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Donald Sussman’s newspaper censors a conservative voice (again)

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Billionaire S. Donald Sussman and wife Congresswoman Chellie Pingree own the Portland Press Herald.

Billionaire S. Donald Sussman and wife Congresswoman Chellie Pingree own the Portland Press Herald.

The Portland-based Press Herald newspaper, a publication majority-owned by Democratic Party mega-donor S. Donald Sussman, has refused to publish an unedited opinion editorial from the top Republican representative on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee.

Press Herald Editor Greg Kesich’s handling of Rep. Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea)’s opinion editorial is but the latest in a pattern of partisan treatment at the Democrat-owned newspaper, according to House Republican Communications Director David Sorensen, who assists GOP lawmakers in placing opinion pieces.

Kesich’s initial decision not to publish an edited version of an opinion piece he disagrees with comes after he requested Sanderson update the piece almost a week after it was originally submitted. He apparently wanted the column updated to address the Medicaid expansion compromise bill — a bill the Press Herald editors have endorsed — unveiled this week by Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) and Sen. Tom Saviello (R-Franklin). 

Sanderson updated the op-ed to satisfy the request, but the added content brought the editorial above the Press Herald’s alleged word limit.

Sorensen told Kesich via email that the new draft of the op-ed exceeded the word limit, but said it should not be a problem considering the paper published an op-ed from Katz that, at 1025 words, was well over the word limit. “It’s longer now, just under 1,000 words, but I’m hoping this won’t be a problem since Sen. Katz’s column was 1,025,” Sorensen wrote in an email.

Kesich, who set rules aside to publish Katz’s pro-expansion column, was more of a stickler for rules with Sanderson. He told Sorensen: “No. It has to meet the standards. Your call – you trim it or we can.”

In an email forwarded to The Maine Wire, Sorensen told Kesich: “Every time I send you a column it takes a week or more to publish it. Or I’ll send them and never hear back despite follow up… I never have these kinds of problems with [Bangor Daily News Opinion Editor] Matt Stone, [Lewiston Sun Journal Editor] Rex Rhoades, or [Kennebec Journal Opinion Editor] Ben [Bragdon], for that matter.”

Kesich did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment regarding the evident double standard in the Press Herald’s editorial policy.

In 2012, when Donald Sussman, a major donor to Democratic political groups and husband to Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, acquired a majority interest in Maine Today Media, the company that owns the Press Herald, media critics and Republican officials worried that the paper would become a propaganda organ of the Democratic Party. (Ironically, Sen. Katz was among the Republican voices concerned about bias at one of the state’s largest newspapers, according to a 2012 report from the Bangor Daily News.)

Since 2012, the papers editorials have shifted sharply left and almost invariably feature partisan attacks on Republicans and conservatives. But the bias of the paper is often more evident it what it refuses to cover or publish. In October of 2012, for example, the paper refused to publish a column in which then-Assistant Majority Leader Phil Curtis, a Republican of Madison, dared to criticize Sussman.

Rep. Sanderson’s op-ed is published here in its entirety.

(Editor’s Note: Following the publication of this story, Kesich called to clarify that the paper did not “reject” Sanderson’s op-ed and intends to publish it on Monday. He said the editors made an exception to their word-limit policy for Sen. Katz because his was a “very newsworthy piece.” He said the Press Herald makes editorial decisions based on “what we think will serve the readers” and pointed to conservative columnist M.D. Harmon, whose contributions regularly exceed their word limit.

Sorensen also followed up after publication, providing additional examples of instances where op-eds from GOP Reps have gone unpublished for weeks despite their newsworthiness. While censorship has been a problem, Sorensen’s biggest issue is timeliness: “During the 2012 campaign cycle, I submitted an op-ed rebuttal to the Alan Simpson endorsement of Angus King.  Kesich replied that he really didn’t have room to publish it.  That day, Speaker Nutting had a column, and the next day, Kesich published a rebuttal from then-House Democratic Leader Emily Cain.”)

Steve Robinson
Editor, Maine Wire

About M.D. Harmon

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: mdharmoncol@yahoo.com

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