Today we examine the art of cooking up your own junk news.

Not familiar with it? If you’re paying close attention to Maine’s U.S. Senate race, you’ve been digesting it for the past week.

It all started a week ago Tuesday, when Bangor Daily News bloggers Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman posted the results of a poll by Moore Consulting of Washington, D.C.

The poll showed independent Angus King with a 46-28-8-percent lead over Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill, respectively — a 10 percent drop for King since this newspaper published its own poll on the race in July.

(Interestingly, Summers’ and Dill’s numbers are almost identical from one poll to the other, meaning any movement at this point is from “pro-King” to “undecided.”)

Strimling and Harriman said they were “made privy” to the latest numbers, but didn’t say by whom.

And while they did note that Moore Consulting typically polls for Republican candidates and organizations, they failed to mention (as later pointed out by fellow blogger Mike Tipping) that the Committee to Elect Charlie Summers paid “Moore Information” $7,150 in late June for “polling expense.”

In other words, the poll was paid for and shopped to Strimling and Harriman by the Summers campaign — all of which campaign manager Lance Dutson readily confirmed to me in an interview Tuesday.

“It wasn’t a ‘leak,’” said Dutson. “I briefed multiple members of the Maine journalism community on the results of the poll … and Strimling and Harriman opted to go public with it.”

The big news, at least in Strimling’s and Harriman’s view, wasn’t that they got snookered into blogging an internal Summers poll without revealing who paid for it or who gave it to them.

Rather, they reported, the poll provided “legitimate” evidence that a recent negative TV ad blitz against King by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which has endorsed Summers) apparently did enough damage to the front-runner to warrant the headline “Poll Shows King’s Numbers Slipping.”

(We pause now for a nuance advisory: Don’t confuse the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which underwrote the $400,000 ad campaign, with the politically neutral Maine State Chamber of Commerce, which has gone to great lengths to say it had nothing to do with it.)

Enter Marc Thiessen, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and an opinion writer and right-leaning blogger for The Washington Post.

Thiessen stopped in at the Maine GOP Victory headquarters in Westbrook last week and, by the time Washington Post readers logged onto his blog Monday morning, a fresh batch of junk news was simmering in the late-summer crockpot.

“Here’s a message to the GOP from Vacationland,” read Thiessen’s breathless lead. “Maine is not lost!”

Maybe not, but more than a few facts are.

Thiessen did his obligatory dance on King, speculating that the U.S. Chamber’s “King of Spending” ad campaign “was likely a test to see if King’s armor could be pierced. It worked.”

He went on to cheerlead for Summers — and that’s when things got truly fragrant.

“Charlie Summers is a proven winner at the polls with crossover appeal,” wrote Thiessen. “He was the first Republican ever elected to Maine’s Democratic-leaning 31st Senate District, and he won statewide in 2010 when he was elected Maine’s secretary of state.”

Proven winner? Summers last won that state Senate seat way back in 1992. After that, he ran three times for Maine’s 1st District congressional seat and lost big all three times — twice in the general election and once in the primary.

And that “statewide” win as secretary of state in 2010?

Somebody needs to tell Thiessen that Maine’s secretary of state is elected by a partisan majority of the Legislature, not by the voters. Hold on … someone just did.

“I emailed Marc on that when I saw the article and let him know that was inaccurate,” said Dutson.

And what say Mr. Thiessen now?

“He didn’t respond to me on it,” replied Dutson.

No matter. The moment a bona fide Washington Post blogger proclaimed “Maine is not lost!” for the GOP, this thing went from self-serving spin to an oh-so-tempting, lard-based whoopie pie.

Hence the press release issued by the Summers campaign less than two hours after Thiessen’s blog post appeared, topped off with the headline, “Washington Post: Maine race is closing.”

Pretty slick, huh? A campaign leaks an internal poll to a pair of local bloggers, whose post gets picked up and embellished by a Washington Post blogger. And the next thing we know, we have none other than the esteemed Washington Post declaring Charlie Summers Maine’s Comeback Kid.

All of this while Summers has moved from 27 percent in the Press Herald’s July poll to 28 percent in his own poll this month. Which, if you consider the margins of error, is no movement at all.

There is, of course, a method to this madness. Scroll to the bottom of Thiessen’s blog post and you’ll find Rob Engstrom, political director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, promising, “the more we’ve been involved, the more the race closes. And the more others get involved, the more the race will continue to close.”

Translation: Send money. In lard buckets. Right now.

What’s more, I’ll predict right here that sometime before Election Day, a pro-Summers ad will appear on the tube with a movie-review type quote reading, “‘Charlie Summer is a proven winner … with crossover appeal’ — Washington Post, 8/20/2012.”‘

Guys like Dutson, of course, see nothing particularly unusual about any of this. If the bloggers are ready, willing and able to lap this stuff up and package it as journalism, where’s the harm?

“We’re in politics,” Dutson noted. “Everybody should lightly take any of this stuff.”

Indeed. Just as any voter worth his or her ballot should head into this fall knowing the difference between real news and junk news.

One, after all, nourishes the mind.

The other smothers it.

 

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]

 

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