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Posted: Jul 30, 2014

Republican claim about Michaud, VA bill news coverage inaccurate

Open Season

Always read the fine print -- It's an age-old rule.

On Wednesday, in the case of a salvo from Gov. Paul LePage's chief political strategist, the lesson may be to read all of the print, especially if you're relying on it to slam a political opponent.

Washington, D.C. consultant Brent Littlefield, who shapes strategy for the governor's re-election campaign, fired off a press statement assailing the conspicuous absence of Representative Michael Michaud, the governor's chief opponent in November, in 10 national stories about the landmark deal by Congressional lawmakers to spend $17 billion for veteran's care.

"It is time to take the rose colored 'I like Mike' glasses off and look at the facts," Littlefield wrote. "His paid spin team can’t hide the fact he has not passed one single bill through Congress.  Not one.  It is simply an excuse to claim his 'hard work' is included under other’s names… once again it shows no ability to lead."

There's only one problem: Littlefield, chief member of the LePage spin team, and whose consultancy received nearly $37,000 in payment from LePage's campaign in the last 13 months, was wrong.

In the most in-depth account of the fiery Congressional negotiations that led to the compromise, published by the website Politico and to which Littlefield links, Michaud is quoted by the reporter as a force working inside the negotiations to keep both sides at the table, despite acrimonious public statements that appeared to drive them further apart.

"Meanwhile, lawmakers like McCain and Maine Rep. Michael Michaud, the top House Democrat on veterans’ issues, tried to help arbitrate talks between Sanders and Miller,"  the Politico story read.

"They both had to do what they had to do, then it was time to move on,' Michaud said, according to Politico. “And they were both right. They know that we could not leave for the August break without getting a conference done and sending a bill to the president’s desk."

One possible reason for Littlefield's miss is that the part of the story in which Michaud's name is mentioned appears on the second page of Politico's report.

In a statement Tuesday by Michaud's office, the congressman said he worked across the aisle during the negotiations, which were principally carried out by Republican Congressman Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, and Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, Miller’s counterpart in the Senate, who were also the co-sponsors of the reform legislation. Politico's account seems to line up with Michaud's characterization of his own involvement.

"This is how our legislative process should work – we put politics aside and crafted a path forward for the VA that will, ultimately, ensure every single veteran using the system achieves the strong outcomes they deserve," Michaud said in the Tuesday statement.

Jump-cut to Littlefield, who, the next day, selected 10 stories by national media outlets that covered the compromise deal, pointing to Michaud's absence from the stories as proof-positive that the congressman is ineffective. (Note: The Press Herald included Michaud in its page-one story about the compromise, published on Tuesday, but Littlefield did not link to that story.)

Asked about the the Michaud quote in the Politico story, Littlefield conceded that the observation was "accurate," before re-arguing the message of his release.

"At the end of the day, he may be a participant, (but) being on a call and sitting on the committee is not the same as being a leader on the issue," Littlefield said.

Asked if he is any different than the "paid spin team" to which he references, Littlefied demurred. After speaking with the Press Herald, Littlefield distributed a revised version of his previous statement, pointing out the prior inaccuracies.

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