We're not the enemy

By Stephen Betts | Oct 25, 2018

A vibrant press is essential for a healthy democracy.

Newspaper reporters go out every day to find news that will not just entertain you, but which will give you the information necessary to make informed decisions.

That responsibility is important, particularly during an election season. Voters expect their newspapers to provide information not only on who is running for office, but also where they stand on the issues of the day.

Your local newspaper has a history of providing a comprehensive look at local races.

Since I joined The Courier-Gazette 37 years ago, the staff has offered a complete package of news to inform you about the candidates and the issues. We interview candidates and publish profiles on those people who want to represent us at the State House, county offices, or towns and city halls.

The newspaper has also offered numerous forums for citizens to attend and question the candidates before Election Day.

There have been a few candidates over the decades who have balked at participating in the debates that we schedule. Oftentimes, these candidates are simply not comfortable speaking in front of people -- which, of course, is an odd trait for someone who will have to speak in public if elected.

But 2018 is the first time I have ever encountered a local legislative candidate who refused to be interviewed.

I first contacted State Rep. Paula Sutton Aug. 20 in an email asking if we could set up a time for an interview. I explained that the interview would take about 15 minutes and I was hoping we could conduct the interview at our video studio at the Breakwater Marketplace. I explained that the interview could then appear on our website and the information would be used to write the profile of her that would go into the newspaper.

Sutton initially agreed and said she would meet Sept. 5.

She then canceled and said she would prefer having the questions sent to her in writing and she would send in her answers in writing.

I explained that I don’t conduct candidate profiles by written questions and written responses. A candidate can avoid direct answers by sending in responses that may not even be relevant to the questions. A face-to-face discussion allows for followup questions that could clarify a candidate’s position.

Sutton continued to balk.

This went on for a few weeks and I telephoned her in an effort to convince her that this was a public service to our readers and that no candidate had ever refused an interview.

Her response was “Well, there’s a first time for everything.”

I was frankly stunned. She said she would only agree to answer written questions and that her written answers could not be edited. I explained that such an arrangement was not an interview, but amounted to an advertisement.

I told her she could contact other candidates of all parties whom I have interviewed over the years to assure her that the article would be fair to her. She would not budge.

She then tried to defend her position by saying I had made an error in a story in which I quoted her last year.

Each year, I write stories about how our local legislators vote on various bills. I have written probably 25 stories each legislative session. I ask each local legislator why they voted the way they did on bills of local interest.

Sutton has been good in responding to those requests to explain her votes.

There was one time, however, in July 2017 that she said she voted against the state budget, among other reasons, because it was 900 pages and she was only given five hours to review it all. I incorrectly wrote 90 pages instead of 900, but immediately corrected it when she pointed out the error.

Sutton said because of that one brief error, she did not want to be interviewed unless we provided written questions and her written answers could not be edit for any reason – length, grammar, you name it.

So, I was left to write my profile on Sutton based on her votes on prior legislation and background information we had written previously on her.

I expressed my disappointment to her.

I fear this is a trend that started when Gov. Paul Lepage said buying a newspaper is like paying someone to lie to you. He then joked about shooting a cartoonist for the Bangor Daily News. He did this in front of the cartoonist’s child.

President Donald Trump has taken the anti-media stance to a new level. He most recently praised a Montana congressman who assaulted a reporter.

The newspaper is not the enemy of any candidate, not the enemy of any particular political party, nor the enemy of the public. We work hard each day to provide news that citizens need to make informed decisions.

Newspapers and public officials are often at odds, but that is the way it works in a democracy.

We spend countless nights out to bring you the news about what your local government is doing.

Our job is to hold elected officials accountable. That is not possible if our elected officials or people who want to be elected officials refuse to be interviewed.

Comments (3)
Posted by: paula sutton | Oct 25, 2018 21:00

https://www.penbaypilot.com/article/qa-maine-house-district-95-candidate-paula-sutton/108920

People may find information at this link, I agreed to answer written questions in written responses with no editing done. The Pen Bay Pilot was happy to oblige .



Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Oct 25, 2018 11:58

"The more a society drifts from the truth the more it will hate those that speak it."  -George Orwell



Posted by: Ian Emmott | Oct 25, 2018 07:03

I’m a lifelong Republican ( since seeing the deductions from my first paycheck at least) and I’ve always enjoyed the Gazette, I feel it lacks obvious partisan views. Where I came from there are left wing newspapers and right wing newspapers. While we do have those here in Maine, I do not see the Gazette as one of those types of paper. Enjoy your reading your paper -Ian



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