I’m fond of tourists. For a while, I kept a pair in the basement as pets. But they wouldn’t eat anything but lobster and required a steady supply of tacky trinkets. (“Look! Moose-turd earrings and a pine cone that bears an uncanny resemblance to the governor’s head!”) Their loud complaints about the weather and lack of high-speed Internet access annoyed the neighbors. So, I took them over the border to New Hampshire and returned them to the wild.
Just as well, because I later learned that while tourist traps are legal in Maine, you’re supposed to have a special permit to keep the ones you catch.
Nevertheless, I usually look forward to the annual return of our seasonal visitors, if only to replenish the state’s stockpile of condescending attitudes. But this year that may not be necessary. The Maine Office of Tourism already has more imperious airs than every snotty shopper, haughty hiker, and overbearing beach-goer from Coburn Gore to Calais.
I don’t mean to imply the tourism office (motto: Spending Ever-Increasing Amounts Of Your Tax Money To Keep The Number Of Tourists In Maine Unchanged Since 2000) is the state’s central source of arrogance. It isn’t, mostly because it contracts that job out to its New York advertising agency, Warren Kremer Paino. WKP can be a real Paino in the posterior of anyone who dares criticize the swell job it’s doing in spending $3.3 million of our money to not convince more people to vacation in Maine.
Take, for instance, the case of Lance Dutson of Searsmont. For the past few months, Dutson has employed his blog (mainewebreport.com) to attack the methods the tourism office and its imperial ad agency use to conduct their marketing campaign on the Internet. Some of Dutson’s complaints appear legitimate, while others seem to be — let me put this as politely as possible — the ranting of a crackpot.
Nevertheless, this is America, land of all that Bill-of-Rights stuff. We’re free to say nasty things about the government and its subcontractors without fear of reprisal.
Just ask Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame.
A few weeks after Dutson started his campaign against the tourism ministry, somebody allegedly called clients of his Web design business, as well as his wife’s employer, to suggest they might want to reconsider their support of his activities. He also got a letter from the WKP crowd (didn’t they used to play a radio station on TV before R left?) threatening legal action if he didn’t lay off.
Dutson didn’t lay off. He kept up his blog bludgeoning, and when tourism officials finally agreed to a meeting to discuss some of his concerns, he stormed out because he felt the agenda was too restricted.
It would have been easy to dismiss Dutson as a couple steamers shy of a clambake. Instead, WKP sued the guy for millions of dollars, claiming he had defamed the agency and infringed on its copyright by reproducing on his Web site an advertisement it had developed for the state. (The ad contained a toll-free phone number that was supposed to allow callers to obtain vacation information, but instead connected them to a phone-sex operation, which may have been a mistake, but could also have been the best idea for increasing tourism that WKP has come up with.) The suit was dropped on May 6, after intense negative publicity.