Media Mutt

The Bangor Daily News Or The Gun Lobby: Who’s Stupider?

by Al Diamon

Shoot first, ask questions later: The Bangor Daily News damaged its credibility and called into question the intelligence of those sitting in its editorial offices. The gun-rights crowd won a pointless battle, but mostly because nobody in the news media bothered to ask them some obvious questions that would have exposed them as lacking the smarts of even a BDN editor.

Let’s start with the Bangor Daily. On Feb. 13, the paper sent a letter to law enforcement agencies statewide seeking a complete list of Mainers with concealed weapons permits. The letter, signed by managing editor Susan Young, said the newspaper “does not intend to publish wholesale identifying information.”

The next day, Anthony Ronzio, the BDN’s director of news and new media, put out an editor’s note offering further explanation. Ronzio said the paper “requested the records of concealed weapons permits as part of long-term reporting projects on domestic violence, sexual assault and drug abuse.” He went on to say, “We believe the wholesale publication of permit holder information, as was done recently by a newspaper in New York, is irresponsible.” Ronzio said the paper was making the request now because of a bill in the Legislature that, if passed, would remove that material from the public record.

What ensued can only be described as a shitstorm. The newspaper’s website was swamped with negative comments, many of them notable for their rabid stupidity and below-average vocabulary skills. A Facebook page was set up by critics to attack the paper and call for boycotts. Gun-rights groups rallied their members. The Republican Party sent out a fundraising message. The rival Portland Press Herald broke with tradition and actually covered something going on at a competing paper.

And the powers-that-be at the Bangor Daily folded faster than Maker’s Mark management in dumping its plan to dilute its bourbon. Ronzio blamed “rampant misinformation” for creating the negative blowback, but didn’t really explain why the paper was backing down. “We are disappointed with the reaction to our request, which we felt was with the best intentions to help study issues affecting Maine through an analysis of publicly available data,” he wrote. “We will continue our reporting, but will use other sources of information to do so.”

By that time, Republican Gov. Paul LePage was already pushing emergency legislation that would exempt concealed weapon permit information from the state’s right-to-know law. And an anonymous e-mailer had submitted a similar freedom-of-information request for the list. Both those matters are still pending as I write this.

It’s difficult to believe the editors of the Bangor paper didn’t anticipate the reaction they received to their request. It’s even more difficult to figure why they didn’t have an adequate plan in place to handle the criticism. And it’s all but impossible for me to conceive how, having embarked on this project, they lacked the commitment to last even one full day, let alone see their efforts through to completion. This complete lack of balls makes me wonder what other (less publicized) pressure the Bangor Daily may also have yielded to.

The BDN has damaged its credibility severely. It’s tough to figure how it could recover.

That said, the rest of the news media did themselves little credit in their coverage. Over and over, they allowed the gun-rights crowd to make illogical statements that should have been challenged.

I kept waiting for some reporter to point out that while the BDN’s attackers considered the request for the concealed-weapons list to be a serious effort to restrict their right to bear arms, the same list is already in the hands of another entity: the government.

Isn’t that who they think is plotting to take away their guns?

On Feb. 16, the Portland Press Herald did a story on the dramatic increase in applications for permits, and its reporter repeated the assertion that this trend had to do with fears the Obama administration would soon restrict firearms. But Maine has no gun registration requirements, so the only way the evil oppressors would know somebody might have a gun is if that person applied for a permit to conceal it.

Might have been interesting to ask those afraid the Second Amendment is being eroded about that little inconsistency.

Then, there’s the annual practice of many Maine newspapers of publishing the list of winners of the moose lottery and the deer-permit drawings. Among the claims by critics of the Bangor Daily was that publishing the concealed-weapons list would allow burglars to figure out who has guns, thereby allowing them to be stolen. (Never mind that burglars could have just gone to the local cop shop and asked to see the same records.) Entrants in the moose and deer contests must have hunting licenses and can be presumed to own guns. Yet, nobody objects to that information being widely disseminated.

The Press Herald did finally get around to pointing out that the decidedly pro-gun Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine has in the past asked for complete lists of hunting and fishing licensees in order to solicit them for membership. Why is that acceptable and what the BDN did not? How come the press wasn’t pressing SAM on its seeming hypocrisy?

Last but not least, it didn’t seem to occur to anyone in the media that the delay in processing concealed-weapon permit requests reported in the Press Herald’s story – three to four months – is a violation of Maine law, which requires the process be completed in 30 days for longtime residents and 60 days for nonresidents and recent arrivals. It might have been worthwhile to ask SAM why they aren’t screaming about this obvious violation of gun-owner rights at least as loudly as they bellowed at the Bangor newspaper.

No one came out of this incident looking good. But stupid? Yeah, there was more than enough of that to go around.

Disclosure: The Bangor Daily News and The Bollard have a business relationship.

Newspaper? Not us: The Portland Newspaper Guild is no more. Last week the members of the largest labor union at MaineToday Media voted to change the name that’s been in place since its formation in 1937. The group, which still represents over 200 workers at the Portland Press Herald and Morning Sentinel, will now be known as the News Guild of Maine (although word of the change has yet to reach whoever is supposed to update its website).

“We needed a more inclusive name,” said guild president Tom Bell, “because we represent newsrooms in Portland and Waterville, and we’re not just newspapers anymore, but online, as well, and we believe it’s important to reflect that.”

Bell also said the union had agreed to changes in its current contract, one of which gives workers a 2 percent pay increase, effective last week — the first hike since 2008. Since that last raise, paychecks have been hit with a 10 percent reduction as the company, under its old ownership, teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.

The guild’s current contract expires at the end of June. Bell doesn’t expect management to push for major givebacks at that time. Instead, he sees indications MaineToday will continue to spend to upgrade the product. “There will be a lot of investment in technology and software in the coming year,” he predicted.

Polk in the eye: I wish I could give my unqualified congratulations to MaineToday Media investigative reporter Colin Woodard for winning a George Polk award for exposing the machinations behind attempts to start virtual charter schools in Maine.

But as long as Woodard’s wife, Sarah Skillin-Woodard, sits on the advisory board of another charter school, he has the appearance of a conflict of interest, one that he (and his editors) have consistently failed to disclose.

With only a limited number of charters allowed in Maine, there’s fierce competition for approval. Woodard ought to make it clear his family has a stake in how those matters are resolved.

It’s a shame he won’t make this small concession to openness and transparency, because his work on the subject of charter schools has been exceptional, most recently in a Feb. 17 piece on the links between a proposed facility in the Bangor area and a shadowy Turkish imam with extensive political connections (just wondering how the Bangor Daily News missed this scoop right in their backyard). Woodard should take the simple step of including a disclaimer to avoid allowing critics to distract the public from the important points he’s making with questions about his ethics.

Errors and omissions abound: The MaineToday Media papers carried a story by State House reporter Steve Mistler on Feb 15 that claimed in both the headline and text that a “majority” of those polled by the Maine People’s Resource Center favored repealing the tax cuts approved by Republicans in the last session of the Legislature. Since only 42 percent of respondents actually took that position (as opposed to 37 percent opposed and 20 percent undecided), the word should have been “plurality.”

Neither the Portland Press Herald nor the Bangor Daily News bothered to mention in their coverage of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ decision to oppose Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense that her husband’s firm is employed by both defense contractors and the Department of Defense. Fortunately, the ever-alert Dan Aibel of the Collins Watch blog noticed this oversight and alerted me.

On the same day the Portland Press Herald ran a story on the impact a big increase in the federal minimum wage might have on Maine’s economy, it also ran a correction contradicting its own article. The Feb. 15 piece by business writer Jessica Hall said, “Maine’s current minimum wage is $7.50 an hour, higher than the federal minimum.” But a page two correction (not online, as far as I can tell) claimed a Feb. 14 editorial had erred on the amount of the state wage. “It is $7.25 per hour,” the correction said. It isn’t. Hall had it right. Now, how about correcting the correction?

On Feb. 8, the Morning Sentinel reported that the victims of a multi-car accident in Waterville were in agreement with the district attorney’s office’s decision to settle the case through a plea bargain.

On Feb. 18, the same paper said the victims were upset with the deal and wanted a harsher sentence.

Was the first story wrong? Was the D.A. feeding the reporter incorrect information? Did somebody change their mind? Seems as if the second story should have explained what happened, because not everyone has as short a memory as a Sentinel editor.

As years go: As Maine Goes, the conservative website and major source of news leads, celebrated its 15th anniversary on Feb. 17.

AMG began as a sort of newsletter, but evolved into a forum filled with a fascinating mix of facts, opinion, foolishness and stupidity worthy of a Bangor Daily News editor.

Invaluable? Sometimes. Entertaining? Nearly always.

Due to technical difficulties: You may have missed my last fascinating posting on the collapse of the agreement between the Bangor Daily News and a developer for the sale of the newspaper’s headquarters. And there’s some other amusing stuff in there. If you didn’t see it, it’s still around, right here.

Al Diamon can be emailed at

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