Turning The LePage

Paul LePage, Maine’s Republican candidate for governor, had a bad day when confronted by reporters on Monday about his wife’s tax filings.

It seems his wife illegally received permanent-resident tax exemptions in two states – Florida and Maine – and the press wanted to ascertain the facts.

Mr. LePage responded to their questions angrily. In the course of just a few seconds, he said:

“We’ve answered that.”
“We’ve answered that last week, it’s done.”
“If you guys want do the Enquirer I’m not playing. Goodbye.”

At that point, Mr. LePage turned around and left (but continued to answer questions on the way out).

By so visibly bristling at the press, Mr. LePage gave credence to the very charges he was hoping to discredit, since the public often takes a defensive response as an admission of guilt.

But Mr. LePage wasn’t done. Later in the day, he was asked whether his children had qualified undeservedly for in-state tuition at a Florida college. The video speaks for itself:

Later in the day, Mr. LePage admitted his wife had simply forgotten they were already getting a homestead exemption when she filed for a second one in Florida. Imagine if, instead of getting defensive, Mr. LePage had openly and calmly explained the innocent error to the press and promised to take immediate steps to correct it? It would have reduced the damage to a one- or two-day local story instead of becoming a much larger national embarrassment.

Here’s the bottom line: When facing a “scandal,” little is more important than the spokesperson’s tone. A spokesperson who reacts openly without even a hint of defensiveness is much more likely to keep a small controversy small. But a spokesperson who becomes easily inflamed will do nothing but fan the scandal’s flames until they spread virally throughout the Internet like wildfire.