Thursday, September 27, 2012

King campaign's spin gets out of (their) hand

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 colleague Mark Shepard reported the incident in the Press Herald, and that story has since been picked up by conservative media including Fox News, the Daily Caller, and blogger Matt Gagnon (d.b.a. Pine Tree Politics). Gagnon's headline, "The paranoid, thin skinned, insecure King campaign" distills the narrative the incident has helped write.

The lead story in yesterday's Press Herald? Steve Mistler's piece exploring if the King campaign is firing on all cylinders.

That's an example of of how to spin something right out of your control.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Making of Angus King

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.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Reviewing "The Party is Over" in the Washington Post

My review of Mike Lofgren's The Party is Over is in the Washington Post this weekend.

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.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

K12 Inc. under investigation in Florida

For those who missed it, I had a follow-up story in the Portland Press Herald yesterday on K12 Inc., one of the two companies seeking to operate full-time virtual charter schools in Maine.

The company is under investigation in Florida for allegedly using uncertified teachers and pressuring other teachers to join in concealing this from school district officials.

K12 was at the center of my Maine Sunday Telegram investigation on digital education policy here in Maine, which ran with this companion story on K12 on Sept. 2.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Gov. LePage attacks Telegram investigation in radio address

Gov. Paul LePage is apparently not concerned about the troubling findings of my investigation in last week's Maine Sunday Telegram, which showed how private online learning companies with dubious track records were shaping his administration's digital learning policies.

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.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Virtual schools in Maine: LePage adviser tries a diversion

My Maine Sunday Telegram investigation on full-time virtual charter schools and digital education policy seems to have gotten the attention of Gov. Paul LePage's inner circle.

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'll be on WGAN this morning to set the record straight and to encourage listeners to read the piece and the sidebar, even if Littlefield hasn't.

[Update, 21:29: link to this morning's interview added.]

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Virtual control: an expose on digital education policymaking in Maine

Readers of the Portland Press Herald and its sister papers may have noticed I've been relatively quiet for the past month. Here's why:

On the front of today's Maine Sunday Telegram you'll find my special report on how national online education companies have influenced the creation of digital education policies -- and full-time, virtual schools -- here in Maine.

There are a lot of revelations in this one (that education commissioner Stephen Bowen was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council until March of last year gets lost in the flood), but you shouldn't miss the sidebar on the dubious record of full-time virtual schools elsewhere in the country.

Oh, and my colleague Bill Nemitz -- not knowing what I was working on -- independently came up with this separate piece concerning Mr. Bowen as well.

Thanks to everyone who has e-mailed, posted, or otherwise commented on the piece; I appreciate the flood of kind words. Will keep the investigations coming.