It's harder than ever to get unbiased reporting. Every ideology has its own channel, every bully their own pulpit. Social media gives anyone with a device a voice, and reduces complexity to a sound-bite. The Center for Public Interest Reporting disrupts this frenetic pace just in time for the 2014 elections, and offers up the opposite of all-inclusive, short and new.
So move over Woodward and Bernstein. John Christie's epic investigative report, The Book on Paul LePage: The 'biggest, baddest person around' crashes Augusta's 'nicey-nicey' club, is a gripping mind-numbing narrative that reads like a very, very long Hollywood screenplay. Culled from an exhaustive number of interviews with men of Maine, Christie's piece is jam-packed with breathtaking revelations of the inner workings of Maine's governor and those whose jobs depend on him.
The breadth of Christie's Rolodex is impressive. Several important people connected to the 2010 gubernatorial race, including former GOP challenger Peter Mills, were interviewed. After losing the primary for his second time, Mills, dubbed "student of the budget" by Christie, confessed that LePage's controversial pension reform legislation is his "single biggest achievement." Numerous similarly profound remarks are quoted in Christie's masterpiece. Not mentioned by Christie but worth noting is that citizens can read even more of what this Maine Sage has to say on Twitter @MaineTurnpike, where Mills works thanks to a LePage appointment.
Eliot Cutler, the unenrolled candidate who lost in 2010 to LePage, was also interviewed by Christie and quoted several times in the "book" allegedly about LePage. Cutler has never held public office and is running again for governor, but graciously found time to offer Christie this juicy tidbit, "I've put good practices in place in government... it's hard work and it's collaborative."
For this incisive self-analysis, it's no wonder Cutler is described by Christie as the "classic good government independent."
Contrast these two 2010 election casualties, Scholar Mills and Classic Good Government Cutler, with the third, "stalwart Democrat" Libby Mitchell.
Mitchell won the 2010 democratic primary in a crowded field, and lost the general election. Of the 34 people interviewed for Christie's investigation, Mitchell, the first woman in any state to be elected both Speaker of the House and President of the Senate with decades of experience as public servant, was not among those interviewed. The public owes Christie a debt of gratitude, however, for boiling down her expansive career to just one sentence. That takes real journalistic skill.
Christie speaks for Mitchell briefly and with confidence, and that's what matters. He tells us Mitchell "did not make the pension debt an issue and believed future investment returns would solve the problem - a view the Democratic-appointed head of the pension board did not endorse."
What does Mitchell herself have to say? Who is the so-called "Democratic-appointed" pension expert who disagrees with her, and why? Perhaps these questions, answers, and primary sources are slated for Christie's much awaited sequel.
What's most telling is Christie's airtight confirmation of what many have long suspected: Men lose elections because they are too smart; women lose elections because they aren't smart enough.
Investigative journalism takes more than wit, and is not suited for the faint at heart. In this respect, Christie is a tiger in that jungle some call Augusta. It took guts for him to ask Severin Beliveau, a "partner in one of the state's leading law firms" whose "bona fides are as long and as impressive as his success as a lobbyist" how he feels about Maine's governor. Christie's relentless, hard-hitting journalism paid off when he uncovered that Beliveau, who has gobs of business and money tied up in state politics, has nothing but good things to say about the chief executive and all state agencies he appears before.
"There's been an almost dramatic change in the attitude in the state agencies," Beliveau conceded, no doubt sweating over the possibility he revealed too much to this intrepid reporter. "They've become more respectful, more helpful, willing to find a way to solve a problem."
Shocking words from the Godfather of Maine politics!
And it's hard to fathom that in one of the most politicized environments in the state's history, Christie was able to track down as many consultants he did who are "neutral" with no opinion whatsoever. Citing him eight times, Christie describes Alan Caron, for instance, "one of the most cited centrists in the state." Caron's objectivity and Harvard education are obvious in this bold revelation that, "the cup is half full and half empty when it comes to Paul LePage."
Christie's Leviathan has more than 70 quotes from 26 men, not including the dozens of quotes from LePage. We can accept what these learned men say is true because Christie went to great length investigating and reporting their credentials. Mr. Woodbury is a no ordinary economist. He is a "Harvard-educated economist." Mr. Clair is the Chairman of the state's Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission, the CEO of Good Health Care Systems, a former non-partisan staffer to the Legislature's Appropriations Committee, and holds a master's degree in public administration from Syracuse University. Mr. Caron has his master's degree in public policy from Harvard. Mr. Peterson is a Professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Linsky teaches public leadership at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
In the public's interest, Christie doesn't limit his "sources" to the upper crust, though. A man with zero credentials, Al Diamon, speaks the universal language all men understand when he is quoted saying LePage is "a boob."
Refreshing is Christie's chivalry. He works hard to spare the tiny handful of women identified in his opus from being "labeled" or boxed-in by degrees or professional experience. As the majority of the "public" whose interest Christie gallantly seeks to protect, his concern that these females might be stereotyped as elitist, pompous or even affected by credentials is noble. Christie's sparing use of 11 very short quotes from just seven women demonstrate his very excellent point: When it comes to women, less is enough.
In fact, only two women quoted by Christie are burdened with reference to education at all, and in the case of Pola Buckley, the article is as "understated" as possible. Buckley is, a "CPA" lucky to be "appointed by the Democratic Legislature."
By omitting reference to Buckley's MBA and previous experience as the CFO at a major manufacturing company and analyst at a Fortune 500 Company, the public won't be lulled into thinking she is over-confident.
Maybe there just wasn't room in his 19 pages of "journalism" for Christie to report the credentials of women in this "who's who" of Maine politics. He strikes the right "balance" by not mentioning Emily Cain's Harvard education, for example, or Mayor Karen Heck's award-winning and impressive resume. Libby Mitchell has a law degree, but that's nothing the "public" wants to know.
Christie's work reminds us there are countless courageous and thoughtful heroes earning a living as political elites in Maine. What political consultant Dan Demeritt said of his former boss, Lepage, captures the spirit and grit of these men, and will undoubtedly serve him well in 2014.
"I would walk in front of a train for him," he told Christie, who had no choice but to publish this very moving and selfless statement -- something every Maine citizen should know.
Every word in Christie's 10,000+ word article is pure gold. A must-read for all Mainers, indeed all who call themselves Americans.
Follow Cynthia Dill on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dillesquire