iMediaEthics wrote Oct. 5 about MaineToday Media fact checking the work of a watchdog site, Maine Watchdog.
MaineToday Media accused Maine Watchdog of “half-reporting” serious charges of ethics violations by Maine representative, Chellie Pingree, and suggested a political agenda. Maine Watchdog had reported that Pingree had flown on a private jet, despite having a spokesperson confirm earlier that she never flew on private jets.
Turns out Pingree was flying on her fiance’s jet – but where MaineToday Media criticized the watchdog site for not reporting that, Maine Watchdog’s reporter Stephan Burklin told iMediaEthics that Pingree’s engagement wasn’t well-known at the time of publication.
Further, Burklin explained that his report on Pingree wasn’t to suggest ethics violations, but rather to report hypocrisy in her actions and official spokesperson comment.
“Indeed, her spokesman himself was not aware that the engagement had been underway for nearly two years,” Burklin wrote to StinkyJournalism, adding that the watchdog site didn’t focus on Pingree because of her political affiliations, noting that “the purpose of Maine Watchdog’s investigative coverage is to hold government officials and institutions accountable, irrespective of partisan affiliation.”
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Further, Burklin rejected the MaineToday Media claims that Maine Watchdog didn’t contact Pingree prior to publication, noting that he did contact them for a previous, related story. “Maine Watchdog did, in fact, contact Pingree’s office regarding her travel arrangements” in August for this story.
After that story, Pingree started researching for the “Pingree Flies on Corporate Jet” story, published recently. Burklin also included in his e-mail to iMediaEthics a link to the National Legal and Policy Center’s report questioning if Pingree’s engagement was to dodge ethics violations. See the NLPC report here.
The NLPC, which describes itself as “promoting ethics in public life,” wondered Oct. 4 if Pingree’s engagement was “to beat ethics rap.” The nonprofit organization reported that Pingree said politicians can “travel on non-commercial planes that are owned by family members.” As a result, House Ethics committee has included Sussman, her fiance, as a family member, therefore OKing her flying on his plane.
However, Maine GOP spokesperson Lance Dutson is reported in the NLPC article as saying that while Pingree “told the committee the plane was owned by her fiancé… the aircraft was ownedby a company that her fiancé controlled.”
iMediaEthics has written to Pingree’s chief of staff and will update with any response. We have also written to Rebekah Metzler, who wrote the article for MaineToday Media.