CONTRIBUTORS

Frustration, outbursts undermine LePage

Posted Aug. 03, 2011, at 7:41 p.m.

Gov. Paul LePage is frustrated. He’s frustrated with the pace of government, with his ability to turn the ship of state, with his staff and especially with the media.

His uncontrolled — and inappropriate — outburst last week at members of the media is the latest public example of that frustration. But it’s not the first.

He has targeted the Legislature, the president and just about every other competing public face for some level of scorn.

Among his diehard supporters, Gov. LePage’s antics are actually spun into a positive. They are frustrated and angry, too. And they are open to the message that Gov. LePage is being treated unfairly and is being attacked by a biased media intent on his downfall.

Here’s the thing. Every governor feels attacked by the media. Every governor feels the sting of “bias.” And every governor knows that on any given day and on any given issue there’s a good chance that at least half the people disagree with him.

And, let’s be honest, when you’re governor, it’s not paranoid to think there are people out to get you. Because it is most certainly true.

The governor of Maine — whoever he is — is a celebrity. One of the few our state has. Whether they are boisterous or boring, they are in the news every day. The governor is the focus of incredible attention from the public and the media.

Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. And sometimes it’s hard to tell.

As deputy chief of staff and communications director for Gov. John Baldacci, there were days when I felt like there was a flock of angry birds pecking at me.

There were stories that I felt were unfair or ridiculous. Blatant attacks, advocacy disguised as journalism or a constant barrage of criticism from folks who knew little about what they were talking and writing about.

While Gov. LePage’s supporters will swear that we got a pass from the media, we did not. And while Gov. LePage’s opponents might defend the media today, I have no doubt that there are days when the governor really feels like the deck is stacked against him.

In my experience, as both a journalist and a political appointee, I have found that most reporters try to do the best job they can. They work hard to be fair, sometimes at the expense of getting to the truth. They jealously guard their credibility and integrity.

And, like Gov. LePage, they feel called to the profession in an effort to make Maine better.

Like Gov. LePage, they are underpaid and overworked and forced to balance competing demands that would drive most folks insane. And every day, they face an unpredictable menu of challenges, disasters and misery.

Sometimes, they make mistakes or get fooled. And rarely, some personal bias can slip into their work. But every day, they put their name on their work and present it for public scrutiny. They get embarrassed because they used the wrong “their” (or is it “there” or “they’re”?) or when a headline goes wrong. And even though they know they shouldn’t, they feel the barbs of cowardly commenters who hide behind anonymity and throw stones at them.

I believe on a certain level, the same thing is true of Gov. LePage.

But here’s the difference.

If the governor lets it show that he is frustrated or angry, it trickles through his entire staff and administration. They become frustrated and angry. It’s a contagion that can poison everything else. Last Thursday, it hijacked a high profile meeting with the mayor of Portland and overshadowed other news that the governor might have preferred to see covered.

I don’t know if the turnover, dysfunction and discord within the LePage administration is a manifestation of the governor’s frustration or if, instead, it is part of the cause. But when he shows the public that frustration, he puts at risk his own agenda.

Gov. LePage’s anger is part of what makes him authentic to his supporters. They’re angry too. But when the governor of the state, the rock star, the biggest man in the room goes after a reporter or anyone else for that matter, in public like he did last week, he doesn’t look tough or in control.

He looks like a bully. That’s not good for him, and it’s not good for Maine.

David Farmer is a political and media consultant. He was formerly deputy chief of staff and communications director for Gov. John E. Baldacci and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @dfarmer14.

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