"I will no longer speak to the press ever again after today,” he told reporters Wednesday. “And I’m serious. Everything will be put into writing. I’m tired of being caught in the gotcha moments.”
The problem is, it's not clear how swearing off the media is going to help LePage recover his image and keep out of trouble. LePage is apparently forgetting that some of his most inflammatory comments were not cases of getting “caught in the gotcha moments” by reporters. Let's run down some examples:
- His most recent profanity-laced rant — against a state lawmaker who supposedly called him racist — was delivered via voice mail. In the message, LePage invited Rep. Drew Gattine to make the recording public.
- LePage’s most infamous remarks — about drug dealers named D-Money, Smoothie and Shifty impregnating “young white girl[s]” — came at a January town hall meeting in Bridgton, Maine, where reporters aren't even allowed to ask questions.
- When LePage said last year that he’d like to shoot a Bangor Daily News cartoonist, he was indeed responding to a question. But the questioner was not a journalist; he was the cartoonist’s son, participating in a Q&A with the governor at a youth leadership event.
- When LePage said in 2013 that he wanted to blow up the Portland Press Herald, he was talking to a Lockheed Martin employee guiding him through a flight simulation.
- LePage did float the idea of bringing back the guillotine during a radio appearance early this year, but one could hardly blame the interviewer for goading him into it. The radio host was in the middle of wrapping up the conversation when LePage jumped in to volunteer his decapitation proposal.
If it's unclear how swearing off the press will help LePage stay out of trouble, we're also not sure whether LePage can stay away from the press for good. He seems to have had a love-hate relationship with the media, in one moment blowing up at reporters for, well, reporting his comments, then in the next using them to fuel his feuds.
"I've had a fairly decent relationship with LePage — as best you can imagine for a newspaper reporter," Portland Press Herald's Scott Thistle told The Fix on Tuesday. Thistle went on to share with The Fix one head-spinning example of LePage blaming the press for his problems, then using the press to try to solve it.
After LePage's "90 percent" comment, Thistle went up to LePage's office to ask for the now-infamous binder. (His communications staff isn't great about answering emails or phone calls or texts, Thistle said.)
He ended up being witness to another LePage blowup when a TV reporter asked the governor what he thought about people calling him a racist, insinuating that maybe a Democratic lawmaker said as much.
"And the governor just snapped," Thistle said. "He exploded and pointed his finger at me and said 'YOU. YOU!' And I was like 'What?' And he was like 'Your newspaper.'
"The governor blows up at us: 'Black people are coming up I-96 and killing Mainers,' he's literally screaming at us, and he storms out of the office. He goes out the door, and then comes back in and he says to us 'You people make me so sick.' He turns around, comes back in again, and shouts something to us about how 'You need to learn to play golf.' So we're like: 'Okay, what's that all about?' So I said to his staff: 'I guess we're not going to look at the binder today, right?'
That afternoon, Thistle gets a call to go to the governors' mansion. It's LePage, and he wants to talk.
"The governor says he wants to answer our questions," Thistle said. "So we just start talking to him, asking these questions, and he just doubles down. He's furious. He tells us: 'I just left [a Democratic state lawmaker] a not-very-nice message, and I hope he makes it public.'"
LePage would go on to say he wishes he it were 1825 and he could have a duel with the lawmaker: "I would point it right between his eyes."
"I'm like 'Wow. Did he really just say that?,'" Thistle said. "You can hear me on the audio, I give an uncomfortable chuckle."
Thistle went back to his office and wrote the conversation up.
Listening to a first-hand account of LePage's most recent drama, it's hard to see when, exactly, the governor was provoked by the media to say something controversial. But it's pretty clear to see LePage reflexively blames the press for his troubles. And that explains why he wants to swear it off. We're just not sure that's going to work.