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Governor's press office bans officials from talking to two reporters

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Governor’s press office bans officials from talking to two reporters

  • In a memo released last Thursday, the press secretary for Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. told state officials not to deal with two Baltimore Sun journalists “until further notice.”

Nov. 22, 2004 — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s press office sent a memo Thursday ordering state agencies not to talk with two Baltimore Sun journalists “until further notice” because they are “failing to objectively report” on state issues, The Sun reported Friday.

“Do not return calls or comply with any requests” from State House Bureau Chief David Nitkin or columnist Michael Olesker, says the memo, sent to all state public information officers and the governor’s staff.

Press secretary Shareese N. DeLeaver singled out Olesker for describing the governor’s communications director, Paul E. Schurick, as “struggling mightily to keep a straight face” at an Annapolis hearing when Schurick said that political gain was “not a consideration” in making state pro-tourism commercials that feature the governor, The Sun reported. DeLeaver said Olesker was not at the hearing and therefore could not have described Schurick’s expression.

“What I was clearly intending to say for any discerning reader was that the ads were clearly meant to profit the governor politically, and for anyone to say otherwise, they would have to struggle to keep from smiling,” Olesker said in The Sun article. “Anyone past the age of elementary school could have figured that much out.”

The complaint levied against Nitkin dealt with a front-page map printed in last Wednesday’s Sun , indicating properties across Maryland that were “being considered” for sale. The land shown was actually 450,000 acres of state-owned preservation land, for which The Sun issued a correction Thursday.

The map appeared with an article written by Nitkin, but he did not produce the map himself, The Sun reported. The governor’s office said he still had some responsibility because the map ran with his story, The Sun reported.

Sun Editor Timothy A. Franklin offered Thursday to meet with Ehrlich and his press officers to go over specific complaints they have with Sun reporting, but the offer was turned down, Franklin said in a phone interview. “I called the press secretary and tried to talk through the specifics of what their issues were,” he said.

“They refused until The Sun apologizes for an editorial that was written three years ago,” Franklin said. The editorial, which endorsed Ehrlich’s gubernatorial opponent Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, said Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele brought nothing to the ticket besides the “color of his skin,” Franklin said.

Franklin said he tried to explain to Ehrlich’s press secretary last week that the editorial and news departments are separate.

The Sun’ s in-house lawyer is taking a look at the memo, but there is no decision yet on what action the paper may take, Franklin said.

Earlier this year, Ehrlich attempted to throw the media out of the State House, he said. The Sun and the Maryland Press Association promptly filed formal protests and the governor backed off, he said.

CB


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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