Media Mutt

New Maine Times Reporter Gets the Old Heave Ho

by Al Diamon

Evicted from the House: On May 21, during a late-night session, reporter Andi Parkinson of the New Maine Times website was ordered to leave the Maine House of Representatives. Parkinson was covering the debate over a contentious bill to pay debts owed to the state’s hospitals and expand Medicaid coverage.

According to an account by NMT editor Gina Hamilton, the request to have the reporter removed from one of the media tables on the House floor came from Republican state Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport, the GOP floor leader. Hamilton said the complaint was conveyed to Parkinson by Democratic state Rep. Seth Berry of Bowdoinham, the majority leader.

The majority party sets the rules covering journalists’ presence on the House floor, with the regulations being more or less stringent depending mostly on who the speaker of the House is. When Republicans controlled the House two years go, access was much more limited than it is today under the Democrats.

Hamilton said the reason Berry gave for Fredette’s complaint was that Parkinson had worked for DirigoBlue, a liberal website.

Parkinson didn’t protest and left the House floor promptly.

Fredette didn’t return several phone calls from Hamilton and a couple from me. But the possibility that he’s trying to enforce a political litmus test for journalists covering the Legislature is, in Hamilton’s words, “unacceptable and unconstitutional.”

In the wake of the controversy, Hamilton said Democratic leaders, including Speaker Mark Eves, “fell all over themselves to apologize.” She said they’ve assured her that nothing similar will happen again.

What’s scary is that it happened the first time.

Zero percent credibility: I often wonder why newspapers waste space on reader polls that convey no useful information. On controversial issues, partisans on both sides attempt to rally their supporters to phone in and skew the vote. On less momentous matters, the results reflect nothing more than the opinions of people with too much time on their hands. The horoscope comes closer to reporting the truth.

In her Bangor Daily News blog, University of Maine political science professor Amy Fried took papers that use this feature (the BDN and Portland Press Herald) to task for asking poorly worded questions that produce nothing of consequence.

“Phony polls don’t give you a picture of reality, so they’re not news,” Fried wrote. “And no one in the news business should have anything to do with them.”

Amen to that.

Pretty mushy rock: The May 22 Portland Press Herald carried a story by staff writer Gillian Graham on an auditor’s presentation to the Old Orchard Beach Town Council on the municipality’s finances. The headline said, “Auditor says Old Orchard finances are ‘rock solid.’” The first sentence strongly conveyed that same theme: “An auditor told the Town Council on Tuesday that the town’s finances are in ‘rock solid’ shape but more financial controls should be implemented.”

The rest of the article seemed to say just the opposite.

The auditor “raised concerns about internal controls including the reconciliation of bank deposits.” He said, “There appears to be chaos and confusion in your books.” He agreed with a councilor that the town’s financial system is “broken.”

So was this story.

Al Diamon can be emailed at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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