LePage talks with national media, continues freeze-out of local press

Gov. Paul LePage ditched his usual refusal to sit with reporters for one-on-one interviews Thursday when he talked with at least two national media organizations which have published profile pieces on the governor, his accomplishments and the brash speaking style that has attracted so much negative press.

A piece published Friday by Bloomberg News carried the headline “LePage Promises to Keep Quiet as Maine Republicans Fret” and opened with the fact that LePage keeps a roll of duct tape on his desk to remind himself to temper his public comments.

“We all have faults — mine is that I can’t keep my mouth shut,” LePage told the reporter. “I promised my staff: Now till election day, when I want to say something that is off color, I’m going to tape my mouth shut.”

The governor also alluded to a line that his surrogates, such as political advisor Brent Littlefield, appear to be testing as LePage’s campaign slogan in the 2014 election: “Actions speak louder than words.”

“I will put my actions against any candidate running for governor,” LePage told Bloomberg News. “I can get it done. They talk nice words. This state has been under 50 years of one-party rule. It is time they get a little shock to the system. Wake them up.”

Another piece published Friday by The Economist focused on LePage’s hardscrabble upbringing under an abusive father and recounted how friends and community helped him become a successful businessman and now the state’s chief executive. Though the piece didn’t quote LePage directly, it alluded to an undeniable fact: even LePage’s most noteworthy verbal gaffes have an audience that appreciates them.

“His forceful personality and peppery tongue have served him well,” reads the piece.

And a third piece published Friday, this one by the Washington Post, follows the same themes as the other two: highlighting LePage’s accomplishments, summarizing his critics and  recounting his background.

“In Maine, ‘thunder’ from Gov. LePage’s mouth brings rain on reelection prospects,” reads the Post’s clever headline.

“Words to me are like thunder. They make a lot of noise, but they don’t accomplish anything,” LePage told the newspaper. “And that’s how I feel. And if that takes me down, it takes me down.”

Other than new quotes from LePage, none of the pieces covers any ground that hasn’t been in the pages of the Bangor Daily News and numerous other media outlets, except for this, in reference to his comments at a Belgrade fundraiser earlier this month about President Obama hating white people.

“I did not say it, not in the context in which it was reported,” LePage told WaPo. “I never said hate. But I said, ‘I guess he doesn’t like me.'”

The three national pieces are interesting reading for sure, but as a reporter based in the State House, for me they raise the question of why national media outlets can swoop in for an interview when LePage has denied so many requests from the Bangor Daily News and other media outlets. Adrienne Bennett, his spokeswoman, has even gone so far as directing the executive branch to avoid communications with our colleagues at the Portland Press Herald.

When I was covering the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2010 I interviewed LePage numerous times, including a memorable and lengthy May 2010 chat at Waterville City Hall, where he was still serving as mayor. I remember him telling me that his leadership style on policy initiatives was to start from an extreme position and negotiate toward the center. I even asked him if he was a “closet moderate.”

“I’m not a centrist; I’m a doer,” he said, and here’s how I paraphrased what he said next: “Asked what he’ll do when Democrats won’t budge, LePage said he’ll go to the media and make his case directly to the people – which he said in Waterville has earned him the nickname “Front Page LePage.”

Since his election, I have requested numerous interviews with LePage on a range of topics ranging from his ideas around education reform to his successes and failures on economic development. The time I spent with him during the campaign showed me that he is articulate about his goals and strategies when given the chance to explain them.

Bennett told me this morning that the governor himself decided to talk with the Washington Post and Bloomberg News because their reporters had acceptable and well-defined story pitches. But why, I asked her, aren’t the same requests granted for the Bangor Daily News and other local media outlets?

“We’re open to it,” she said. “Those reporters were more specific in their requests. [The Washington Post] wanted to know more about who the governor is and his accomplishments. I will certainly work with local reporters who want to talk about what he and his administration are doing.”

LePage hints in his radio address to be broadcast on Saturday that the media ignores his successes, such as job creation.

“Most of these announcements I mentioned received not so much as a byline,” he said, according to a transcript provided by his office. “But it’s not because our administration isn’t sharing this information with reporters. It’s simply because the media has the power to pick and choose what is news. It’s a fast-moving digital age in which reporters would rather tweet than write an investigative report and where doom-and-gloom headlines are sensationalized. However, we know these success stories are worthwhile because they are stories that affect real families — these are the Mainers who truly matter to us and why we work so hard to serve them.”

Despite what we’re accused of on an almost daily basis, most reporters aren’t out to attack the governor and for the record, most of the job creation successes in LePage’s radio address have been covered by the BDN. We try to provide our readers and viewers with a fair and accurate representation of who the governor is and what he does.

Paul LePage is Maine’s highest elected official and what he says is news, whatever it is. That goes for both his off-the-cuff comments in high-pressure media encounters and relaxed one-on-one interviews in his office where he would presumably discuss his efforts to improve Maine.



Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.