More Globe

I got a PDF copy of the Globe piece that ran last weekend. The photos looked good, the story looked good, and best of all I had a great time doing it. Looking forward to pitching a few more pieces their way.

Best of all, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, more than 365,000 people see the Sunday globe. That’s not a bad readership.

Diving In

Sometimes you get started on stories so big you just can’t get them rolling.

I started on one of those yesterday. I have been hearing for more than a year that some moderate Republicans are concerned the actions of more ideological members of their party could affect them come November. Then yesterday I got an email invitation to a movie that calls into question President Obama’s paternity. The email came because I am on the mailing list of the Mount Washington Valley Republicans. I got to wondering what local Republicans in positions of authority thought of this type of production, if it represented them and their party, so I started making calls.

From there things got interesting quick. The Republicans I talked to said they would rather argue policy than paternity, and they did not plan to see the film. They defended, however, people’s right to see the film.

That wasn’t really my question, but that seemed to get lost in the mix. I was more interested if any of them thought it was worth objecting to a film alleging the president is lying about who his father is. My question got a luke-warm reception.

I basically wanted to know if local Republicans consider their “big tent” approach to the party to include people making outlandish claims, such as those made by “birthers.” A Republican state house rep from Jackson championed that issue this year, and I wondered if it a.) concerned more mainstream Republicans or b.) provoked any rebuke from the party. The Republicans I talked to did not indicate they saw any real issue with it.

The thing that got me thinking about this episode from the 2008 campaign:

In this clip Sen. John McCain shows real character, standing up against inaccurate portrayals of then Sen. Obama despite possible political consequences. I wondered if any local Republicans showed similar character, whether in the face of the “birther” advocates or when it’s a discussion of the president’s paternity.

The responses I got indicated local politicians were not willing to stick their necks out particularly far to contest this rhetoric. The people I spoke to preferred policy discussions, but they weren’t about to push back on this sort of thing.

That made me wonder where they would draw the line. Was there any issue that deserved repudiation? I decided to press a little further, to ask about whether the Republican “big tent” was big enough to embrace racism. Everyone I asked that of told me no.

That begged the question, however, of how a local Republican in a leadership position was able to retain that leadership position after his use of racial epithets became public. (The Sun covered it, but the online archive of the story was eliminated when we changed computer systems.) One person told me they did not have an answer. Another told me the use of racial slurs in private did not rise to the level where the person should be rebuked. Another asked me if I thought the man was a racist just because he used the N-word. I was asked if that person be censored, to which I responded no, but shouldn’t at least some local Republicans have suggested such comments weren’t befitting someone in a leadership position? Again, my comments didn’t get much traction.

By the end of all this my head hurt. I was caught in a circular argument I couldn’t get straight. Local Republicans said they didn’t think racism fit in their “big tent,” but when examples of inappropriate use of racial slurs by a party official hit the newspaper no one made a sound. I shouldn’t connect the actions of one person to the whole of the Republican Party, I was told. But I have a hard time understanding why not one local Republican exhibited the character of Sen. McCain, not one Republican thought it was worth it to stand up and say, “I disagree with the president on policy, but there is no need to stoop to the language of racism to make our point.”

I had hoped to go see the movie about Obama’s paternity so I could tie this all into a story, but deadlines caught up with me this afternoon. My morning spent discussing ideological issues forced me to race the clock at deadline, so I didn’t make it. I didn’t realize I was getting into this morass when I made the first phone call. Now that I’m partway in I feel an obligation to keep working my way through it. Sometimes you dive in at the shallow end of the pool. Sometimes you don’t know how far down the deep end goes.

Update: I found this Economist article, which in some ways connects. I thought it was interesting considering the topic.

138 Votes

Sometimes it’s clear your work makes a difference.

This week it wasn’t my work, it was the work of my colleague Daymond Steer, that likely unseated the incumbent sheriff. Last night was the primary. The sheriff, who had served two terms, was facing a challenge from a man who had run for the office and lost several times before. This time, however, the newspaper took the time to dig into several stories that my have cost the sheriff his office.

First was a story about a lieutenant who quit after an incident where the sheriff didn’t detain someone U.S. Marshalls wanted to arrest. There are questions about what exactly happened and how it all played out, but the stories didn’t look very good for the sheriff. Then there was a story about how a plaintiff in a civil case was asking a judge to find the sheriff in contempt of court. Again, it didn’t look good for the sheriff. Then there were the opinions of the various police chiefs in the area — not one supported the incumbent. Working with him was described as “a nightmare.” All of this made it into the paper, much of it on the front page, in the weeks leading up to the election.

And then the sheriff lost the primary by 138 votes. That is with thousands of people voting. We worked hard to get accurate stories out to the public before voting day, and it looks like that coverage may have affected people’s choices at the polls. We didn’t uncover any blatant corruption, but clearly people had questions about the sheriff’s behavior. It was clear in the numbers that readers in our coverage area were less inclined to support him (although that may not be a causal relationship — his challenger is a local). I have to image those stories made a difference, and when the margin is 138 votes it doesn’t take much.

New Tests Every Day

Yesterday I covered a shooting, today I served as the complaint department. There is no such thing as a dull day at a newspaper.

A man called the managing editor today outraged about what a columnist said about him, demanding an apology from the paper. The man insulted the editor, and the editor essentially told him goodbye.

The man was a source for one of my stories this week, a story about water in Fryeburg, which, because of Nestle and the bottled water industry, is always a contentious subject. The man called me later in the afternoon repeating his demand that the paper apologize to him.

It’s interesting to be in this new position, because usually I save my aggressive demeanor for politicians in the midst of their political dance. As the news editor, however, there seem to be more and more situations where being resolute is crucial. A paper needs to have a spine, and that often falls on the editors (although our publisher has no problem ruffling feathers).

I told the man I appreciate where he was coming from, but if he had a complaint he could send a letter. The paper would not be issuing any apology. If he had a problem with the columnist’s piece her email was at the bottom of the column. Columns, I said, include opinions, and they are often driven by the news of the day. He was an elected official (to the water district, granted, but in Fryeburg water is a hot topic), and therefore it was not unreasonable for a columnist to be critical. Also, I said, it would behoove him to treat the managing editor with more respect. He did not write the article.

We have had some great reporting lately on several contentious issues, from the Bartlett School District to the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office to Fryeburg and water. Several of these have caused blowback, but it is the best kind. It is the kind where we are challenging public officials, holding them accountable for their statements and verifying that what they say is accurate. Sometimes that takes someone willing to look someone in the face and say, “I hear you, but what we wrote was fair. If you’d like to be interviewed for a followup story that would be reasonable.” That’s what I’m doing a lot of these days. What I’ve taken to telling people is, look, the truth doesn’t come out in one day. We find something out, and that leads to something else, which leads to something else. In the end what we are striving to do is get the facts out there, and sometimes that takes two stories. Or five. Or 15.