An issue that never rose to scandal status
Probably not. Mostly likely we're going to continue hearing about an internet website called "The Cutler Files" for a couple more weeks. Or, at least, until Jan. 27. That's when the state's Ethics Commission says it will decide whether to fine the operators of the website $200 for inflicting their views on Mainers without proper identification.
Rarely has so much been said about so little.
Eliot Cutler, the defeated candidate for governor, and various of his acolytes -- including some in journalism and others in law -- have been engaged since November's election in howling that the anonymous authors of "The Cutler Files" had treated their candidate shabbily.
What? A political website being nasty to a candidate? Shocking. And doing it anonymously? Even more shocking. So shocking, in fact, that some in the Cutler camp have even called for a governmental investigation.
Investigation? Now there's a word that should have jarred the First Amendment bones of folks at the Portland Press Herald, which has been the most prominent Cutler cheerleader. But it seemed to do just the opposite.
Check these subsequent PPH headlines:
Dec. 19: "Regulators will revisit legality of 'Cutler' site" (page 1B)
Dec. 21: "Author of Cutler bash site broke law" (page 1A)
Dec. 24: "Political insider admits role in creating Cutler Files website" (lead story and huge headline on page 1A)
And so on through Jan. 7: "Documents reveal Cutler File probe focused on trio" (page 1A)
With more still to come. Talk about overkill.
Thus, as we await the state's verdict, there's no attempt here to defend the "political insider" named in the headline. We only note the oddity of all the sound and fury over an issue that never rose to scandal stature and never deserved the media play it got.
Any original mystery about "The Cutler Files" quickly dissipated. PR operative (and former Press Herald reporter) Dennis Bailey outed himself (and his partner, sort of) and presented their side of the story on his company website
Bailey, who claims everything said in the website was public knowledge and true, has challenged Cutler to prove otherwise. So far, crickets. Bailey also suggests that if the media had done a decent job in covering Cutler (like they have covered LePage, maybe?) "The Cutler Files" would not have become a reality.
That may be open to debate, but the certain reality in today's politics is that websites designed to whack candidates are not unusual and seem to be multiplying with every election. A senior example of this genre is "Collins Watch," a website designed solely to criticize Maine's junior senator.
Its anonymous author, who appears to have considerable time on his hands, has been flailing away at Sen. Susan Collins with little visible effect for many months now. But none of the issues the site has raised have developed much traction.
And even though some of the jabs have been downright mean, Collins, unlike Cutler, has absorbed them without whining or threats. And, it might be noted, with little help from friends in the media.
Nobody has burst into print calling for Collins' tormentor to identify him/herself. No front page stories have speculated on the cost of this effort -- or, more importantly, who is financing it.
The result: "Collins Watch" has been an exercise in futility. Which should have suggested a wiser course of action for the hand-wringing Mr. Cutler and his friends at the Portland Press Herald.