Short Relief: What about the other side of the story?

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Last month, Portland’s major daily newspaper, The Portland Press Herald, reviewed its top stories of the year. Many of them were negative stories about Gov. Paul LePage (his remarks about the NAACP, his removal of the mural from the walls of the state Department of Labor, etc.).

In the same month, the paper ran one front-page, above-the-fold story about how an editor of Forbes magazine disagreed with the governor’s interpretation of the magazine’s rating of our state’s business climate. It ran another front-page story about how Democratic legislators disagreed with the governor’s use of state statistics about the number of welfare recipients versus the number of taxpayers. In other coverage, the paper has been taking up the cause of the director of the Maine State Housing Authority against the state treasurer over the cost of low-income housing.

Meanwhile, the governor and the treasurer have resorted to using alternative means to communicate with the public, including the governor’s capitol-for-a-day visits to communities around the state and the treasurer’s mass emails. I can’t blame them given what the Press Herald has been printing for local news these days.

While it publishes opinion, it does little to dig up and present basic facts about business and government. I really don’t need a newspaper to tell me that Democrats disagree with Republicans or that some author or editor disagrees with the use to which his work is put.

What would be useful is some account of the basic facts. What are the economic indicators for our state versus others? What are their history and current trends? What are the statistics about how many Mainers are paying income tax and how many are on what form of benefit? Assuming they exist and can be accessed, what do MSHA’s records reveal about the cost of the Elm Street Terrace housing project and when that cost was questioned.

In other areas, it would have been nice to know more about all those multi-million dollar budget deficits we used to hear about each year. I don’t ever recall getting a satisfactory explanation of them. How about the problem-plagued, multi-million dollar computer system that the Maine Department of Human Services installed? Did the paper ever identify who got the contract and how, what the problems were, and whether they were ever solved? Or was the whole system scrapped in favor of a different one?

Has the paper broken any major story in recent years? The questionable use of funds at the Maine Turnpike Authority was identified by the state Office of Program Review and Government Accountability. The Maine State Housing Authority financing low-income housing at premium housing prices was questioned by the state treasurer. The solvency of our state pension system only got attention after we noticed that most other states were in trouble.

At best, the Press Herald jumps on the wagon after someone else reports the fire. At worst, its coverage is reactionary repudiation of conservative people and ideas. The most irrational and unsubstantiated editorials, opinion pieces and letters do little more than call Republicans stupid, dishonest nuts.

I am not saying that the governor shouldn’t be more statesman-like. He should. But our state, like the rest of the states, our country, and the world face serious problems. We need information to make good decisions about them. We would be better served by a daily newspaper that provides us with information on its news pages and limits opinion, argument and rebuttal to its editorial page.

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Halsey Frank is a Portland resident, attorney and former chairman of the Republican City Committee.

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