New frontiers in press criticism: The Maine Wire’s smear

It’s not hard to find press criticism these days and, no, I don’t mean your spouse complaining as he or she reads the paper or listens to the news.

Rather, one can readily locate critical assessments of news coverage from journalistic operations, as well as from groups with particular political perspectives.

But the Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) has embarked on a new frontier — criticizing an new article that not only hasn’t been published, but hasn’t been written. In fact, the article hasn’t even been fully investigated to the point  that the reporter and his editor had enough information to decide whether it’s worth writing.

Moreover, this conservative advocacy group’s piece puts out in the public sphere a rumor that no one had reported. I know I never heard about it until they wrote a long article about the rumor.

Actually, the piece wasn’t published by the MHPC, not exactly. It was published by The Maine Wire (TMW), which the MHPC created, it said, to be a news operation.

But this is no ordinary news outlet. If you go to the web site now, the piece taking up most of the real estate is a commentary saying the U.S. in engaged in a “battle for the future of freedom” because of the federal rule about insurance companies covering contraception, with another commentary at the top by someone using the name “Lucky Cambridge.” And then there is the story reporting the unreported rumor and claiming this unpublished story is a “smear.”

Early on, TMW did things like write an article complaining that people from organizations that serve the poor were organizing the poor to go to the Maine Legislature to protest cuts. They also received publicity surrounding a reporter who elsewhere had criticized racial and ethnic diversity.

After that, they were known for its intense coverage of MaineHousing. One article complained that MaineHousing staff went to a lot of hotels for professional conferences and held a lot of training sessions, both of which (it did not explain) are needed as part of normal operations.

And now they’ve written this piece about a rumor about Governor LePage which is framed entirely as a claim that the press is out to smear the governor and as a continuation of their upset that Rep. Pingree’s husband has a small share in the ownership of the Portland Press Herald.

Al Diamon said it well:

The Maine Wire, the news website of the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center think tank, is apparently unfamiliar with standard journalistic practice. The Wire seems to think it’s unethical for reporters to thoroughly investigate rumors they hear or tips they receive. Which is odd, because that’s where a significant percentage of all news comes from. . .

There’s good reason to be suspicious about political influence on news reporting at the Press Herald in light of Sussman’s many connections to Democratic and progressive individuals and groups. It’s worthwhile to keep scrutinizing the stories in the MaineToday papers for signs of bias. It’s even legitimate to critique what they don’t cover if there are indications it’s covering up something. But this foolishness seems aimed at nothing so much as damaging the paper’s credibility, even though there’s no basis for doing so.

On second thought, there does seem to be a smear campaign going on here – being run by the Maine Wire.

When TMW was to start, I noted the tendency now prevalent for citizens to sort themselves out in terms of the media they choose. I also noted conservatives’ turn toward creating organizations that appear to be think tanks and news operations but are really aimed at producing fodder to support their preferred policies. But this is not necessarily even good politics, for, as I wrote:

[W]hile closed knowledge systems can build a tight-knit community and reinforce the views of those who are loyal to these points of view, they do little to attract others, something necessary to build lasting movements and coalitions. (The Maine Heritage Policy Center makes “news”)

Following TMW‘s odd article, I rather suspect that other thoughtful observers of this operation will agree with what Dennis Bailey wrote about TMW‘s upset about the unpublished, nonwritten, not fully-reported effort. After discussing it in some detail and in context of TMW‘s past emphases, Bailey says:

When The Maine Wire started, I actually had high hopes. Alternative media voices are a good thing. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that The Maine Wire has proven to be nothing more than a partisan tool for the Maine Republican Party, and a clumsy, hypocritical and hysterical one at that. We can now ignore it.

Perhaps TMW thinks it’s always good to get attention and criticism by others will legitimize it in its base. And perhaps they think this sort of thing will cause legitimate reporters to turn away from investigating rumors.

But one’s base can only take a political movement so far and real reporters are unlikely to be dissuaded by this new frontier in press criticism.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.