LePage takes message to cordial outlets, ignores other media
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Republican Gov. Paul LePage has gone three months without a press conference and has retreated to friendly talk-radio stations and conservative online outlets.
It appears the new normal for Maine journalists is covering LePage's often unchallenged, sometimes dubious remarks to websites like Breitbart or on WVOM-FM and WGAN-FM on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings. He's taken to the airwaves to share details of his bariatric surgery, erroneously claim that legislators don't have to enact approved ballot referendums and blame Democrats for 900 layoffs in southern Maine that never happened.
His disdain for the media dates back to at least 2010, when the newly elected governor faced reporters' questions about his wife's tax exemptions and he stormed out of his news conference.
Joshua Roiland, a journalism professor at the University of Maine, said LePage's strategy is similar to Republican President-elect Donald Trump's use of Twitter: setting the day's political agendas with unfiltered, vague remarks about complex policy issues.
"What it does is give LePage all the power, to make misstatements or have pointed conservations in ways politically advantageous to him and not be questioned about it," he said.
Some observers, including past Maine governors' press secretaries, say LePage's strategy of bringing his message directly to the people while ignoring the media could backfire by never letting his side get into stories.
"They are the only business mentioned in the Constitution, and you are going to have to deal with them," said Dennis Bailey, a political consultant who served as spokesman for Independent Gov. Angus King.
Calls and emails to the governor's press office get answered occasionally, while public records requests filed by The Associated Press to LePage's office have remained unfulfilled for five months.
His office didn't respond to a request for comment on this article Wednesday.
LePage's strategy of slighting the media is a noted departure from past governors, said David Farmer, a former spokesman for Democratic Gov. John Baldacci. During King's time in office, he had an open-door policy and would hold daily press conferences, while Farmer said Baldacci strived to never see a "no comment" in an article.
LePage vowed to run the most transparent administration in state history, though his actions and statements have made clear that promise doesn't apply to the media. His administration did not hold a routine press briefing of the governor's last biennial budget, which was released late Friday.
In a recent call-in on a radio station, he said: "It used to be in this country that you needed the press to have oversight over government. Now it's government that has to have oversight over newspapers."
The barb came after months without the type of insults LePage has previously lobbed at the media. He once said he'd like to bomb the Portland Press Herald building while trying out a fighter jet simulation and told a boy he'd like to shoot his Bangor Daily News cartoonist father, a remark he later apologized for.
"He's not threatening the press the way he used to, which is probably a good sign," said Michael Socolow, a University of Maine professor and media historian. "The governor never seemed to respect the media's role in governance – informing the public to act as citizens."
In August, after LePage created an uproar by going on an expletive-laced tirade against a Democratic legislator he believed had called him a racist, he blamed the media for fueling the controversy and announced he wouldn't be speaking to reporters anymore.
He broke his vow against speaking to the media a few times, including at an October press conference in which he chastised the media for reporting his remarks on the radio about the nation's need for "authoritarian power."
LePage, whose first language is French and who didn't speak English until he was a teenager, told reporters that he meant to say authoritative and that he didn't respect them. "I think that you all live in a world of words, and your life is to destroy people instead of doing the good things," he said.
Roiland wants to see the media challenge the governor's remarks more.
"Not in an anti-LePage or anti-Trump agenda way but rather in a way that defends the profession and defends the constitutional protections the press has," he said.