Maine publication under fire for publishing unfounded alcoholism diagnosis of Governor LePage

Sunday was an interesting day for Maine politics, as the ongoing feud over the Governor reached a new low. The only difference is this time, the partisan fight reached that new low without Governor Paul LePage saying or doing anything specifically.

Governor LePage’s voicemail message to Representative Drew Gattine was wrong and even the Governor recognized that in apologizing. In there, he said some disparaging and hateful things towards Representative Gattine.

Since, there has been a debate in regards to what caused it. Was it anger? Some have suggested counseling and anger management for the Governor. But others have suggested there might be a deeper issue.

Is Governor Paul LePage an alcoholic? This is the opinion the Portland Press Herald published both in print and online.

The article itself was written by a supposed professional in the field. The first suggestion was that Governor LePage was an alcoholic because he was overweight.

Are all overweight Mainers alcoholics? Is having a weight problem mean one drinks alcohol, either in moderation or to excess?

The article also suggested that Governor LePage is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after his troubled youth. These conclusions were met by an individual who had not personally met with the Governor or personally reviewed his medical records, thus not having any direct authority to issue a diagnosis.

Worse, the hubris of the writer and clear partisan bias against the Governor seemed to override any medical clarity. The writer capped off the controversial article with a personal slam that must have burned deep for Governor LePage, as it said the Governor was turning into his father.

After an enormous backlash, the article was pulled from the Portland Press Herald’s website while remaining in print. The website ran a disclaimer stating it had been pulled because it did not meet editorial standards.

This likely is due in part to the clear lack of evidence to support any of the conclusions. It was all speculation sold as fact. The other part relates to the Goldwater Rule, a rule supported by the American Psychiatric Association.

Rule 7.3 of the American Psychiatric Association’s “Principles of Medical Ethics” specifically states:

On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.

The informal name of the rule dates back to 1964, when a magazine polled psychiatrists about whether Senator Barry Goldwater was fit to be President. Goldwater sued for libel in response and won damages.

Not everyone at the Portland Press Herald agrees with the decision of some on the editorial board, or with medical ethics. Greg Kesich, who is the editorial page editor for the publication, chimed in on Facebook regarding the controversy.

Kesich wrote online:

For the last six years I have turned down columns and letters that used armchair diagnoses to explain Gov. LePage’s behavior because I didn’t think it was fair. But now the governor has violated so many norms that traditional political analysis doesn’t explain the things that he says and does. This column is harsh, but, I think it’s fair.

The issue is it’s not fair to diagnose the Governor or anyone else from afar. It’s unethical. Whatever background the author may or may not have, he has not personally evaluated the Governor to be able to make an ethical, honest diagnosis that isn’t clouded by political bias. This is why Senator Barry Goldwater was able to sue for libel and win in 1964. It’s wrong and ethically not right.

Fortunately, once some editors caught on, the article was pulled. Let this be a lesson to all involved in Maine politics. We may disagree with the Governor, other politicians or each other from time to time, but there are lines that can be crossed. The Governor may cross the line at times, but he’s not the only one.

The personal attack on the Governor’s character was wrong in more ways than one.

Chris Dixon

About Chris Dixon

Chris Dixon is a libertarian-leaning writer and managing editor for The Liberty Conservative. In addition to his political writing, he also covers baseball for Cleat Geeks and enjoys writing on a number of other topics ranging on Medium.