Down East 2013 ©
Unplayed message: The phone-hacking scandal that’s done major damage to Rupert Murdoch’s British media empire probably wouldn’t happen in Maine. That’s because if any of this state’s journalists ever mustered up the ambition to probe into the cell-phone messages of public officials, all they’d have to do is file a Freedom of Information request.
Under state law , the voice mail of most bureaucrats and elected politicians is a public record, which is defined in the statute as “any written, printed or graphic matter or any mechanical or electronic data compilation from which information can be obtained, directly or after translation into a form susceptible of visual or aural comprehension, that is in the possession or custody of an agency or public official of this State or any of its political subdivisions.”
There are only two problems with all that. One is that most pols and ‘crats are either unaware of the law or ignore it. Consequently, they don’t save their messages. The other problem is that hardly any reporters in Maine display enough curiosity and gumption to actually ask for the records.
Am I being too harsh? Consider this next item.
On the agenda: The Maine media gave plenty of play to the story of the resignation of Norman Olsen, until recently the state’s commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources. But with few exceptions, the mainstream press did little digging into the charges Olsen leveled against his ex-boss, Gov. Paul LePage. Even though verifying most of those accusations would have been easier than accessing the mayor’s voice mail, nobody seemed interested.
Among Olsen’s most damning complaints was that he was denied access to the governor to discuss controversial and time-sensitive issues. Matthew Gagnon of the Pine Tree Politics website  decided to see if that was true. Gagnon asked to see the public records that show who the governor met with in May and June and what was discussed in those meetings. It turns out LePage had lots of meetings with Olsen on the very issues the ex-commissioner claimed were being ignored. In addition, Gagnon looked at the memos LePage sent to his commissioner that Olsen claimed included attacks on him from anonymous sources. Those complaints were mostly signed by fishermen, who gave complete contact information.
There’s more, and Gagnon has wisely included all the documentation on his site, just in case those suspicious of his conservative Republican slant might think he was skewing his coverage in LePage’s favor.
Now, how long do you suppose it will be before all those reporters who gave Olsen the benefit of the doubt revise their original reports?
Record reductions: James M. McCarthy, longtime staffer at the Times Record in Brunswick, called it quits last week . According to multiple sources, McCarthy, most recently the afternoon daily’s editorial page editor, did not leave voluntarily, but was forced out due to financial problems at the paper. Arts editor Jonathan White preceded McCarthy out the door a few weeks ago, in a move that was also budget-related, those same sources said.
The TR is owned by the Sample News Group, which also publishes the Journal Tribune in Biddeford and several weekly papers.
Dunkle’s slam dunk: I’m inexcusably late in mentioning this, but Village Soup reporter Daniel Dunkle did an outstanding job in early July in breaking the story  about the questionable sale of state property to the warden at the Maine State Prison.
Dunkle became suspicious about the deal during a check of local real estate-transaction records, followed up with a Freedom of Information request asking for detailed documents (he got hundreds of them) and broke the news that has since lead to an attorney general’s opinion invalidating the sale, a legislative investigation, and a series of rule changes from the governor’s office to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
Not bad for what started out as a routine gathering of seemingly mundane information.
A footnote: Props to Tom Bell, State House reporter for the MaineToday Media papers, who has been careful in his coverage of the story to give Dunkle full credit for his scoop. It’s not often that Maine dailies acknowledge the stories they appropriate from weeklies and other news outlets on a regular basis.
(Disclosure: My weekly political column runs in the Village Soup papers.)
Second try: On July 3, MaineToday Media’s Washington bureau chief, Jonathan “National Treasure” Riskind, put out a story  about moves in Congress to delay new federal rules governing emissions from industrial boilers. The piece was reasonably balanced with a summary of the arguments from both sides, even though three of the four members of Maine’s congressional delegation favored the delay.
On July 21, Riskind returned to the topic , because U.S. Sen. Susan Collins had introduced a bill designed to put off the new regulations. In this piece, Collins and other supporters of the legislation got the bulk of the ink, with opponents limited to a mere two paragraphs, one of which merely listed names of organizations that are against the idea.
Most of the article reads like a news release from Collins’ office.
But then, that seems to be Riskind’s style.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com .