Note to the Maine Heritage Policy Center: Before you hire your next high-profile reporter to work for your fledgling “news service,” conduct a top-to-bottom search of your own Facebook page.

“That’s probably the really most blatant miss here — that it’s on our own Facebook page,” said a rueful Lance Dutson, the center’s executive director, as he scrambled this week to contain a couldn’t-happen-at-a-worse-time public relations disaster. “I did not see it. It was news to me.”

To recap: For the past month or so, Leif Parsell, 28, worked as a reporter for the Maine Wire, launched in December by the right-leaning Maine Heritage Policy Center to cover state politics “from a different angle.”

All of that changed Tuesday, when an anonymous blog called “thestateofmaine.org” posted a string of links to comments on immigration made by Parsell before he became, as he puts it, a “straight news reporter.”

On PolicyMic, a user-fed forum for news and pontificating, Parsell opined last month that “cultural diversity combines with our increasing racial and ethnic diversity to degrade society.”

On his own Facebook page, Parsell observed that he’d “rather have a country that had fallen behind India or China, than one that sold its soul to non-European immigrants and lost its culture.”

Then there’s the Maine Heritage Policy Center posting. Back on Oct. 7, the center’s Facebook page highlighted a report by J. Scott Moody, its chief economist, bemoaning that while Maine’s median age continues to rise, its overall population is in decline.

“Overall, this is a very disturbing picture of Maine’s demographics,” wrote Moody, referring to statistics released recently by the U.S. Census Bureau. “Maine’s current and future workforce is both shrinking and aging which will create formidable headwinds in the effort to generate sustainable economic growth.”

To which Parsell, only two months away from being hired by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, responded just a half-hour later, “Better than diversifying.”

Dutson, to his credit, wasted no time taking action as first the blogs and then Maine’s mainstream media descended on the story. By the end of business Tuesday, Parsell was history.

And Parsell, much to his detriment, wasted no time telling Maine Public Radio’s Tom Porter that all of those quotes were “taken out of context” and he’s really not the bigoted little whippersnapper everyone was making him out to be.

Rather, Parsell said, he’s simply been saying that this country isn’t doing enough to “Americanize” immigrants. At the same time, he said, we should stop letting so many newcomers into this country until those who already are here get to know their way around.

“I think that Americanization of immigrants is very important,” Parsell told Porter, citing the rapid assimilation of Italians and other European immigrants to American culture a century ago. “That’s what I was talking about in those posts and other posts.”

Uh-huh. But about that little snippet on the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s own Facebook page: How might anyone take out of context a three-word utterance that a future Maine with fewer productive citizens is “better than diversifying?”

I called Parsell on Thursday to ask him.

“Obviously I should have expanded on that statement,” he replied. “If I could go back now, I’d probably edit it and be a little more specific.”

Please, do go on …

“Even though I welcome immigrants and think they are an important part of our society, the fact is, I like Maine,” Parsell said. “I like where I grew up. I like the town (Waldoboro) where I grew up in. I like the region that I grew up in and I’m not ashamed of the fact that Maine is, you know, 98 percent white, my town was 100 percent white, my high school was 100 percent white.”

No lack of context there. Or in what followed.

Asked why he made it a point to say he’s “not ashamed” of growing up in almost-all-white Maine, Parsell invoked former classmates at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro “who, you know, have gone to get their degrees at Colby College and places like that and are suddenly ashamed of the state that they came from.”

“I’m not ashamed of that,” Parsell repeated. “It’s a fact and it’s OK.”

Now might be a good time to gently remove that shovel from young Mr. Parsell’s hands. But before we do, any thoughts about retracting that three-word Facebook posting in view of how reasonable people might interpret it?

“Yes,” Parsell said. “I retract it because I wish that I’d been more specific.”

Which leads us to an interesting question: Exactly how “specific” could Parsell have gotten on that day in October before any red flags went up at the Maine Heritage Policy Center?

Back to Executive Director Dutson.

“This is a yucky, yucky thing,” Dutson said. “I’m surprised that I didn’t catch this stuff before and I feel completely responsible for it because that’s what you do in this age. … Perusing the background of what people say online, especially the younger people, is something that is part of the process.”

Parsell worked for The Leadership Institute, a Virginia-based conservative training center, before earning a master’s degree recently at Boston College. Armed with that impressive resume, Dutson said, Parsell underwent “an extensive interview process and reference checks and all that stuff” before he was hired.

Yet along the way, someone at the Maine Heritage Policy Center either forgot to do the obligatory Google search on “Leif Parsell” or didn’t pay close enough attention to what popped up on the screen.

Even harder to fathom is that it all got past Dutson, who got his own start in Maine politics by launching one of the state’s first political blogs — the Maine Web Report — back in 2005.

The now-apparent explanation: The Maine Heritage Policy Center was so hell-bent on getting its “news operation” up and running that it failed to do a little … whaddya call it … reporting on its own reporter.

At the same time, it failed to follow what has long been a rule in politics and, these days, applies to any political shop brave enough to launch its own Facebook page:

First and foremost, know who your friends are.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]