The Portland Press Herald, a left-leaning publication well known for holding its priority in muckraking over quality of journalism, has once again proven its bias and lack of journalistic integrity through its own reporting. This flaw was exhibited in the paper’s one-sided account of a Maine Warden Service undercover operation in northern Maine that occurred roughly two years ago, along with a handful of other first-person accounts of wrongdoing on behalf of the Warden Service.
On May 8, the Press Herald published a lengthy piece by Colin Woodard titled North Woods Lawless, an exposé that supposedly highlights the illegal behavior exhibited by members of the Warden Service during undercover raids and stings way up in The County.
However, the piece was filled with inaccuracies and disputable information. Egregiously, the Press Herald also managed to publish a photograph of undercover warden Bill Livezy in its original reporting, compromising his current operations with the Warden Service.
Ever since the article first broke, Livezy has been receiving harassing calls at his residence, resulting in the head of the Maine Warden Service, Col. Joel Wilkinson, suspending all current undercover investigations to protect the safety of his officers. Wilkinson addressed state officials on Wednesday with a line-by-line rebuttal of the Press Herald article before suspending operations.
“When the paper chose to put a state law enforcement officer’s face out to the entire media and expose him and his entire family, the individual started getting harassment calls. I made a conscious decision right then that I was going to shut everything down for the safety of any and every one of our individual officers,” Wilkinson told lawmakers on Wednesday.
The Press Herald article, with little tangible evidence to support its claims, accuses the Warden Service of entrapment, padding evidence and persuading people to break the law. It also claims the Warden Service provided the guns, ammunition and alcohol to do so.
The article begins by describing the nature of an undercover operation in 2014 that led to 300 charges on more than 20 individuals across the state. The mission was code-named “Operation Red Meat” by the Warden Service, and its main target was Jess McBreairty, a convicted poacher.
After the raid was completed and the incident played itself out in court, the investigation yielded “scant results” and angered locals, according to the Press Herald. McBreairty pled guilty to possessing undocumented venison, improper tagging of a deer, and the shooting of a single grouse.
“The undercover operation, raid and their aftermath have disturbed and angered townspeople and raised concerns about how the Warden Service conducts these operations, during which its operatives are allowed to break the very wildlife laws they enforce,” Woodard writes in the article.
Many of those accused weren’t convicted on all of their charges, and others said they didn’t commit any of the crimes they were charged for but couldn’t afford to fight the charges in court. They also accused undercover wardens of committing many of the same crimes themselves.
The Warden Service described the inaccuracies of the original reporting in a lengthy response to the media outlet just days later, providing a detailed account of their side of the story. The Press Herald briefly alluded to the Warden Service’s response in a rebuttal piece where it defended its original reporting, but never published the Warden Service’s response to the original Press Herald article. Press Herald editor Greg Kesich refused to print the Warden Service’s response when asked by the agency.
The most embarrassing aspect of this controversy for the Press Herald, and perhaps the best illustration of their journalistic malfeasance, is that the core of evidence used to support the assertions they printed are literally from stories – merely just spoken word of such events occurring- in interviews conducted with those either accused or convicted of various fish and game crimes.
Governor LePage shared his skepticism of the article shortly after its publication.
“The Maine people have heard me complain repeatedly about bias in the Maine press, especially in the Portland Press Herald,” said Governor LePage. “But this hit piece on the Maine Warden Service by Colin Woodard is one of the most outrageous examples of the Portland Press Herald’s complete and total lack of journalistic principles.”
Woodard followed up his tasteless performance from weeks prior with another article detailing more firsthand accounts from Mainers who claimed to have witnessed members of the Warden Service entice others to break laws and break laws themselves, publishing their claims as fact once again without the credibility to do so.
The problem in all of this for the Press Herald is the lack of tangible evidence, or hard proof, linking any of their accusations with reality. Plainly speaking, outside of the testimonies they’ve published, there’s nothing that explicitly connects members of the Warden Service to this kind of conduct.
Rather than finding that crucial piece of the puzzle – evidence – in their six-month investigation, the Press Herald gathered as much hearsay as it could and published it without batting an eyelash. In doing so, the Press Herald publically smeared the Warden Service over a handful of stories by the accused, some being past violators of fish and game laws, putting the safety of our wardens in question.
The truth is that it’s impossible to indulge any undeniable conclusions from this controversy based on the evidence uncovered to date, but that didn’t stop Woodard or his overseeing editors from releasing a fallacious hit piece.
But, newspapers don’t sell that well when you write complete, unbiased new stories that educate rather than exasperate. I imagine it gets easier to pay the bills when you publish drivel.