I’m a newspaper guy -- been at it for 41 years now -- so I usually come down on the side of the media when there’s some kind of dust-up with a politician.
Friction between newspapers and elected officials is older than the country itself. That’s one of the reasons the founding fathers decided to insert that First Amendment thing about freedom of the press into the Bill of Rights.
Newspapers and politicians don’t always get along. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Doesn’t reflect poorly on either of them.
But there’s a reason that we newspaper people are sometimes viewed with the same distaste the public holds for members of Congress.
We can sometimes be perceived as arrogant, haughty and coldly calculating. And that’s what this column is about.
Maine, where Wife Nancy and I spend time, is an unusual place, politically. The southern coast is decidedly Democratic, resembling the state’s almost-neighbor, Massachusetts, to the south. The northern and eastern regions lean Republican.
That mix makes for an odd political combination: one of the state’s two U.S. senators is a Republican; the other, an independent. Both Congressmen are Democratic. The governor, Paul LePage, is a Republican.
And a loose cannon.
A plain-spoken, blunt guy who eschews political correctness, LePage has a tense relationship with the Press Herald in Portland, the state’s largest newspaper.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Happens all the time with governors and newspapers, just like in South Carolina.
The Press Herald, by the way, is owned by hedge fund billionaire Donald Sussman, who rescued it from the cliff of bankruptcy last year. He’s donated more than $12 million to Democratic and liberal causes and is married to Rep. Chellie Pingree, one of those two Democratic Congressional representatives I mentioned above.
The paper says his political activism on the left makes no difference in how it covers the news and makes editorial page pronouncements. I’ll leave it to you to ponder that.
On its editorial page, the Press Herald has consistently hammered LePage and his policies, and the governor, who can be prickly -- even belligerent at times -- has threatened at times to stop talking to the paper’s reporters, a threat he’s never carried out.
Hey, it’s just typical give and take in the world of newspapering.
Recently, while participating in a fighter jet simulation at defense contractor Pratt & Whitney’s plant in North Berwick, Maine, LePage was asked what he’d like to do.
“I want to find the Portland Press Herald building and blow it up,” he remarked.
Loose cannon, like I said. But obviously a remark made in jest.
It would have been a great opportunity for the paper’s publisher to demonstrate a sense of humor, to come back with some sort of “we’re-headed-for-the-bomb-shelter” or “we’re-manning-our-anti-aircraft guns” remark, and everybody could have had a good laugh before getting back to the serious business of newspapering.
Instead, publisher Lisa DeSisto whined that LePage has a “misguided sense of humor.”
Said she: “That kind of joke is irresponsible in this day and age, especially when it comes from the leader of our state.”
Gimme a break.
Did she really believe LePage was going to recruit fighter jock Tom Cruise and his top guns and dive-bomb the paper?
Of course not.
Her remark was pious and arrogant, just like those little editors’ notes that some papers’ bigwigs insist on inserting whenever a letter writer disagrees with a position they’ve taken.
DeSisto’s implication: “Here at the Press Herald, we take ourselves seriously -- very seriously -- and so should everyone else. A governor should never, ever make jokes at our expense.”
I don’t doubt that she’s a nice person. She might even have thought her remark was cute, that readers were going to say, “Gosh, she’s right. What a terrible thing the governor said.”
Instead, most of them probably breathed hard and sighed, “Get over it.”
That’s what she should do. Just as all good newspaper publishers would.