Netroots Attack Maine Newspaper Editor’s Connection to Republican Senator

A blog posting at Daily Kos on August 24 has fired up the Netroots to point accusatory fingers at a Maine newspaper editor whose wife works for Republican Senator Susan Collins.

After all the smoke clears, liberal bloggers ignored some key facts concerning this matter:

  • The editor under fire has worked at the newspaper in question since 1971
  • His wife - who is about to retire in September - has worked for the Senator in question for ten years
  • Her involvement with the Senator was disclosed by two newspapers, including the one her husband works for, in 1998
  • The cousin of Collins's Democrat opponent for reelection in 2008 is the paper in question's political editor.

Of course, none of these facts were included in the Daily Kos post that got this firestorm started:

Senator Susan Collins gets amazing press from the Bangor Daily News. AMAZING. Her press release's complaints that she was being taped by the Allen campaign - while, gasp, marching in a parade - got the BDN to do a front page story and to run an editorial tut-tutting over it as bad for civil discourse in Maine.

When she first ran, the BDN got all agog because people had looked at information in the public record about her.

They are her biggest fans, excusing away every pro-war and pro-Bush vote. They help keep the myth alive that she is a thoughtful moderate.

Well, what almost no one knows is that the Executive Editor of the BDN (Mark Woodward)'s wife (Bridget Woodward) is on Senator Collins' Bangor staff. This is a clear conflict of interest.

Almost no one knows? Hardly, for the New York Times reported in a 1,570-word April 29, 1998, article about the Woodwards (emphasis added):

When Zach asked his mother about Brian's moving in, Bridget Woodward said, "I have to talk with your dad" -- Mark Woodward, the editor of The Bangor Daily News -- even though she knew it would fall mainly on her. Mrs. Woodward, an aide in the local office of Senator Susan Collins, is finicky about her home, and kept mentioning the extra laundry, the food and how they would fit everyone's beverages in one refrigerator.

And, this New York Times piece was reprinted in the News on June 8, 1998. As such, it didn't appear the Woodwards were trying in any way to hide their connections to Sen. Collins. A little research by the Kossack in question would have identified this.

Yet, that didn't stop Netroots member Talking Points Memo from dutifully piling on (emphasis added):

The liberal blogs have been abuzz with accusations against a major Maine newspaper, the Bangor Daily News, charging it with a conflict of interest in its coverage and editorial opinions on the Maine Senate race, which is shaping up as one of the highest-profile races in the nation, with intense interest from the Netroots.

The allegations seem to have a great deal of merit, as it turns out. They turn on the fact that the paper's executive editor, Mark Woodward, is married to Bridget Woodward, a staffer for Collins in the Senator's Bangor district office. In other words, if Collins were to lose the election, the wife of the executive editor of a major newspaper in Collins' home state would be out of a job - which would cause some serious inconvenience for that household.

Hmmm. That seems like quite a stretch, as how would TPM know the financial condition of the Woodward household? Regardless, the News's Todd Benoit responded Saturday (emphasis added throughout):

Mark Woodward reports that Bridget has worked for Collins for 10 years, though she will retire this month, and that he was press secretary for Collins for a brief time in 1997.

[...]

The potential for conflict of interest is no halfway matter here at 491 Main, and the proof of that resides at our special assignments desk, where the editor in charge of political coverage is Tim Allen. That would be Tom Allen's cousin (first cousin, for those with a conspiratorial streak).

For those unfamiliar, Tom Allen is the Democrat running against Collins in 2008.

Allen and Woodward each has more than 30 years' experience in journalism and both have succeeded based on their reputations; they know they have a professional stake in being, ahem, fair and balanced. You would hear about it if they weren't: Fortunately, a sufficient number of online critics are eager to announce our shortcomings.

Most important, neither editor has anything to do with the opinions of this newspaper - a duty of the editorial page editors and the publisher. (To save bloggers some time: The BDN has always endorsed Collins and always endorsed Allen. Enlightening, yes?) Just as the news department does not direct editorial opinion, it also blithely ignores the excellent story suggestions from opinion writers - my latest idea for an investigative piece on whether Maine politicians have used the restrooms at the Minneapolis airport, for instance, went nowhere. Newspapers separate news and opinion exactly for the reason that has come up in this race.

Interestingly, Editor & Publisher's article on this subject Saturday seemed to agree (emphasis added):

But Woodward says there is no conflict of interest, he is not directing slanted coverage or opinion -- and that the "revelation" of his wife's work for Collins is way old news.

"It really is kind of fanciful for anyone to try to pretend this connection is some kind of revelation," Woodward said in a telephone interview.

Woodward -- currently board chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce -- is a public figure in Maine, whose connection to Collins is well-known in the state, the editor said. Woodward first joined the Daily News in 1971, and when, in 1997, he went to work as the newly elected Sen. Collin's press spokesman, the story "was front-page news" in the paper. A 1998 feature in The New York Times, about his family's decision to take in a troubled teenager, also prominently mentioned his job as executive editor and Bridget Woodward's position with Collins, he said.

In fact, on February 26, 1997, the News proudly reported the following in a 1016-word article:

A. Mark Woodward, who earned a reputation among Maine journalists for his meticulously researched and even-handed editorials on some of the state's most complex issues, is leaving the newspaper business after nearly 26 years with the Bangor Daily
News.

Woodward, 49, of Bangor hasbeen [sic] appointed communications director for first-year Republican Sen. Susan Collins. He is expected to begin his $ 70,000-a-year job in mid-March at Collins' Washington, D.C., office, where he will serve as both press secretary and a staff adviser.

"I am delighted that one of Maine's most respected journalists is joining my staff," Collins said Tuesday in announcing the appointment. "Mark Woodward will bring extraordinary experience and talent to the job, and I am very much looking forward to welcoming him to Washington. " [sic]

Doesn't seem like the News or Woodward were trying to hide anything, does it?

In the end, this issue is much ado about nothing, and is a perfect example of lousy reporting by the Netroots, as a little Googling and LexisNexis research would have identified how long it's been public knowledge that Bridget Woodward worked for Collins.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.