Thursday, December 21, 2017

Anonymous conservative 'news' sites sink Democratic mayoral candidate in Lewiston, Maine

Democratic challenger Ben Chin may have lost the mayoral race in Lewiston, Maine, because of a slew of defamatory articles from conservative sites that look and sound like news, but don't adhere to journalistic standards. One story featured emails to campaign operatives in which Chin apparently describes some Lewiston voters as "a bunch of racists," and another story just before the election claimed Chin's car had been towed for "years" of parking tickets, a highly colored and half-accurate riff on the truth.

"Chin may be the first Maine politician derailed by a new phenomenon: anonymous conservative 'news' websites whose most effective pieces blend a kernel of truth from opposition research with large factual and rhetorical leaps traditional media ethics would prohibit," Michael Shepherd reports for the Bangor Daily News.

The Maine Examiner and the nationalist (and conspiracist) Maine First Media published seven stories about Chin between them in the days leading up to the election, which the state Republican party amplified greatly. Both websites appeared after President Trump's election when, as Shepherd notes, trust in the news media was at an all-time low.

"Both of the new Maine sites look somewhat like news sites. The Maine Examiner, for example, commingles political items with more benign ones — including one on an author’s night in Freeport — but a reader can’t find out who’s bankrolling it or writing the posts," Shepherd reports. "These sites exploit conservatives’ lack of trust in the press and traditional reporting methods. If Chin’s emails were passed to an interested mainstream news outlet, he would likely be contacted for an explanation of the 'racist' language."

Matthew McDonald, the former owner of Maine First Media, told Shepherd that traditional media are "dying" and that he started the site because he thought Maine news media wasn't covering Trump fairly, and that he could "start something that has more influence than your newspaper . . . And I did."

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