Media Watch: Newspaper Reporters Threaten to Stalk, Expose State Workers

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Maine’s Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) provides enterprising journalists a way to dig up dirt on matters of great interest to the public, but state officials say some newspaper reporters have taken their pursuit of public records a little too far.

The MAINE WIRE has obtained emails  that show how newspaper reporters have threatened to publish unflattering stories about state workers or state agencies — including details of state workers’ personal lives — if their FOAA requests are not granted quickly or inexpensively enough.

According to state law, agencies may charge up to $15 for every hour after the first hour and are required to acknowledge receipt of a FOAA request within one week. But there is no predetermined time frame for the delivery of information – some requests can be granted within minutes, while others may take months, a fact that wears on the patience of deadline-focused reporters.

Michael Doyle, an editor and reporter for Falmouth Today, told state workers in a March 21 email he would publish photographs of their houses and interviews with their neighbors if they did not comply with his FOAA request in suitable fashion.

Doyle even went as far as raising the possibility that he would keep tabs on state workers on the Internet, at their homes and at public events – activities some would consider stalking.

“If you’d like to take this moment and rethink the 13 hours, 5 weeks, and $228 to copy 195 pages it might be a good idea,” Doyle said in an email to three state employees.

“This will be followed by other articles with sidebars containing your personal profiles, photos of homes, interviews with neighbors, you know the human side of your lives,” Doyle said.

“We’ll couple this with videos we’ll take at the public portion of Board Meetings. You might ask Dale McCormack how it turned out for her when we recorded 4 of her Board Meetings at MSHA? Or we can cap this right now with full cooperation, faster response, and at a reasonable charge,” Doyle said in closing: “Pick one.”

[RELATED: The MAINE WIRE exposes Maine State Housing Authority Director Dale McCormack]

One state worker who received Doyle’s ominous message sent a one-word reply to her supervisor: “Help.”

Doyle, who is a member of the National Press Club, told The MAINE WIRE his exchanges with state workers were not threats. He said the time and cost quotes given to him for his FOAA request were “outrageous” and “outright lies.”

“A lot of people conduct themselves through the auspices of government and they have a big impact on people,” he said. “Maybe people should see how these people are living,” said Doyle.

“I’m not threatening to write anything unflattering, I’m just curious to see if [state workers] treat everyone like they treat people looking for public records,” said Doyle. “I don’t see how that’s intimidating them.”

In a separate series of emails obtained by The MAINE WIRE, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) workers discuss similar messages received from writers at Maine Today Media’s Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram.

“There is a disturbing trend from the Portland Press Herald to threaten this Department in terms of what it may write if it does not get what it wants,” DHHS Communications Director John A. Martins said in a March 4 email.

“It is the third such threat in the last month – and FOAAs are coming from them hot and heavy,” said Martins.

“I am not a fan of this approach, as it is both poor form and shows a real lack of journalistic integrity,” he said. “In my 20-plus years of newspapering and 10-plus years of editing, I never threatened someone in order to receive information.”

Martins’ message about threats from reporters came in response to a request from Kelly J. Bouchard, a staff writer for the Press Herald and Sunday Telegram.

Bouchard requested data on foster care enrollment spanning 12-plus years, three Commissioners, the merger that created DHHS, the formation of the Office of Child and Family Services and two different gubernatorial administrations, according to the emails.

Bouchard’s March 4 email contained no explicit threats but did raise the possibility that failure to provide the records in question quickly and for free would result in the publication of unflattering facts about DHHS.

“If you decline to waive the fee, please know that I will explain to our readers that the department doesn’t fully track foster care costs and that we had to pay to get this information,” Bouchard said in the email.

In a March 12 email exchange, Bouchard complained about the handling of her FOAA request and attempts to instruct Martins as to how he ought to be doing his job.

“It would be great if we could get passed me always having to apologize for seeking info and you always telling me that I’m asking for too much,” she said.

“It’s what I do and it’s your job,” she said.

[RELATED: Media Watch: Press Herald covers Sussman suit, Omits Pingree’s sequester flip-flop]

Bouchard made good on her threat with a March 23 Press Herald story in which she reported that DHHS practices and technical issues hampered her investigation and cost the paper $30.

In a written statement for The MAINE WIRE, Bouchard defended her reports on DHHS’ foster care program.

“My goal from the start and in the end was to report on challenges facing a Maine state agency that cares for some of our most vulnerable children and families,” Bouchard said in an email.

“The stories speak for themselves,” said Bouchard.

Bouchard published her story on foster care on Sunday with the title, “Poor planning adds to Maine’s foster care crisis.”

Despite her tenacious quest for access to public records, the story contained numerous inaccuracies, according to a March 27 email from Martins to Bouchard and her colleague John Richardson that bore the subject line, “Corrections to Sunday’s story.”

In that email, Martins lists eight items in Bouchard’s story that are either factually incorrect or inaccurate.

“The foster family who was featured in this piece did not ‘narrowly avoid a 25 percent reduction in their subsidy for the next three months’ as was written,” wrote Martins. “A reduction to their funding was never proposed or deliberated.”

Martins also corrected the Press Herald’s statements on DHHS’s funding and the 2013-14 biennial budget:

“The increase is 3.8 percent of the $111.4 million budget, not 12 percent as reported… The state did not pay $63,000 for each of the 1,907 children who spent at least one day in care during the budget year that ended June 30, 2012, as reported… The trend of consistent increases in care truly began in January of 2012, not September of 2011 as reported… The 25 percent reduction in subsidy equates to $590 for 90 days, not $1,200 as reported.”

Presently, the only correction offered on the story is strangely out of synch with Martins’ corrections and even seems to distort the truth further:

Bouchard
Bouchard said in an email that this correction will run in Friday’s paper. (Note: Bouchard said in a later email that she is working with state officials to determine whether this correction is accurate.)

Theodore R. Cohen, 35-year journalist with the Press Herald, said the paper has gone downhill since he retired in 2004 to become a truck driver.

Cohen, who was the first to discover President George W. Bush’s 1976 drunk driving arrest in Kennebunkport, said standards at the Press Herald started to decline in 1998 when Gannet Company, Inc. sold it.

“In my heyday the Portland Press Herald – the state’s largest paper – was a newspaper,” said Cohen.

Cohen routinely posts comments at the Press Herald’s website, PressHerald.com, pointing out problems with stories.

“I am compelled out of respect for the journalistic craft to point out deficiencies,” he said.

While many readers probably ignore Cohen’s comments, Press Herald Managing Editor Steven Greenlee does not.

In a Facebook message sent to Cohen on Wednesday, Greenlee said he was “disappointed” in his former colleague’s “unending campaign against the paper.”

“I realize you see yourself as a Press Herald watchdog, so do what you’ve got to do,” said Greenlee. “But you should realize that your attacks are now aimed squarely at some of the people you worked alongside and who had your back all those years ago.”

Cohen said Greenlee’s message was unusual conduct for a managing editor and that he would continue to be vocal about the paper’s journalistic standards.

“It’s about defending the craft and making sure the standards that once reigned at the Portland Press Herald can someday return.”

Editor’s Note: No state workers were threatened in the writing of this story.

By S.E. Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Whoa, there Steve I never WROTE or TOLD you: “he (DOYLE) would keep tabs on state workers on the internet, at home, and at public meetings.” Steve if you’re going to make up things like this, make it really interesting. Just write I have real time feed from a satellite and I’m watching state workers brush their teeth. I know Kelly Bouchard and If she had to PROMISE to expose DHHS to get the FOAA answered good for her. Gone are the days when government workers at all levels can screw with people and then go hide behind their office doors. If workers are willing to disobey the FOAA law reporters will hold them accountable and examine every facet of their lives to find out what other misconduct they participate in. If Violette had reporters buzzing around him while he enjoyed an expensive and lavish PERSONAL lifestyle do you really think he could have scammed all that money from ME and everyone who pays to use the turnpike.
    Here’s my NOTE to state workers: Welcome to 2013 it’s NOT 1961 anymore.

  2. Aren’t the State workers who are dragging their feet about releasing documents to the public breaking the law? I think delving into activities of a worker who disregards the law on the job is fair game and it’s called “investigative reporting”. A lotta hypocrisy going on with these people who let their”power” go to their heads.

  3. Myra Broadway, J.D., R.N. Director of the Board of Nursing for Maine won the prize for being first in line after my being fed up with what I go through with Nathan Poore, Town Manager of Falmouth. All I get from Nathan is delays, overcharges, denial of the mandated free hour, and having to guess what he has named a file that’s sitting on his desk that I’m looking for and he knows it. I’m tired of getting the “We don’t have any documents by that name” response from him.

  4. But reporters did catch Violette over the years. Remember the expensive wine story and his trip overseas made the paper. Other MTA staff talked to Violette as well yet the practice continued. And at least one employee wrote governor baldacci of concerns and the answer was he had no oversight over agencies such as the MTA.

  5. simple solution– Follow the law of the land , starting with the constitution– Where in the constitution of the state of Maine or the United states is the “welfare” program or the “”wind power subsidy ” program or the department of education” program or the “ok to infringe on the right to bear arms” program or the “you have to build your house this size on that size lot in that area of town” program? If the Government was not involved in things that are none of their business, most of this goes away, or at worst gets handled by individuals and charity groups that can be held accountable on a local level. If we keep pushing ahead with out of control government, the World will reset itself when we run out of money and it will not be a pretty sight. Better to rein it in now, than wait for the total collapse? you decide. the need for services does not go away, the responsibility for self and others on a personal level steps back into its rightful place. Liberty guarantees equal opportunity not equal results, and protects all from the fraud and force from others. more people would be nicer to each other if they remembered that at any time they might be the one with a need of help, and the government was not going to be there to bail them out.

  6. Abus sexuel de mineurs est causée par blessures, les frais médicaux payés pour le traitement de réadaptation, les soins, les coûts de transport, la perte de revenu, les frais et dépenses raisonnables, jeunes victimes et leurs représentants légaux, proches parents font une demande, le tribunal doit être appuyée par la loi. De plus, le comté tribunal pour mineurs, en raison des victimes d’agression sexuelle causant des lésions corporelles et, ne peut pas obtenir une indemnisation effective et en temps opportun, des difficultés dans la vie, en donnant la priorité à une justice, qui reflète davantage les particuliers assistance économique mineurs victimes dans le Jiangxi Wang Shengjun affirmé ne pas mettre en œuvre efforts du droit de la protection des adultes accomplis dans le processus, il a souligné que la raison de la mise en œuvre de l’inspection de l’application de la loi pour protéger les droits de la personne de mineurs liés à la situation juridique et la traite puni, abus, d’abandon, d’agression sexuelle et d’autres activités criminelles dans le cas des mineurs Comme un point de contrôle, le but est de vérifier par l’application de la loi, de promouvoir l’application des lois, et exhorter tous les organes de l’État concernés, les organisations de personnes, d’améliorer encore les mesures de protection visant à renforcer les efforts visant à protéger et à améliorer la protection, les efforts visant à remédier à la protection des droits de la personne de mineurs, en présence de l’éminent problèmes actuels, la Chine a formé la base de la Constitution de mineurs à la protection de la loi sur les mineurs est fondée, y compris la prévention de la délinquance juvénile loi sur la délinquance et le droit civil, le droit pénal, code de procédure civile, le Code de procédure pénale et d’autres dispositions pertinentes de la loi protection du système juridique pour protéger la croissance saine des mineurs a jeté une base juridique solide, nous devons aussi sobrement conscient que la Chine en est au stade primaire du socialisme et à long contraint par le niveau de développement économique et le degré de civilisation d’une société, pas le développement des services de protection des adultes se heurtent encore à de nombreuses difficultés et défis.

  7. Dans le passé, avant la lecture voudront lire un livre, mais la lecture réelle, lorsque cette question est souvent me troublait depuis longtemps mon université, je ne savais pas ce qui en soi est en fait une question de valeurs, de sorte que je me suis souvent un peu de temps Gestion de l’ouvrage pour trouver les réponses. Ces livres ne vous rendent plus efficace que plus tard quitté l’école pour apprendre une petite partie de Zen pensé, j’ai commencé à devenir clair.

  8. Élèves de collège récemment entendu sauter constamment les événements, les choses genre de chose ne s’est pas produit en un jour ou deux avant. Pression Middle School étudiants particulièrement important, les parents espèrent, la concurrence entre les élèves, une variété de pressions mal invisible leur cœur fragile, peut-être testament Comme l’a dit un étudiant de l’école secondaire, l’amour parental est trop chaude, les brûlures ses ailes, si il se sentait trop de pression à apprendre, ne peut pas se permettre, a choisi la mort comme un soulagement..

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