Down East 2013 ©
Too much blue pencil – and not enough: On July 13, the Portland Press Herald ran an op-ed column by Tim Russell  supporting the position of the Christian Civic League of Maine in opposing an anti-bullying bill that had been defeated in the Legislature. The Press Herald editors identified Russell only as “a resident of Sydney.”
In fact, Russell is a former employee of the league and, as the Dirigo Blue Web site pointed out , a prominent crusader against gay rights and same-sex marriage.
On July 17, the same paper ran an opinion piece by Christopher W. Babbidge , criticizing Republicans for the current budget deadlock in Congress. Who’s Babbidge? The paper says only that he’s “a resident of Kennebunk.”
He’s also a former Democratic member of the Legislature .
On July 20, the Portland paper gave space to John Frary , “a retired professor of history” who lives in Farmington. Frary disparaged the Democrats’ efforts to overturn a GOP-approved law that ends same-day voter registration.
No mention of his membership on the Republican State Committee or that he was an unsuccessful candidate for Congress .
I suspect the editorial page editors limited the amount of information they provided about these authors in a misguided attempt at neutrality. But when a writer has a clear agenda, readers deserve to know what it is, so they can assess his or her credibility and have some shot at detecting subtle biases. Shortchanging the customers on information makes no sense and seems to be a direct contradiction of a newspaper’s mission.
Nevertheless, there are times when material sent in for publication shouldn’t make it into print without being thoroughly vetted.
On July 16, the Press Herald ran a letter to the editor from Ross Paradis of Frenchville  criticizing the Maine Attorney General’s Office for its handling of the Dennis Dechaine murder case. (Disclosure: My wife works for the AG’s office, although she has nothing to do with criminal cases such as Dechaine’s.)
Paradis’ letter also appeared in the Morning Sentinel – like the Press Herald, a MaineToday Media-owned paper – on July 18.
For the most part, Paradis repeated familiar claims by Dechaine supporters about alleged irregularities in his 1989 conviction for killing twelve-year-old Sarah Cherry and his losses in subsequent appeals. But in the final paragraph, he writes, “The only redeeming action was AG Andrew Ketterer’s 1990’s firing of prosecuting attorney Eric Wright in the Dechaine case.”
It’s true that Ketterer did fire Wright in 1997, but the implication that it had something to do with Dechaine is false. Multiple sources, including Wright himself, confirmed that he was let go because of personality and policy conflicts with his boss unrelated to Dechaine (which would make sense, since there was virtually nothing going on with that case in 1996-97).
I called Paradis, a former state legislator, and asked him where he got his information. “I’d rather not discuss that,” he told me. “The source might not want me to.”
I doubt an allegation from a second-hand, unnamed source would ever be considered credible enough to use in a news story in the MaineToday papers. The same standard should apply to letters to the editor, as well.
(The same letter from Paradis also appeared in the July 20 Bangor Daily News , complete with the Wright-firing allegation, so I guess editorial sloppiness isn’t limited to the MTM papers.)
Feminine perspective: My Down East.com colleague Mike Tipping  first pointed out this entry on Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill’s blog : “So, there is no woman political columnist to speak of in Maine. That’s not my opinion, that’s a fact ….”
Dill of Cape Elizabeth posted a similar claim on the Huffington Post Web site : “It's 2011 and there is not a single female political commentator employed by the so-called ‘liberal media’ in Maine.”
In reality, there are a few women with regular gigs as columnists in Maine newspapers, including Pat LaMarche  in the Bangor Daily News, Kay Rand  in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, Jill Goldthwait in the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, and Shay Stewart-Bouley  in the Portland Phoenix.
In addition, MaineToday Media State House reporters Rebekah Metzler and Susan Cover produce a weekly political news column , although neither ventures into commentary.
That said, Dill does raise an interesting issue. The overwhelming majority of political commentators in this state are white males. Including (gulp) me.
Such an imbalance ought to be corrected. But when it is, I hope no editor will do so by hiring Dill. She’s got a serious accuracy problem.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com .