Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Maine: Press Herald fails readers again

I'm trying to avoid having this space become a running commentary on the shortcomings of Maine's former newspaper of record, the Portland Press Herald, but once again they've churned out a story so jaw-droppingly bad, I can't help but tear into them again.

Yesterday's paper contained a puff piece -- a puff piece! -- on Ocean Properties, the development firm behind the greatest Portland political scandal of the past decade. Ann Kim's piece "Ocean Properties' brand boosts racino's allure" touts its "reputation for having a golden touch."

Uh, right.

Ms. Kim and her editors failed to mention the fact that right here in Portland, the company allied with certain city councilors who deceived the public into thinking a critical piece of public infrastructure -- the city-owned Maine State Pier -- was in critical disrepair, and could only be saved by leasing it to the company for the better part of a century so they could build a $100 million waterfront hotel and office complex on top of it. Company personnel gave lavishly to the campaigns of city councilors Jill Duson, Dan Skolnik, and Dory Waxman (who they had employed as a community organizer for the project), all of whom refused to recuse themselves from Ocean Properties-related votes. Mayor Ed Suslovic and ex-mayor Jim Cloutier both lost their seats in the ensuing food fight, reshaping the city council.

Only later did it emerge that the city had known the whole time that the only reason the pier needed $26 million in "repairs" was so it would be strong enough to build an Ocean Properties-like development on top of it.

The Press Herald ignored this story under its previous owners. Under Rich "We don't sell news" Connor, it is whitewashing the past, even turning to Ms. Duson as a source on OP's reputation. One hopes the fact that former OP front man Bob Baldacci is a part owner of the paper isn't playing a role.

Maybe part of the problem is that there are few people left at the paper who know anything about this city. That would explain last week's editorial on the resumption of ferry service to Nova Scotia that wrongly asserts that The Cat and Scotia Prince docked in Halifax, not Yarmouth. If you don't understand even the basic routes the service has used (and why those route lengths make economic sense) you shouldn't be editorializing on them.

(For more on the history of Portland waterfront issues, start here. For the campaign finance disclosures of city councilors, start here. For the disclosures documenting OP's contributions to city councilors, download this pdf. For background on ferries, start here.)

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