AUGUSTA – Reporters from three of Maine’s largest newspapers will no longer have access to Gov. Paul LePage or his communications staff following his administration’s decision to stop indulging a news service that nowadays seems more like an extension of the Democratic Party.
LePage Press Secretary Adrienne Bennett broke the news to the Portland Press Herald’s top political reporter Steve Mistler on Tuesday. Mistler, she said, was speechless.
Mistler declined to comment on this story and attempts to reach his editors for comment were unsuccessful.
“We’ve been monitoring this for a long time,” said Bennett.
She said that over the past several months the administration had noticed a pattern of bias in the reporting of the Press Herald, the Waterville Morning Sentinel and the Kennebec Journal.
All three newspapers are run by Maine Today Media (MTM), a company owned by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and billionaire husband S. Donald Sussman. Sussman is one of the largest donors to Democratic causes and candidates in the state of Maine.
One aspect of the bias, Bennett said, is that MTM reporters have stopped including standard conflict-of-interest disclaimers when reporting on matters related to Pingree and Sussman.
But she said the larger problem is MTM’s consistently biased reporting about LePage.
“If it’s a good story about the governor, they’ll use a 200-word Associated Press story,” she said. “But if it is viewed as a negative story, then one of their reporters will give it three or four pages and it’s front page news.”
On Feb. 8, for example, following LePage’s surprise appearance at a gun rights rally near the State House, an MTM paper reported on the crowd’s cheerful meeting with the governor via an Associated Press (AP) story rather than a staff writer.
In another instance, MTM ran a front-page story about Bennett’s attempt to contact conservative legends Howie Carr and Bill O’Reilly to share LePage’s thoughts on the 2nd Amendment. Based on emails obtained through Freedom of Access Act Requests, the report revealed a shocking truth: someone in government was doing their job.
But Bennett said Colin Woodard’s recent series on Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Patricia Aho was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
In dozens of pages even an environmentalist will find tough reading, Woodard, an award-winning journalist, resurrects a two-year-old blog post in order to promote the Democratic Party’s narrative that LePage is a pawn of corporate lobbyists who want to ruin the environment and poison children.
Bennett said MTM reporters will no longer be allowed in the governor’s cabinet room and will have to get their news from official press releases rather than conversations with the governor’s staff.
Ted Cohen, who served as a Press Herald reporter from 1975 to 2004, said the LePage’s administration’s actions are unprecedented but would not significantly change the contents of the MTM newspapers.
“I’ve never heard of a media organization being shutout as a result of what is claimed to be clearly biased coverage,” said Cohen. “But let me ask you this – Is anyone going to notice that the Maine Today Media papers are not getting input from the Governor?” he asked. “I don’t think so.”
As for how MTM’s editors and reporters should respond to the administration’s policy change, Cohen said they ought to ignore it.
“They should pretend that no such edict was ever issued,” he said. “Any reporter worth his or her salt who has to depend on a source – in this case the Governor – for information required for a story is missing the point. A good reporter can always find an alternate source of information. The shutting out of a reporter by a certain source should make that reporter all the more resourceful.”
Maine Wire Reporter