Weak Coverage of the Strong Trial
by Al Diamon
Objection: relevance: The trial of Mark Strong Sr., the Thomaston man charged with promoting prostitution in a Kennebunk Zumba studio, wrapped up on March 6 with guilty verdicts on all counts.
It also produced expressions of surprise from bloggers and online commenters, who were almost universally certain Strong would be acquitted. In coffee shops and supermarket checkout lines across the state, casual observers of the proceedings — via the news media — expressed confusion at the quick verdict in the prosecution’s favor.
Small wonder. The coverage by the Portland Press Herald’s Scott Dolan, the Bangor Daily News’ Seth Koenig and the Portsmouth Herald’s Jennifer Feals was mostly accurate as far as it went, but it rarely provided even a hint of context. TV reporting on the proceedings was entirely focused on the more lurid aspects, with little attempt by any station I watched to inform or explain.
Strong’s defense team was far more successful in obscuring the real issues in the media than it was in the courtroom.
In the print edition of The Bollard this month, I take an in-depth look at what’s wrong with coverage of the legal system. This trial, which was only starting when I submitted my piece, could have served as a textbook example of the type of journalistic bungling that’s all too common in the Maine media.
I didn’t attend the proceedings, but even from a distance it was obvious most stories focused on irrelevant details — a pizza delivery man who got a big tip and was propositioned, an affair the lead police investigator had with her boss, legal maneuvering over how many explicit photos would be shown to the jury — and mostly missed what I suspect are the key points that lead to Strong’s downfall, namely the many e-mails he and Alexis Wright, the alleged prostitute, exchanged over several months. While the content of those messages wasn’t made public, it’s difficult to believe that a knowledgeable reporter wouldn’t have recognized their importance and probed to find out what they said.
At the very least, coverage should have reflected the possibility this stuff might have a major impact.
But why bother? There were sex tapes submitted as exhibits, as well as the defense’s frequent, entertaining outbursts over peripheral matters. Important evidence, the stuff that seals a case, is often dull and difficult to explain.
Also, if any reporter put in the effort to do that, it only would have spoiled the public’s surprise when the jury finally handed down its verdict.
No know: An astute viewer of WCSH-TV’s morning show noted that anchor Sharon Rose began a March 6 story on medical marijuana with the clever phrase, “As you probably know …”
There may be worse leads, although I can’t think of any. I invite submissions.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.