OPINION

LePage, Lies and Newspapers

Posted March 07, 2011, at 6:45 p.m.
Last modified March 08, 2011, at 5:13 p.m.

Today's poll

Do you believe the print media in Maine provides fair reporting of Gov. LePage's administration and its actions?

Yes
No

Gov. Paul LePage almost made it through a week without an uninformed, incendiary comment in public. Then, he dropped this on Friday at the Fishermen’s Forum: “Buying a Maine daily newspaper is like paying someone to lie to you.”

Those, mostly conservatives, who mock the “lamestream media” seem to forget that the media consists of private businesses — newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations —  that help sustain local economies, just like manufacturers, hospitals and farms. Further, they should remember that newspapers (cable TV didn’t exist yet) were so revered by the Founding Fathers that they gave them their own constitutional amendment – the first one.

Imagine if Gov. LePage had said, “Buying lobster is like paying someone for an oversize cockroach,” which, like saying newspapers are full of lies, is patently untrue. The outrage would have been angry and swift, as it should be.

But somehow insulting newspapers is fashionable.

Newspapers in Maine employ thousands of people, pumping millions of payroll dollars into local economies each year. They are important supporters of local charitable causes. Most endeavor to buy paper made in the state. “Your paper and the paper other Maine newspapers use comes from Maine mills, as does the paper for advertising inserts,” says John Williams, the president of the Maine Pulp and Paper Association. “That’s a direct financial impact in Maine that is very positive.”

Newspapers are also the most effective means for local businesses to inform the public about their products and services. They rely on newspaper advertising because it brings customers to their doors.

Most important to men like Thomas Jefferson, newspapers provide a public service. Their articles let readers know what is happening in their communities, state, country and world. In this role, they are the only watchdog of government that can quickly inform the populace of what the government is doing — good and bad.

For this reason, the Founding Fathers believed that the press (which included only newspapers and pamphlets at that time) needed special protection under the Constitution. Hence the first item in the Bill of Rights.

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” Mr. Jefferson wrote in 1787.

Mr. Jefferson understood the great value and critical importance of a free press, even one that didn’t “agree” with him all of the time. Reading something you disagree with or dislike doesn’t make it a lie.

So, rather than attacking newspapers, the governor should contact them when mistakes are made so that they can be corrected (a request to the governor’s office for a list of the “lies” this paper has printed recently has yet to be fulfilled). But if he thinks that newspapers should print only articles and editorials that reflect his point of view, he misunderstands their role. To do so would be a violation of the trust placed in the press by men like Thomas Jefferson.

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