From the archive: Al Diamon's February 2008 "Media Mutt" column from Downeast magazine:
If a newspaper had information that indicated a member of Congress had taken part in burning the U.S. flag to protest the war in Iraq, you'd think that would be big news. Front page. Above the fold. Giant headline.
But that's not the way things are done at the Morning Sentinel in Waterville. Somebody there apparently thought the paper had just such a story, but that it wasn't all that big a deal.
On Feb. 28, the Sentinel ran a piece by Blethen Maine Newspapers' Washington correspondent Jonathan Kaplan about a new fundraising video put out by Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, in which she attacks her Democratic rival in the November election, U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, for accepting large campaign donations through the liberal group MoveOn.org.
The third paragraph of Kaplan's story, "Collins camp launches video attacking Allen," begins with this sentence: "The video includes a grainy image of Allen and shots of Iraq war protesters burning American flags and holding a sign urging soldiers to kill their officers."
I doubt an average reader would think that meant Allen had taken part in a flag burning, nor does the actual video portray such an action. But a copy editor at the Sentinel managed to come up with that interpretation. He or she slapped a sub-headline on the piece that read, "Video shows Allen burning flag."
Then, that editor buried this scoop on the back page of the local section.
Asked about this curious mix of creating sensational (although false) news and then burying it, Sentinel editor Eric Conrad, reached by phone, said, "That sub-head was bad, and we'll correct it."
He refused further comment by hanging up. Which was probably the wisest thing anybody connected with this mess has done.