skepticism in the first place. Instead, reporters – led by the Press Herald’s cheerleader-for-the-cops, David Hench – bought into everything they were told by the police, even though there should have been enough red flags to inspire some caution. The victim (who, readers learned late in Hench’s piece, was herself black) refused to go to the hospital for an exam. Why was that? Even though the trail is heavily used at that time of the evening and bordered by a residential neighborhood, police were still appealing for witnesses the following afternoon. Why weren’t there numerous people coming forward to corroborate what the alleged victim said? Where was the motorist who supposedly scared off the attackers by yelling? Why didn’t he come to the victim’s aid?
This incident was mishandled by the cops, who had to have known early on that the report was questionable. By not making their doubts public at the police chief’s afternoon press conference, the department bear considerable responsibility for unleashing the Klan kommenters. The hysteria was further stirred up by a fawning news media that failed to ask obvious questions. The result was a festival for the racially prejudiced for which all involved share the blame.
Speaking of obvious questions: On July 20, independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler put out a news release announcing that David Flanagan was taking over as his campaign treasurer .
According to the release, Flanagan, a prominent businessperson and former Blaine House hopeful, was replacing Robert C.S. Monks in that post.
The next day, the Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel all regurgitated that information , without asking why Monks – who’s a board member and an investor in MaineToday Media, the parent company of all three papers – decided to call it quits.
Wouldn’t want to annoy a powerful guy, would we?
Speaking of Cutler and his cronies: After my recent rants on the subject of the Press Herald’s bias  in favor of Cutler’s candidacy, I got some insight into the way reporters at the paper are assigned to cover the gubernatorial candidates. According to a source who asked not to be identified as a source but how the hell am I supposed to explain where I got this info if I don’t at least mention there is a source, MaineToday Media has divided up the coverage of the race for governor.
Responsibility for Republican Paul LePage and Democrat Libby Mitchell was assigned to State House reporters Susan Cover and Rebekah Metzler of the Kennebec Journal, while the Press Herald’s Matt Wickenheiser is the lead guy for independents Cutler and Shawn Moody.
“Naturally,” said the source that must not be referred to as such, “the Press Herald editors are going to give more play to stories they assign and control.”
Which might be another reason (along with Cutler’s childhood connections in Bangor to MTM CEO Richard Connor) for the skewed coverage in Cutler’s favor.
It’s just not an excuse for it.
Speaking of excuses: What’s the Maine media’s alibi for missing the story about state officials considering a new retirement system that puts state employees on Social Security? This scoop seems to belong to the New York Times , which reports on July 21 that Maine has developed a “detailed plan ” for transitioning from its own retirement system to the federal program, a move that could save taxpayers billions over coming decades.
That plan was released in March.
As far as I can tell, this document has been mentioned by a Maine Sunday Telegram columnist  in July, and in passing that same month in a Kennebec Journal story about the state retirement system’s debt .
No in-depth examination of its implications. No reaction from legislative leaders. No rundown of the gubernatorial candidates’ positions. In short, nothing that might help the people affected and the people who’ll have to pay the costs understand the implications.
I guess everybody’s too busy covering the aftermath of President Obama’s choice of ice-cream .
Reference material: Matt Gagnon of the Pine Tree Politics  Web site is lining up experts to contribute to his new project, an online “Encyclopedia of Maine Politics.”
In an e-mail asking me to contribute to the effort (I said I would), Gagnon described his vision.
“It is going to include entries on all the standard things you would expect to find,” he wrote, “like Senators, Governors, elections, etc... but I also want it to include (and this is where people like you really come in) a lot of the little, local, small time and ‘never talked about’ people, sayings and terms, issues and on and on and on and on and on. Things that would never meet the notability standard on Wikipedia, but are very important to the state and its politics.”
There hasn’t been a reference source of this nature since Chris Potholm’s “An Insider’s Guide to Maine Politics, 1946-1996,” a work that was riddled with errors and omissions. Gagnon hopes to guard against similar shortcomings by forming an editorial board to oversee the encyclopedia. Unlike Wikipedia, revisions would have to be approved by this board before being posted online.
“These entries would end up probably being the only place to find information on literally hundreds of people who are really important to Maine politics but don't get any notice,” Gagnon wrote. “I would think it could be an incredible resource for people trying to learn the who/what/where/when/why of Maine politics [and] could aid researchers, students, political consultants looking to cut their teeth in the state, lazy journalists, etc.”
Work is just getting started, but I’ll post a link to the site soon.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com