M.A.P.: The 20 LEAST & WORST Covered Maine Political Stories of 2012 (Part 2)

With the end of 2012 fast approaching, we decided to take a look back at the stories that Maine’s media covered poorly, or just flat out ignored.

Would 2012 have ended any differently if the Maine media had done a better job covering these stories? Only the people of Maine can answer that question.

These are the MPBP Media Accountability Project’s Top 10 Least & Worst Covered Maine Political Stories Of 2012

#10 – Impact of Maine’s Debt Reduction Efforts

One of the landmark achievements of Governor LePage and the 125th Maine Legislature was the elimination of 40%, or about $1.7 billion, in taxpayer debt to Maine’s public pension system.

This reform saved Maine taxpayers many millions of dollars in debt service payments each year and ensured Maine’s public pension system would remain solvent for state retirees into the future while protecting state funding to core services such as education.

Unfortunately, the Maine media paid little attention to the positive benefits of the reform on existing and future state budgets and the added security provided to state retirees from finally stabilizing our shaky pension system.

By and large, all that the average Maine person saw in the traditional Maine media about the pension reform was loud and angry protesters repeating canned talking points fed to them by liberal special interest groups.

#9 – OPEGA: Bad Behavior & Other Reports Receive Only Cursory Coverage

OPEGA, probably the single most trusted government oversight entity in Augusta, produced reports on several important investigations in 2012.

Detailed, fair, and non-partisan, these OPEGA reports offer insight into state government that can rarely be found anywhere else.

Unfortunately, and probably due to time and staff restraints more than any other single factor, the Maine media rarely dug deeper than reporting the simplest of conclusions from an OPEGA report.

A good example of how OPEGA reports should be covered is the Maine Center For Public Interest Reporting’s recent “Bad Behavior” series covering an OPEGA report on a decade of state government harassment and retaliation cases and settlements.

Maine’s traditional media would do well to emulate this type of in depth coverage of OPEGA’s work in the future.

Read MCPIR Bad Behavior Report

OPEGA Home Page

#8 – “Money In Maine Politics” Stories Mostly Hew To Liberal Narrative

Whether it was before or after the 2012 election, the liberal narrative that taxpayers should be forced to pay more for lawn signs, robo-calls and negative campaign attacks because it will somehow magically get “big” money out of politics was largely the same narrative delivered by Maine’s media.

Ignoring the reality that forcing taxpayers to fund all Maine political campaigns (even those they disagree with) would drive up the cost to hard-working Maine people, the real cost of Maine’s clean elections system was seldom if ever discussed in Maine’s media.

The perfect encapsulation of this is how the Portland Press Herald ran an “investigative report” on a donor to one PAC unconnected from the LePage campaign in 2010 on the premise that the donor had bought policy influence with the contribution, yet failed to publish any other such investigative reports on other big donors such as Maine’s largest political contributor and Press Herald owner, S. Donald Sussman, or the political spending of Maine’s unions.

In addition, watching Maine’s newspaper editorial pages blissfully rail against corporations expressing political opinions while they as corporations did exactly the same thing was a sight to behold.

Lesson learned from Maine’s newspaper editorial boards this year: Maine’s newspapers are fine with corporations expressing their political opinions and influencing public opinion, as long as only those corporations that are Maine newspapers are allowed to do so.

#7 – Maine Health Insurance Reform Produces Dramatic Results

The reforms to Maine’s health insurance industry spurred by LD 1333, which became PL 90, have resulted in significant reductions in the growth of health insurance premiums.

Affected health insurance premiums grew by only 1.7% in 2012, as opposed to their average growth of 12.8% from 1992-2012.

The Maine media, perhaps because of the complexity of the issue, and perhaps because the talking points attacking the reforms were ready-made, did very little in depth coverage of the reforms.

In lieu of detailed coverage, most Maine media outlets simply reiterated liberal opposition talking points and partisan reports that distorted the results of the reform.

#6 – Donald Sussman’s Influence At Maine Today Media

This is a topic rarely touched by other media outlets, and while anecdotal evidence has appeared that at least one person in the MTM newsroom harbors concerns about Sussman’s influence in his recently acquired media empire, most of Maine’s traditional media is unlikely to cover this potential story any deeper than they did in 2012, which was basically nothing.

An argument could be made that the editorial page and opinion columnists at MTM have already veered about as far left into the liberal wilderness as they possibly can, and there may be evidence that the newsroom presents substantially biased news on a regular basis, but the question that will remain until an intrepid journalist really decides to go after this story is, “Just how much influence does this billionaire hedge-fund manager, husband of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, and largest political donor in Maine, S. Donald Sussman have over the day to day product MTM produces?”

#5 – Union Influence On Maine Elections & Public Policy

Let’s face it, Maine’s coalition of unions is the elephant in the room when it comes to elections and public policy. They spend huge sums of money supporting liberal Democrats, they help fund a vast coalition of groups that support their positions, they employ a virtual army of lobbyists in the Maine State House, and they generally get a pass on what many Mainers would see as an ‘outsized’ influence on Maine politics.

Aside from the occasional push-back when they go way over the line, as witnessed in this Bangor Daily News editorial, very little is reported about the actual workings and political influence of Maine’s unions.

Topics such as what role the MSEA and their allies had in selecting the new Speaker and Senate President following the 2012 election would be a good place to start.

A comprehensive analysis of how much money labor unions pumped into Maine elections and spent in lobbying over the past two years would also be appropriate.

And lest we not forget, a significant number of Maine state employees who have been paying dues for years would probably really like to know how much of their dues went to helping state workers vs. playing politics and lobbying social issues in the state house.

Maybe the Maine media can pull back the curtain and show the state employees whose milk and bread money continues to prop up their union’s political machines just how much bang for their buck they are getting.

#4 – The Impact Of Obamacare On Maine’s Economy

Regulations, taxes, small business penalties, Medicare changes, medical device manufacturers… These are just a few of the places that the implementation of Obamacare will impact Maine’s economy.

Yet, the Maine media has seldom covered them.

While it is true that the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare was covered in abundance by Maine’s media outlets, in hindsight the very real and now inescapable impacts of the sweeping government takeover of healthcare across Maine were not reported in a thorough way in 2012.

Here is to hoping that as more of the new taxes, penalties and regulations take effect, the Maine media gets out of the rut and reports on how they impact real people.

#3 – Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s Financial Disclosure

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s first mandatory U.S. House of Representatives financial disclosure since marrying billionaire hedge-fund manager Donald Sussman would have presented an interesting and informative story to the Maine public had an enterprising journalist decided to give it a glance.

Instead, the disclosure was treated as an afterthought, and Pingree was allowed to escape one minor political dust-up over Chinese investments with what seemed to be a canned response from her spokesperson.

The financial disclosure, on file with the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives office offers the most complete picture yet of the investments of the financial empire that finances Pingree’s Congressional campaigns, the Maine Democratic party and a coalition of liberal special interest groups that have tremendous influence on politics and public policy in Maine.

#2 – Maine’s Tax Cuts Falsely Labeled As “Tax Cuts For The Rich”

The tax cuts enacted by the 125th Maine Legislature and signed by Governor LePage got a lot of coverage, but not much of it accurate or positive.

Instead, the Maine press never really dug into the wealth of information available to them to report on the tax cuts accurately, instead accepting, or at least not letting reality get in the way of, the liberal narrative that they were simply gifts to the “rich.”

In fact, even when the PAC run by Senator Justin Alfond, who was an heir to part of the Alfond family fortune, attacked the tax cuts as “tax cuts for the rich” the Maine press gladly ran with the story, and conveniently failed to investigate why Alfond, who most people would consider “rich”, voted with Republicans for the tax cuts.

Alfond went on to become Maine Senate President in the 126th Maine Legislature.

#1 – Maine Creates 6,800 Net New Jobs In 12 Months After Pro-Growth Reforms

As the pro-growth reforms of the 125th Maine Legislature and Governor LePage took effect, an October 25th report from Maine’s Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission and Maine Department of Labor showed that from June 2011 to June 2012, Maine had created 6,800 net new jobs.

Given that this report came in the stretch run of an election season where jobs and the policies of the Governor and the Republican-led 125th Maine Legislature were the central point of debate, a rational person would have expected the Maine media to inform the public about it.

But they didn’t. Maine’s media – with one exception – ignored the report, choosing instead to deprive the Maine public of critical news they should have been told.

And there you have it. We hope you have enjoyed the MPBP Media Accountability Project’s 20 Least & Worst Covered Maine Political Stories Of 2012.

Read Part 1 of the 20 Least & Worst Covered Maine Political Stories of 2012

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