Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Note to the Maine Heritage Policy Center: Before you hire your next high-profile reporter to work for your fledgling "news service," conduct a top-to-bottom search of your own Facebook page.
AIRING IT OUT
Tune in to NewsRadio 560 WGAN at 8:08 a.m. today to hear columnist Bill Nemitz talk about this column and other issues.
"That's probably the really most blatant miss here -- that it's on our own Facebook page," said a rueful Lance Dutson, the center's executive director, as he scrambled this week to contain a couldn't-happen-at-a-worse-time public relations disaster. "I did not see it. It was news to me."
To recap: For the past month or so, Leif Parsell, 28, worked as a reporter for the Maine Wire, launched in December by the right-leaning Maine Heritage Policy Center to cover state politics "from a different angle."
All of that changed Tuesday, when an anonymous blog called "thestateofmaine.org" posted a string of links to comments on immigration made by Parsell before he became, as he puts it, a "straight news reporter."
On PolicyMic, a user-fed forum for news and pontificating, Parsell opined last month that "cultural diversity combines with our increasing racial and ethnic diversity to degrade society."
On his own Facebook page, Parsell observed that he'd "rather have a country that had fallen behind India or China, than one that sold its soul to non-European immigrants and lost its culture."
Then there's the Maine Heritage Policy Center posting. Back on Oct. 7, the center's Facebook page highlighted a report by J. Scott Moody, its chief economist, bemoaning that while Maine's median age continues to rise, its overall population is in decline.
"Overall, this is a very disturbing picture of Maine's demographics," wrote Moody, referring to statistics released recently by the U.S. Census Bureau. "Maine's current and future workforce is both shrinking and aging which will create formidable headwinds in the effort to generate sustainable economic growth."
To which Parsell, only two months away from being hired by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, responded just a half-hour later, "Better than diversifying."
Dutson, to his credit, wasted no time taking action as first the blogs and then Maine's mainstream media descended on the story. By the end of business Tuesday, Parsell was history.
And Parsell, much to his detriment, wasted no time telling Maine Public Radio's Tom Porter that all of those quotes were "taken out of context" and he's really not the bigoted little whippersnapper everyone was making him out to be.
Rather, Parsell said, he's simply been saying that this country isn't doing enough to "Americanize" immigrants. At the same time, he said, we should stop letting so many newcomers into this country until those who already are here get to know their way around.
"I think that Americanization of immigrants is very important," Parsell told Porter, citing the rapid assimilation of Italians and other European immigrants to American culture a century ago. "That's what I was talking about in those posts and other posts."
Uh-huh. But about that little snippet on the Maine Heritage Policy Center's own Facebook page: How might anyone take out of context a three-word utterance that a future Maine with fewer productive citizens is "better than diversifying?"
I called Parsell on Thursday to ask him.
"Obviously I should have expanded on that statement," he replied. "If I could go back now, I'd probably edit it and be a little more specific."
Please, do go on ...
"Even though I welcome immigrants and think they are an important part of our society, the fact is, I like Maine," Parsell said. "I like where I grew up. I like the town (Waldoboro) where I grew up in. I like the region that I grew up in and I'm not ashamed of the fact that Maine is, you know, 98 percent white, my town was 100 percent white, my high school was 100 percent white."
(Continued on page 2)