Media Mutt

Burlesque Queens, Prostitution Johns and Bad Headlines

By Al Diamon

Selective reporting: On the afternoon of Nov. 9, the Bangor Daily News carried this headline on its website:

“Police expected to release third batch of accused johns in Kennebunk prostitution case.”

Apparently, they were clearing out the jail cells in case more serious criminals came to town. Within a few hours, the site was corrected to indicate that only the names were being released. The johns, charged with misdemeanors, had never been physically detained.

The following day, the Portland Press Herald continued its erratic reporting on the case by devoting considerable space in its story to a part-time pastor at a South Portland church who’s been charged with engaging a prostitute. The paper also gave some room to WCSH-TV weatherman Joe Cupo’s on-air denial of the persistent rumors that he’s one of the 100 or so johns yet to be named.

I’m not arguing that Cupo’s statement wasn’t newsworthy. Nor should a religious leader get a pass. But it seems much more important to highlight public officials caught in the scandal, and the Press Herald seems reluctant to do so. Two weeks earlier, it neglected to mention that one of those accused is a former chairman of the Portland Planning Board, who had resigned from that body just before he was exposed.

So, what is the paper’s policy on digging into the background of johns? The Press Herald has been fiddling around with this question since the case broke and, unlike nearly every other news organization in the state, doesn’t appear to have come up with a firm answer.

Uncovering the facts: The Press Herald did carry a decent profile of the candidates for a seat on the Portland School Committee. Unfortunately, the piece ran four days after the election.

The Nov. 10 article detailing the backgrounds of winner Holly Seeliger and loser Jeanne Swanton was full of information that might have been useful to voters – if they’d had it before they cast their ballots. It included a lot of  material on the two candidates’ qualifications that was either missing or downplayed in earlier coverage.

Such as that Seeliger is a part-time burlesque dancer with a provocative online video (find it yourself, weasel).

Staff writer Randy Billings’ post-election piece was exactly the kind of thorough and thoughtful coverage that the Maine media ought to be producing before elections, but isn’t.

I’m not saying that Seeliger should have been defeated because of her garment-shedding hobby. I’m saying that when reporting on local races, it’s worthwhile to go beyond the typical candidate questionnaire, a technique that often produces news people want and need to know.

Although, it’s a lot more useful when it shows up before the polls close.

Explore no more: The weekly Penobscot Valley Explorer, based in Lincoln, has folded after barely seven months in print. Publisher Bob Pushard of Hometown Newspapers pulled the plug with the Nov. 1 edition, according to an online posting by editor Steve Brown.

As is so often the case, the reason was financial.

It remains to be seen if Brown will continue to produce his website, which preceded the Explorer, providing some outlet for local news.

In April, shortly before starting the Explorer, Pushard closed the print versions of his other three papers, saying he wanted to concentrate on the web.

Light’s out: Light of Life Ministries continues to sell off its radio properties in Maine. Bob Bittner, owner  of WJTO-AM in Bath, just  grabbed an FM translator at 98.3 in Freeport from the religious broadcaster for $100,000.

It’s the third such sale the organization has completed in recent months.

The FM signal will be used to rebroadcast the adult standards format currently running on Bittner’s AM station.

A thousand years late: Headline in the Nov. 11 Lewiston Sun Journal:

“Election 1012 is proof times are changing.”

More than you might suspect. We no longer put the losers’ severed heads on pikes.

Al Diamon can be emailed at

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