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My Turn: Where’s Pindell?

Last modified: 11/13/2014 4:31:00 PM
Another New Hampshire election cycle has ended. The ballots are counted and the outcome was more or less predictable.

Except for one thing: Nobody expected WMUR.com Political Director James Pindell to disappear.

It all started during the Oct. 30 televised debate between U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Scott Brown, during which Pindell went back and forth with Brown over the location of Sullivan County. That wasn’t the actual question, but it became the focus of a question on the economic challenges of that particular region.

In the end, it was an exchange so pointed between Pindell and Brown that Brown finally dismissed the question “with all due respect” to Pindell’s insistence that Brown was directionally challenged, confusing west with north.

Immediately following the debate, Pindell appeared briefly on camera with fellow WMUR political reporter Josh McElveen and issued a 16-second apology, saying Sullivan County is both north and west.

“On this point, Brown was right and I was wrong,” Pindell said.

The next day, Pindell even poked fun at himself, giving himself a “Down Arrow” in his weekly Political Standing wrap up, chiding himself for arguing with Brown – and for his tone: “When a reporter – or a debate panelist – becomes the story then they failed. The problem wasn’t the Sullivan County question I asked during last night’s U.S. Senate Debate, but my second follow-up. Senator Brown said Sullivan County was north of Concord. I told him no. But, in fact, Sullivan County is north and west of Concord. I was wrong. Really, where Sullivan County lies is irrelevant, but the tone I took with the senator is relevant. I’m sorry for both.”

After that, there were just a few cursory tweets from Pindell. Then, on Nov. 3, one day before the election, Pindell’s Twitter feed went dark.

Since then, followers of Pindell have been clamoring for his return, to no avail.

So far, WMUR has offered little explanation about Pindell’s status.

“It’s a personnel matter and we can’t comment on it,” said WMUR News Director Alisha McDevitt.

Pindell has also refused to comment.

His popular weekly Political Scoop column didn’t run last Friday as usual on WMUR.com, which further stirred the mystery pot.

So as 21st-century humans often do when something’s wrong in the universe, they turned to Twitter – even creating a hashtag of unity so they could wonder aloud: #WheresPindell?

Dierdre Reynolds, aka @commonsense98, tweeted: “@WMUR. #WheresPindell? No @jamesPindell NH election week perspective No Political Standing column (my favorite) No answers.”

Concord radio personality and longtime political pundit Arnie Arnesen tweeted: “WMUR’s James Pindell has not been seen since day after ?incident-God help you if you expose Scott is geography challenged!”

And from @MrPaulShea: “.@JamesPindell held Sen Brown acctble for not knowing Sullivan County’s orientation and econ engine, should not be punished. #WheresPindell?”

Another tweeter, @susanthe asked: “Has anyone seen James Pindell? WMUR’s political reporter was absent from the election. Was he benched or fired because of the Brown debate?” to which @randalldrew replied: “He is on a mandatory tour of the state. Especially all that stuff north of Concord. Well, west and north I mean.”

From there, the tweets ranged from the serious to the sublimely comic, with depictions of Pindell as the popular MIA striped-shirt kid character in Where’s Waldo?

And yes, there are also some detractor tweets, from the likes of @ConneryJim, who tweeted: “James Pindell of NH is a pinhead and a scoundrel, and not fit to moderate political debates,” and the more bipartisan tweet from @GhostofStretch, who mused: “Democrats seem to miss Pindell badly. Republicans seem to think he’s more than earned time in the penalty box.”

Short of a milk carton campaign, the MIA mystery escalated Sunday when Concord attorney Jay Surdukowski joined the chorus. He penned a lengthy essay, “On the Importance of James Pindell,” which he circulated online that read, in part: “In a word, our most prominent political reporter has disappeared without a trace. Frost and snow may be in the air, but last I checked, New Hampshire isn’t Soviet Russia.”

Surdukowski calls out WMUR’s parent company, Hearst Corp., and Rye residents Scott Brown and Gail Huff “to stand up for freedom of the press.”

Also Sunday – adding a Scooby Doo plot twist to things – former New Hampshire Democratic Party chairwoman Kathy Sullivan tweeted a link to a column penned by Pindell, on “NH’s political identity crisis.” It was dated Nov. 9.

“Pindell lives – in print,” tweeted Sullivan.

At this point, a call seemed in order to Ryan Williams, a top adviser to Brown’s campaign, who has known Pindell professionally for years and had been at Saint Anselm College the night of the debate.

He made it clear that the GOP has no beef with Pindell.

Yes, they were upset with Pindell’s pushback after Brown answered the Sullivan County question. And absolutely they felt Pindell’s apology was in order.

But he doesn’t know why Pindell’s been left in limbo, either.

“James is a very important journalist in New Hampshire. We don’t always agree, but he’s very fair and balanced, and has contributed a lot to the political discussion in the state. He asked a fair question, and then he pushed it a little too far. We were satisfied with how it was handled that night, with James’s apology. For us, it ended there, and I’ve expressed that to WMUR,” Williams said.

So, ruling out the GOP, that only leaves WMUR – or more likely, multibillion-dollar Hearst Corp., which is headquartered in New York City.

Can Hearst begin to understand the intimate relationship New Hampshire has – residents and pundits alike – with our politics, and those who deliver us our inside political scoop?

By Monday, with still no word from WMUR or action on Pindell’s Twitter account, Surdukowski further circulated his essay via email, because he said he was “concerned at what may be at work in the decision to shutter (Pindell’s) work. . . . I have a sinking feeling our democracy in the Granite State is being compromised somehow this week.” And in the end, I guess that’s what’s wrong with all of this.

To err is human. To apologize is the right thing. To silence a respected New Hampshire political reporter at the crux of a New Hampshire election in a state where politics is a year-round sport?

That begs the question: #WheresPindell?

Whether he ends up on the chopping block or returns to his post after some awkward limbo – after the news cycle officially moves on from results and outcomes – remains to be seen.

And maybe this isn’t exactly breaking news, but it seems appropriate for the management of WMUR to acknowledge Pindell’s absence instead of treating him like the invisible man.

(Carol Robidoux is editor and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com, an independent news site covering Manchester.)

Note: This story has been changed to reflect that James Pindell is WMUR.com’s political director. This information was incorrect in the original version. In addition, a comment from WMUR News Director Alisha McDevitt was added to this story.


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