July 23, 2010

'Harold' error sets a rumor mill in action

A reporter hears 'Harold Pingree,' thinks its 'Herald-Pingree', then Rep. Pingree's office corrects the goof.

By Matt Wickenheiser mwickenheiser@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

The summary headline to this story was corrected at 8:32 a.m. July 23,2010.

Harold A. Pingree was a Portland doctor who co-founded a hospital for crippled children in 1908.

"The Herald-Pingree Fund" was, well, a mistake.

On Tuesday, the Portland-based publication Mainebiz wrote an article about the expansion of a rehabilitation center for pediatric patients at the Barbara Bush wing of Maine Medical Center.

Among the donations helping pay for the expansion, the report said, was $30,000 from the "Herald-Pingree Fund, which is sponsored by the Portland Press Herald and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree."

The never before heard of (and nonexistent) collaboration between the city's paper of record and a sitting congresswoman who is running for re-election raised a few eyebrows, particularly on the somewhat-right-of-center website As Maine Goes.

Site owner Scott K. Fish posted a blurb Wednesday, wondering whether it was a prudent collaboration. On Thursday morning, Pingree spokesman Willy Ritch posted a correction to As Maine Goes.

"I'm glad -- that's good news," said Fish on Thursday, after learning of the error.

Ritch noted that the expansion was good news for Maine Med.

"It's great that the Harold A. Pingree Fund is helping them out, but there's no connection to Congresswoman Pingree," said Ritch.

Maine Med spokesman John Lamb chalked it up to a misunderstanding.

Carol Coultas, editor at Mainebiz, said the journalist on the story, Robert Cook, is new to reporting in Maine. Over several phone conversations with Maine Med, Cook heard "Herald-Pingree," not Harold Pingree, said Coultas. Because he's new to the state, "no bells went off," she said.

"When I edited the item, I paused and thought that 'Herald-Pingree' was an odd collaboration, but given the new publisher's commitment to community, not so far-fetched," said Coultas. "I should have asked Bob to double check the name of the fund, but he was on vacation, so I let it pass. My mistake."

The editor and publisher of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram said there are lessons to be learned from such errors.

"We have the great advantage of owning our own newspapers," said Richard L. Connor, chief executive officer of MaineToday Media. "So we can correct a mistake in print made by someone else. This mistake is not as egregious as it is humorous, but seeing how a misstatement can spread makes us aware of the importance of being vigilant ourselves. It also reinforces within us the need to quickly admit and correct mistakes."

Coultas said she was alerted to the mistake by Ritch. She talked to Lamb and corrected the mistake online Thursday.

"Naturally, we regret the error. Perhaps our goof will at least draw more attention to the good work at the rehab center of the Barbara Bush Wing at Maine Med," said Coultas.

Lamb said the rehab space at the Bush wing will double from 155 square feet to 325 square feet, and will include more natural light and new equipment. The work will start soon and should be done in September, he said.

Lamb said that Harold Pingree was an orthopedic surgeon. According to news archives, Pingree and Drs. Edville Abbott and Frank Lamb founded the children's hospital together. It closed in 1948, with most of the 56 patients at the time being transferred to Maine General Hospital, which was later renamed the Maine Medical Center.

 

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

mwickenheiser@pressherald.com

 

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