The Bangor Daily News hired the ultra left-wing Stephen Betts to cover the midcoast area after the implosion of the Village Soup media empire. Betts was the editor of the local Rockland paper for years, and is probably best known as the only editor in Maine to endorse Jean Hay Bright for U.S. Senate against Olympia Snowe in 2006. Betts logged quite a body of hard core liberal editorials before his career was thrown into turmoil by the purchase of the Courier papers by Village Soup, and Village Soup’s subsequent collapse.
Now the BDN has assigned Betts as a straight news reporter. So will he be able to shed his open political beliefs and report fairly? His story on the Chuck Kruger/ Cheney execution controversy provides a clear “No!” answer to this question.
We see a lot of ridiculous stories in the Maine press, but this one deserves some kind of award. Starting with the headline:
“Thomaston lawmaker receives death threats over 2011 tweet about Dick Cheney”
It goes downhill from here. Betts writes a story that attempts to cloud the facts, casting doubt on whether Kruger even made the comments on Twitter. Which, of course he did, and has admitted, and there is actual hard proof of this through his twitter account.But Betts frames it this way:
“Last week, an online publication, The Maine Wire, ran an article which included what it said was the tweet from Kruger concerning Cheney.”
Note the ‘what it said was the tweet’. It wasn’t ‘what we said’ was the tweet, it WAS the tweet. In hard copy form. And Kruger has admitted it, all over the place. Betts also inserts this completely unsubstantiated passage:
“Kruger, a Thomaston Democrat, said he was in a Twitter conversation last August concerning a person who said her brother had died after coming back from the Iraq war and not being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Well, Kruger’s twitter account is there to look at, and what he’s saying here is clearly untrue. There is no discussion of anything close to this. Kruger made five comments on his Twitter account between August 23 and September 1:
– One was about redistricting Maine,
– One was an unintelligible response to a blogger,
– One said “I’m a State Rep. from Knox County, listening on line and following on Twitter, Hard to get anything else done here, though”
– One was the infamous Cheney execution comment
– One was a response to a reporter that said only “Not quite a year…”
Nothing about PTSD, or Iraq , or anything of the sort. This information is all public and Betts could have looked for himself. But, of course, he didn’t. He instead wrote a provably factually inaccurate piece to try to take the heat off an ideological compatriot.
The reality is, Kruger was chiming in on a national thread about Cheney, trying to get attention for himself by promoting his execution comments with the Twitter hashtag “#cheney”. For the uninitiated, Twitter users append hashtagged phrases to their comments in the hope that others involved in the same ongoing discussion will notice them. Betts likely has no idea what any of this means, but nevertheless allows Kruger to mischaracterize once again his gross comments.
Kruger has made a series of dishonest statements since we initially confronted him with his tweet (which is not alleged, we have the screen shot). First Kruger refused to comment. Then he said he didn’t remember if he made the comments.Then he closed his Twitter account down to try to hide it. When we published the screen shot of it, he opened it back up. Then he admitted making the comment, but tried to characterize it as a misunderstood joke. Now he’s trying to claim it was in response to some other discussion about PTSD or veterans, and that he’s being taken out of context.
So when Kruger claims he’s getting threats, he’s provided more than enough reason to at least be a little skeptical. Had Betts spoken with Capitol Police, he would have learned that they were not treating Kruger’s claims as “serious threats”. And had he wanted to paint an accurate picture of the brouhaha that Kruger’s execution comments had sparked, he would have detailed the threats against the reporters that broke the story.
Betts commits a slew of journalistic crimes in his piece, but two are particularly blatant. First, he wrote a story about us, The Maine Wire/ MHPC, and Kruger. He spoke with Kruger, but didn’t bother contacting us. Second, he wrote a story basically blaming us for Kruger’s alleged threats, which no one but Kruger actually knows really happened. But he ignores the documented threats MHPC received as a result of our reporting on Kruger’s outrageous comments. Although we published the actual threat phone calls earlier this week, Betts doesn’t mention that Kruger’s crazy sympathizers are threatening to “hunt us down” and “take us out”.
This is quite possibly the worst piece of reporting we’ve seen in Maine in a long time.