behind the news

When some Maine papers call the capitol, there’s no comment

The governor's office thinks the state's largest media company does unfair coverage, so officials there will no longer respond to its reporters
June 19, 2013

The office of Maine Governor Paul LePage will no longer respond to queries from the state’s largest media company, announced one of its properties, the Portland Press Herald, on Tuesday. That silence includes responding to requests for public documents, for which the Press Herald and MaineToday Media’s two other papers will have to file freedom of information requests:

LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, informed a Press Herald reporter of the new policy following a request for the governor’s public events calendar. Bennett would not provide the calendar, a public document, and said the administration would no longer participate in stories reported by the three newspapers.

Bennett said MaineToday Media, the newspapers’ parent company, “had made it clear that it opposed this administration.”

The new policy began in the wake of a series the Press Herald published this week, “The Lobbyist in the Henhouse.” The result of a seven-month investigation, it alleges that state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho, a former lobbyist for pharmaceutical and chemical companies, is dictating policies that harm Maine’s citizens and environment but benefit past clients.

Press Herald executive editor Cliff Schechtman said that the series is an example of “tough, probing journalism” that makes people in powerful positions uneasy. But the ramifications of triggering that uneasiness won’t stop the paper from continuing to report, he said. In fact, all reporting on LePage’s administration that the Press Herald and sister papers the Kennebec Journal and the Waterville Morning Sentinel have done since LePage took office in 2011 lacks his input.

“Adrienne Bennett, his spokesman, promised me a year ago that we would have a sit-down with the governor,” Schechtman said, and it never happened. “We’re going to continue doing our job,” he continued. “[LePage’s] gag order is not going to prevent us from doing what our readers need us to do.”

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Journalists for the three papers, which have a combined Sunday circulation of 90,000 and about 11 million pageviews a month, may not get replies or help from LePage’s administration when they report. But that doesn’t mean the governor is completely severing ties with MaineToday Media–the Press Herald story on the policy mentioned that LePage’s office planned to respond to the investigative series by submitting an op-ed.

Bennett, who told the AP that the “no-comment” policy was her decision, did not respond to a request for comment.

Here’s Schechtman speaking on The Rachel Maddow Show:

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Kira Goldenberg was an associate editor at CJR from 2012-2015. Follow her on Twitter at @kiragoldenberg.