During the 18 days Edward Okeny lay comatose in a hospital bed, the Portland Press Herald did not publish a single word about him. Several people contacted the paper to object.
“I called (columnist) Bill Nemitz and I said that I’m surprised that this guy could die on Friday, and here it was Tuesday and there had been nothing in the paper,” says Bill Slavick, local activist and recent independent candidate for the US Senate. “Portland isn’t Boston or New York. If someone has their head beat in on the streets, that’s news.”
Edward Lakoke, an Okeny family friend and spokesman, echoes that complaint. “We do see a lot of things that happen in different parts of Maine on the news. In Portland, there are very minute things that are always on the news,” Lakoke says, noting his surprise that Okeny’s death went unmentioned.
“My understanding is that it wasn’t something that showed up in our police logs,” Nemitz says, when asked about the delay. “My sense is that was because there were a lot of questions about what actually happened, and that the police weren’t treating it as a definite assault.” Nemitz confirms speaking to Slavick, and fielding complaints about the Press Herald’s inattention, but deferred other questions to the Press Herald’s top editor, Jeannine Guttman, who did not return calls seeking comment.
And when the paper finally acknowledged Edward’s plight (with a 173-word news brief on November 15, followed by a Nemitz column the next day), there was no satisfaction, because the family felt like it only happened because of the complaints. “We called the newspaper,” Edward’s brother Chris Okeny said, “that’s why they came.”