Editorial: Lawsuit threat produces plenty of smoke, no fire
Whether you agree or not with the Maine Heritage Policy Center's ideology, there's no disputing its ability to use the press to its advantage.
Although there's a long-standing rule of thumb in journalism that lawsuits aren't stories until the paperwork is actually filed in court, many Maine news organizations fell over themselves a couple weeks ago in a race to cover the center's threat to sue the city of Portland after the city required a college student who offers golf cart rides on Peaks Island to be a licensed taxi driver and carry commercial insurance.
The MHPC has not filed a lawsuit against the city. What it did was seize an opportunity to advance its anti-government platform by staging a press conference to try to bully the city into backing down. The press took the bait, with front-page stories and top-of-the-hour TV coverage that only abetted the center's attempt to coerce the city.
The MHPC followed up the next day with an e-mail blast to its followers that included an embedded video from one TV station, links to several other stories and some over-the-top rhetoric. The message urged the center's backers to give a piece of their mind to councilors who voted for the regulations, "flood" newspaper editorial pages with letters warning the public about "what Big Government politicians in Portland have been up to" and of course, suggested donations to the center's cause.
That cause, by the way, is described in detail this week by our former reporter, Steve Mistler, who now writes for the Sun Journal in Lewiston. It's worth reading.
We believe the council should ensure there is equitable oversight of transportation services on Peaks Island. If the MHPC and its client disagree, they have every right to sue. But until that happens, all the center has done is demonstrate how well it can manipulate the media.