Letters to the Portland Editor: August 21, 2009

Letters to the editor
By PORTLAND PHOENIX LETTERS  |  August 19, 2009

PRISON BOARD CHAIRMAN RESPONDS

Regarding Lance Tapley's latest effort on the Maine State Prison Board of Visitors (see "Secret, Unaccountable, and Co-opted," August 14), what he sometimes refers to as advocacy journalism might be more appropriately termed agenda journalism. My experience of his handling of such topics as these suggests that he shapes the story, and then he begins doing the reporting to suit his thesis or his bias. As I told him during a conversation with him, when it comes to those interviews never granted or the interviewees who hang up on him he has only himself to blame. Those individuals do not trust his willingness or his ability to inquire into all sides of a question, as mainstream journalists are required and committed to do. Now that he has seriously misattributed quotes to me, and imposed his own astonishingly uninformed conclusions upon his reporting of conversations with me, I see as others have that it does not help to speak plainly with him because he freely configures attributions to suit his agenda.

When Mr. Tapley asked, "Can you name one thing that the Board of Visitors has accomplished?" My answer certainly didn't feel awkward to me. It was simply, "I'll think about it." But he did not ask the question again. Upon reflection it should have been, "We have conveyed dozens of inmate and staff concerns to the administration, which we believe has led to a more open and flexible approach to policies and procedures at MSP. It is possible that many of these concerns would have never been conveyed, or as rigorously examined as they were by virtue of the Board's presence." But I don't think that would have helped much, because Mr. Tapley has an unassailable agenda.

As Mr. Tapley knows from all that I have said and written, the issue of closed meetings of the Board of Visitors relates substantively and directly to matters of safety and security of the facility and of individuals, both staff and inmates, within the facility, not to secrecy. He also knows that I freely admit to erring on the side of this safety and security issue — something I believe he should have reported. He should also have reported that this very issue of security versus transparency has been one of the critical and recurring areas of clarification articulated in our reports and in our July testimony before the Joint Standing Committee.

What I conveyed to Mr. Tapley regarding the Board's July 15 meeting was that, because this was private and direct and not a regularly scheduled meeting with the Commissioner, and because there was to be no public component to it, I did not realize that a public notice was necessary. I told him that Assistant Attorney General Diane Sleek advised me, after this meeting, that notice should have been published regardless. Had he included this, it would have served to explain rather than impugn.

I have never said the prison is terrible, referring to MSP, because I would never do that. I might have said prison (generally) is terrible, because it is, as I know from nearly ten years of being involved with a number of prisons around the country.

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Related: Secret, unaccountable, and co-opted, Time for law to end torture, Article aided big oil, More more >
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