Gov. Paul LePage has never hidden his dislike for the media.
That’s not what bothers us. Given the wide range of people and institutions he also seems to dislike, we’re in good company.
What disturbs us is the callousness and carelessness with which the governor singles out a trade and — even if he says he’s joking — demeans it with threats of violence or flippant remarks about loss of life.
LePage on Wednesday took aim at the Bangor Daily News’ longtime editorial cartoonist, George Danby, telling an audience of teenage boys in Waterville that he’d like to shoot him. He made the remark in response to a question from Danby’s son, Nick, a delegate at the youth leadership conference Dirigo Boys State.
It’s far from LePage’s first disturbing statement aimed at the state’s newspapers.
In August 2013, while he was trying out a fighter jet simulator at Pratt & Whitney in North Berwick, he said, “I want to find the Press Herald building and blow it up.” He later clarified he had two targets: the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News.
Last summer, as he rallied with fellow Republicans in Auburn in advance of the November elections, LePage described the best and worst parts of his life as the state’s chief executive. “The worst part of my life is newspapers are still alive — sorry, I had to say it,” he said.
With each comment, LePage casually uses destructive language in a way that makes clear he doesn’t believe there are consequences attached to it. But there are consequences. And the substance of his language is no joking matter.
The substance of his language is not different from the hate-filled comments that preceded the deaths of nine people in a Charleston, South Carolina, church a week before LePage joked about shooting Danby. A 21-year-old acted on what LePage only spoke about. He shot a gun, and people lost their lives.
In January, gunmen opened fire in the offices of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, specifically targeting editorial cartoonists. Over three days of shooting violence, 12 people died.
We are not worried about LePage acting on his violent words. However, it’s unacceptable to joke about such acts of violence or to encourage, however unintentionally, others to act. It’s especially inappropriate for the highest-ranking elected official in Maine government to do so.
LePage must remember he is in a position of influence. With every behavior and every statement, he sends a message that can affect others’ behavior.
We expect better of our chief executive.