Gov. Paul LePage made his dislike of the Portland Press Herald abundantly clear Friday while sitting in a fighter jet simulator: He said from the cockpit that he would like to blow up the newspaper’s building.
The Republican governor made the offhand remark while participating in a fighter jet simulation at Pratt & Whitney, a defense contractor in North Berwick. In video footage from the event, LePage is asked, “What would you like to do?” He replies: “I want to find the Portland Press Herald building and blow it up.”
It was not clear how many people heard his remark, although several people appear around LePage in the video. Nor was it clear which was his intended target: the Press Herald’s printing plant in South Portland or its newsroom and business offices in Portland’s One City Center.
Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s spokeswoman, said in an email that LePage was clearly joking and was responding to a question.
“Of course it was a joke,” said Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington. “I don’t think it will bother any of his supporters, and it won’t change the bigger picture. It will remind people on both sides why they feel the way they do.”
Laura Cassella, a communications specialist with Pratt & Whitney, said no one from the company heard the governor say those words.
“If he did, that’s not something we would echo,” she said.
Later in the event, a television reporter from WMTW asked LePage again if he had any targets. The governor answered: “The Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News.”
The Bangor newspaper first reported the remarks and posted the video on its website.
Threats of that nature are taken seriously only if they are specific and credible, said Aaron Steps, a supervisory agent with the FBI office in Portland.
LePage was specific, but there is no reasonable expectation that he would carry out the threat, Steps said.
Press Herald Publisher Lisa DeSisto said that even if the threat is not credible, it showed the governor has a “misguided sense of humor.”
“That kind of a joke is irresponsible in this day and age, especially when it comes from the leader of our state,” she said.
LePage has had a tense relationship with the media — newspapers in particular — since he took office in January 2011.
At least twice, he has told students that his biggest fear is newspapers. He once said that buying a copy of a newspaper is like paying someone to lie to you.
Earlier this summer, Bennett said members of the administration would no longer talk to Press Herald reporters, after the paper published a series of stories that were critical of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho, who has favored policies that have benefited her former lobbying clients.
The LePage administration never enforced that ban.
State Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, has asked the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to look into Aho’s leadership, but no investigation has been launched.
Brent Littlefield, senior political adviser to LePage, said it was clear that the governor was joking Friday at Pratt & Whitney.
“As seen in video footage of this event, the Governor was clearly joking in the simulator but absolutely serious when urging the company to expand and create more jobs in Maine during his official speech,” Littlefield said in an email.
LePage has a long record of strong statements and jokes gone wrong.
Melcher said the governor’s political opponents likely will use some of that history next year during the race for governor.
David Farmer, a spokesman for the exploratory committee of Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, one of LePage’s likely opponents, said, “This is an example of a joke in very bad taste. We shouldn’t be in a position to be making light of violence.”
Ted O’Meara, campaign manager for Eliot Cutler, an independent who narrowly lost to LePage in 2010 and will challenge him again next year, said LePage’s comment showed poor leadership.
“Why would the governor spoil an opportunity to highlight the success of Pratt Whitney by making such a cavalier comment?” O’Meara said.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: [email protected]