Thursday, September 30, 2010

Maine: Were LePage and Connor separated at birth?

I've had my hands full with finishing a book and becoming a dad, but my head has remained free to shake in disbelief at the antics of two local figures: Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage and Richard Connor, owner and editorial czar of Maine's largest newspaper chain. What amazes me most are the similarities between the two men's behavior, which have put both of them in the national spotlight.

LePage, the darling of the state's Tea Party crowd, has shown himself to be a petulant child whose mouth is usually running well ahead of his brain and with the political instincts of a small time street thug. Amid a string of strange, easily exposed lies -- that a Democratic official derided him for his Franco-American roots (never happened), that that he doesn't know what "creationism" means (and yet knows he supports it being taught in schools), that he never swore at reporters (even though he did so on tape), that he stormed out of his press conference because someone had used the F-bomb on him (again, didn't happen), that his name was never on the deed of his wife's home in Waterville (it was) -- he stormed out of his own press conference (not liking his tax dodge exposed), said he'd like to punch a Maine Public Broadcasting reporter (for asking those questions), and promised reporters that if he were elected governor, they'd see a lot of him on the front pages of newspapers telling President Obama "to go to Hell."

No wonder his support has collapsed in the most recent poll, dropping him into a dead heat with Libby Mitchell, despite her tepid campaign.

Meanwhile, MaineToday Media owner/editor Richard Connor was running his editorial voice way ahead of his brain, making a front page apology to readers not for failing to cover the 9/11 observances adequately, but for having provided coverage of local Muslims' observance of the last day of Ramadan. (One commentator aptly asked if Easter observances should therefore no longer be covered unless linked to the Catholic Church's child rape scandal.) Connor was roundly mocked and condemned for his bizarre apology -- the Press Herald website has even appended it with a new preface to spin their position -- with attention from Stephen Colbert ("isn't there one day of the year we can all agree not to be Muslim?"), Time Magazine ("Paper to Readers: Sorry for Portraying Muslims as Human"), New York Times columnist Nick Kristof (who was sickened to see all Muslims lumped in with Al Qaeda), and the Hartford Courant's Susan Campbell (who offered a spot-on professional edit of Connor's sloppy prose).

Connor's reaction was LePagesque. First he decided not to run any of the enormous pile of letters his apology had generated for over a week. Then he appeared on Boston's WBUR and dismissed criticism from the curator of the Nieman Foundation as coming from a product of "corporate journalism." Subsequently, he tried to spin what had actually happened and became testy when National Public Radio's On The Media wouldn't let him wriggle out of his own words, declared he wouldn't retract his apology, and hung up on the host.

Neither man seems to have the temperament or maturity for the job they seek to perform. At least Mainers have the option of voting against Mr. LePage.

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