NORTH BERWICK, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage, who has long derided the state’s journalists, targeted the Portland Press Herald Friday morning when he climbed into the cockpit of a fighter jet simulator in North Berwick.

As he strapped into the F-35 Lightning II demonstrator machine, set up for attendees of Pratt & Whitney’s annual employee appreciation day, Maine’s Republican governor joked to a nearby Lockheed Martin Corp. guide: “I want to find the Press Herald building and blow it up.”

The demonstrator allowed the Republican governor to engage in a dogfight with digitized enemy jets soaring across the monitor screens in front of him, but LePage was not able to follow through with a simulated strike on the Portland Press Herald’s One City Center offices.

Television station WMTW reporter Paul Merrill later asked LePage if he had any targets. The governor said: The Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News.

In response media reports of the event, the governor’s Twitter account soon sent out a message: “Threatened? It was a joke, folks.”

Some Portland Press Herald employees played along with the joke, sending out Twitter messages that included the newspaper building’s “coordinates.”

“Unfortunately our governor has a misguided sense of humor,” Press Herald Publisher Lisa DeSisto said in a story on the paper’s website. “That kind of a joke is irresponsible in this day and age, especially when it comes from the leader of our state.”

LePage has long had a frosty relationship with Maine newspapers. Earlier this year, the governor’s spokesperson Adrienne Bennett said “there were not likely going to be any more one-on-one interviews between [Maine Today Media] reporters and the governor due to a lack of objectivity from MTM reporters.” She said, in an email Friday, the governor’s office has continued relations with the newspapers.

In July 2011, he scolded reporters, telling them “you folks tend to not like to write the truth,” and in March 2012, he told students at Waterville Junior High School that “ reading newspapers in the state of Maine is like paying someone to lie to you.”

On other occasions, he’s made clear his preference for television reporting over print journalism and his disdain for newspapers. LePage rarely grants interviews to any print journalists, but partisan politics likely contributes to his special emphasis on the Press Herald and its sister papers, the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Sentinel. The newspapers are owned by S. Donald Sussman, a major donor to Democratic candidates and husband of 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat with whom LePage has often clashed.

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.