Those alt-right weirdos say a lot of nasty stuff about the mainstream media.
They might have a point.
It’s not that I buy into the complaint that reporters and editors at daily newspapers and TV stations have a liberal bias. For the most part, that isn’t true. To have a bias, they’d have to know something about the subjects they’re reporting on. Often, that’s not the case.
What makes it easy to dismiss much of what’s published and broadcast in the Maine media is the daily deluge of cloudy thinking, sloppy editing and outright incompetence that’s become the new journalistic norm. Simply put, you can’t trust what you read and hear. Sort of like listening to a speech by Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Only less racist.
Sometimes the inept attempts at conveying information can be humorous. On January 7, The Lewiston Sun Journal ran a front-page story on how businesses were coping with mandated increases in the minimum wage. It contained this gem: “[State economist Amanda] Rector sees three options: increase prices, trim employees’ hours, reduce employees or eliminate benefits.”
I’m pretty sure Rector can count better than that.
The January 10 edition of The Bangor Daily News published a column by Emmet Meara about problems with his bathroom drain. The headline: “I should have been a plumper.”
Anyone who knows Emmet is aware he’s fully qualified in that category. The word the copy editor couldn’t spell correctly was “plumber.”
Some mistakes, though, are seriously misleading. The January 16 Morning Sentinel contained this scoop: “Israel, Palestinians talk peace deal.” Unfortunately, The Associated Press story it topped carried the opposite message, with Israeli leadership rejecting the urgings of a French-sponsored conference for negotiations.
Apparently, reading copy before writing headlines is now optional.
Last September, The Maine Sunday Telegram ran an op-ed by somebody named Steve Bentley that claimed LePage was suffering from “deep-seated and unresolved psychological and emotional issues” caused by alcohol. Bentley based his assessment on public statements the governor had made, but not on any clinical examination.
The paper later deleted the column from its website and ran an editor’s note saying it “should not have been published.” But it never apologized to LePage. Or its readers.
Far more serious than any of the above missteps is a new policy at The Bangor Daily. Effective early this month, the paper decided it’s not going to report some stuff LePage says when it can’t verify its accuracy. According to a January 6 blog post by BDN State House reporter Christopher Cousins, “If we rush to simply throw a headline on something a politician says, without providing important context or asking them to provide substantiating information then we function as de facto propaganda machines.”
In this case, the paper didn’t report on LePage’s claim that two Maine companies (he later upped it to three) were about to shut down, eliminating 400 jobs. There’s good reason to be skeptical of this factoid, since the governor announced early last year that a southern Maine business was about to fold, costing the state 900 jobs (he later upped it to 1,500) — an event that, to date, hasn’t happened.
LePage has a long history of making false statements in radio appearances and speeches. His press office is notorious for not responding to questions. The news media would be justified in ignoring the ranting of an ignorant, racially offensive crank — if he wasn’t the governor.
But LePage is the governor. When he makes inaccurate claims, that’s as newsworthy as when he — occasionally — tells the truth. The Bangor paper’s argument that it can’t report on his fabrications without context and fact-checking is disingenuous. That context is readily available in the form of his many previous distortions of reality. And fact-checks are only a phone call or key click away.
Far more dangerous than the BDN’s fear that it will become “complicit in spreading inaccurate or incomplete information” are the consequences of not informing the public about what their governor is saying. Because word of LePage’s distorted pronouncements will spread by alternative means whether mainstream media facilitate it or not.
The newspaper’s misguided exercise in self-censorship is yet another example of why public trust in this institution continues to decline.
For instance, they just lost me.