May 24, 2019
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The governor and the truth

Pat Wellenbach | AP
Pat Wellenbach | AP
Maine Gov. Paul LePage makes remarks before signing a bill authorizing charter schools, at the State House in Augusta on Wednesday, June 29, 2011.

It is no secret that Gov. Paul LePage doesn’t like the media, especially newspaper reporters. But routinely criticizing newspapers for printing lies is getting to be a tired refrain.

The latest round of media scolding centered on news reports of the resignation of Gov. LePage’s Marine Resources Commissioner Norman Olsen. Gov. LePage angrily accused reporters of writing stories about the topic without talking to him.

If the governor wants to be contacted directly when reporters have questions — which he implied during his lecture — he should give them all his cell phone number and fire his communications staff.

When reporters want information or questions answered, they call the governor’s communications office (which he is expanding, by the way). Typically the office answers questions on the governor’s behalf or sends out statements quoting him. Presumably the governor knows about these statements and perhaps even reads them before they are sent to the media. If he wants to talk to the media directly, he could respond to these queries personally.

In the Olsen case, Capitol News Service reporter Mal Leary, on behalf of the Bangor Daily News, spoke to the governor about the Department of Marine Resources commissioner’s resignation and his comments were included in the BDN story. “Obviously, he wasn’t listening to what we were trying to say,” Gov. LePage told Mr. Leary, who the governor did praise during his tirade.

In addition, the story quoted from a statement sent out by the governor’s office. “I am grateful to Commissioner Olsen for his work in my administration,” Gov. LePage said in the release.

The next day, a Bangor Daily News reporter in Dover-Foxcroft asked Gov. LePage in person to address Mr. Olsen’s comments, specifically those alleging the governor wouldn’t work with Portland. In response, Gov. LePage called Olsen’s comments “absolutely incorrect.”

None of this seemed to matter to the governor as he berated reporters in the State House on Thursday. “The press, you folks, ran out and wrote all these articles and you never once called us and checked. You folks tend to not like to write the truth,” he said.

He especially owes an apology to MaineToday Media reporter Rebekah Metzler, who he singled out for in-your-face finger-pointing.

Blaming the media for not telling the truth is nothing new for Gov. LePage. At the Maine Fishermen’s Forum in March, he said: “Buying a Maine daily newspaper is like paying someone to lie to you.”

Such clever retorts may score points with his supporters, but they have little basis in reality. Reporters, like the governor, have a job to do, which is to keep the public informed of what government is doing. When they need information from the governor, they call his office. What happens after that is up to him and his staff. If he wants to be accessible to the press to discuss issues himself, he should do that. The press would welcome it.

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