Here's a lesson in how not to spin a news article.
As many of you may already know, my lengthy profile of Angus King -- the Independent candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Olympia Snowe -- was in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram.
Shortly after it appeared, the King campaign posted (without permission) a censored version of the article on their campaign website (since removed). The campaign said they had edited it for length, but managed to purge all references and quotes that could be construed as critical of the candidate, plus a great deal of the background material on his origins in Alexandria, Virginia and some of his business activities. Most rich for many was the deletion of retired Press Herald state hours reporter Paul Carrier's observation that, as governor, King could be "thin-skinned and controlling".
My biographical profile of Angus King, currently frontrunner in the race for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Olympia Snowe, was in the Maine Sunday Telegram yesterday.
The piece -- and forthcoming ones of Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill -- focuses on the making of the person, their world view, and political philosophy. And, yes, I did manage to find yearbook photos, even if it took going to the former Hammond High School in Alexandria, Virginia to get them.
King has been leading in the polls, but only by single digits (over Summers) in the latest polls.
Lofgren, a career Republican congressional staffer, retired last year after 28 years and published a fiery essay at Truthout about what he saw as the radicalization of his party. The book expands upon these themes, and takes Democrats to task for not offering a credible alternative.
For more -- and my thoughts on the book -- enjoy the review.
The governor instead used his weekly radio address to lash out at the article, claiming at one point that it had "lied saying that my campaign was paid by an out of state company to push virtual learning."
"This is a bold faced lie," the governor added, apparently referring to the article rather than the statement he had just made.
Of course, the article made no such claim, as anyone who reads it can see for themselves.
What it did say was that the nation's largest digital learning company, K12 Inc. of Herndon, Va., spent $19,000 to help get LePage elected in 2010, via the Republican Governors Association Maine PAC.
But let's recap this issue for the governor, since he seems to have been poorly briefed. The RGA Maine PAC was created to get the Republican nominee -- LePage --elected, and it would spend over a million dollars to do so in 2010.
On October 11, 2010, K12 Inc. kicked in two donations totaling $19,000, which you can see on page 3 of their disclosure for that period at the Maine ethics commission (or the image here:)
Over the next 48 hours, the PAC made ad buys totaling over $360,000, about half spent in support of LePage and the rest on negative ads targeting LePage's opponents, Libby Mitchell and Eliot Culter. You can find all of this on page 5 of the same document, or in this image:
So it's the governor who is the one who is being boldfaced here. I suggest his office should issue a correction, as we did in regards to the typographical error in our piece.
On that: last week Brent Littlefield, LePage's chief political adviser, did his best to make hay over the fact that in one of the references to this $19,000 contribution in my article, the wording made it sound like the RGA Maine PAC had given the $19,000 to LePage's campaign organization to spend, rather than spending it themselves in support of LePage. (This would of course impossible, since direct donations to campaign organizations are capped at $750.) We corrected that online and in print last week, and I responded to Littlefield's effort to spin this on WGAN Friday morning.
"[O]ur education policy was taken to task because of a perception that what we are doing somehow hurts school boards, superintendents or taxpayers," the governor also proclaimed in the radio address. "And yet nobody was talking about our core goal: what is best for the students."
Of course, the effect on students was precisely what the article said was at stake, though the set of policies LePage has directed the education department to move forward on -- the Digital Learning Now! standards -- have plenty to interest the taxpayer as well, including directives to have the state pay for the online classes of private school students.
But, then, anyone who has actually read the articles already knows this, and has been able to avail themselves of the source documents that back it up. If you're one of those who haven't read it, you might want to do so, even if you're the governor of Maine.
LePage's political adviser, Brent Littlefield, called up WGAN's morning news program Wednesday to denounce a "falsehood" in the article: that in one of three references to K12 Inc.'s $19,000 contribution to LePage's candidacy via the Republican Governor's Association PAC, the wording suggested the money had been given directly to LePage's campaign organization. If there are such blatant falsehoods, Mr. Littlefield asserted, how can we trust anything in the piece?
First things first: yes, the wording of that first reference inadvertently got changed in a way that made it incorrect. Of course the RGA Maine PAC didn't direct the $19,000 to LePage's campaign organization -- such donations are capped at $750 by law. The reason such PACs exist is precisely to get around such spending caps. We've corrected the wording online and put a clarification in print.
But the point that was actually being made was that K12 Inc. contributed $19,000 to help get LePage elected, which is absolutely true.
Littlefield is of course well aware of the RGA Maine PAC's role in the 2010 gubernatorial election. The PAC -- whose purpose was to get the Republican nominee elected to the Blaine House -- spent over a million dollars in support of LePage or to oppose his opponents.
On October 11, 2010, K12 kicked in two payments totaling $19,000 (see page 3 of the PAC's disclosure here). Over the next 72 hours, the PAC made ad buys totaling over $356,000, about half spent in support of LePage (on the radio) and the other half on negative ads targeting his opponents, Libby Mitchell and Eliot Culter (on television; see page 5 of the same document.)
During the interview, Littlefield also displayed a surprisingly poor understanding of what the article was actually about, suggesting he hadn't bothered to read it before hopping on the phone for a little spin work.
I suppose Littlefield is just doing his job, but I don't think WGAN's listeners will appreciate being manipulated in this way, especially over a what is actually a minor fact in the story, and one that isn't even news, having been reported on nearly two years ago.
I am an award-winning journalist and author of American Nations, American Character, Ocean's End, The Lobster Coast, and The Republic of Pirates. I'm a staffer at the Portland Press Herald, where I won a 2012 George Polk Award for my investigative reporting and was named a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist.