Monday, July 19, 2010

Maine Media Secrets

Al Diamon explores some forbidden truths:

Maine news organizations rely on interviews with [Maine congressional] delegation members to determine what they're up to. This method has several obvious drawbacks, the most glaring being that our elected officials in the nation's capital aren't likely to tell us anything they don't want us to know...

In fact, doing thorough checking on whatever senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and representatives Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree claim to have supported or opposed is almost unheard of in the mainstream media. Journalists who regularly cover the delegation don't want to annoy any of the members, because that could result in being frozen out of interviews.

As a result, stories about the Mainers in Congress generally fall in a couple of categories: 1. how influential they are and 2. how they stand on controversial issues.

The first group of articles can be dismissed, because they almost always rely heavily on the senators and representatives themselves to make the determination about their influence...They aren't journalism. They're campaign material.

The second group could be useful if reporters put in enough effort. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen often.
Of course, perhaps the main reason reporters don't put in the effort is that, as Diamon observes above, they're afraid to ask tough questions anyway.

And they virtually never do. I can remember only a single instance since 2008 in which a reporter at one of the Maine dailies asked Sen. Collins--or really, her spokesman--a question that might have made the junior senator uncomfortable.

And even this was in the context of a swirling national controversy--and so the reporter was (among other things) giving Collins the opportunity to respond to a rising chorus of criticism. In other words, to get out her side of the story.

In short, with scarcely any exceptions, asking Sens. Snowe and Collins tough question is something that simply isn't done in Maine. The state's senators are treated in the press like sainted celebrities, not accountable public officials.

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