Tom Bell, the head of the Portland Press Herald/ MaineToday Media labor union, is now covering the U.S. Senate race, and submitted this story today:
“More candidates jump into Maine’s November election”
By Tom Bell firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Bell is the labor union president. The union, presumably under Bell’s leadership, reportedly sought out the financial support of billionaire liberal benefactor Donald Sussman, in order to avoid making concessions to a new owner.
Bell was quoted in the MaineToday Media press release about the Sussman purchase:
“The Portland Press Herald staff writer and Portland Newspaper Guild President Tom Bell said his union members are supportive of the new partnership with Maine Values, LLC.”
Sussman is, of course, the husband of U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree. Pingree, as Bell reports in his story, is a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate seat.This means Bell is reporting on an election that includes his newspaper’s owner. So far, no disclaimer appears on the story.
Portland Phoenix editor Jeff Inglis reported that Sussman had initially showed “no sign” of any interest. But miraculously, and just in time for his wife’s potential U.S. Senate race, Sussman stepped forward to answer the union’s call. Sussman reportedly loaned the newspapers $4 million, in exchange for a seat on the board of directors and an ownership stake.
The Press Herald‘s coverage of this race is suspect already, but Bell’s assignment to the story goes even further to prove skeptics correct. Bell is now able to return the favor directly through his coverage to his financial benefactors.
How any editor with any semblance of professionalism could think a reporter could be objective to the very people that handed him a $4 million check is beyond imagination. But more importantly, regardless of the objectivity of Bell’s reporting, how could an audience take what he writes on the subject seriously? Political reporting is generally more at risk for bias by omission than commission, and Bell’s readers need to be aware of his financial ties to the people he writes about.