ANNAPOLIS -- "Negative, negative, negative," was all Gov. William Donald Schaefer could say about The Sun's coverage last week of his appointment of Capt. Larry Tolliver, his chief bodyguard, as the new superintendent of State Police.
So, when The Evening Sun asked its readers the very next day to register their opinion on the appointment by telephone, Mr. Schaefer was outraged. He angrily complained the question was skewed to produce a vote against his appointee.
Mr. Schaefer's press secretary, Frank Traynor, apparently took the governor's remarks as a cue and did what he could to skew the clearly unscientific poll in the captain's favor.
Mr. Traynor, according to state employees in three different executive departments, called several public information officers that day and even his own family to ask them to help pump up the approval rating in the Evening Sun poll by repeatedly calling the telephone number listed in the newspaper. The three employees, fearful of losing their jobs, asked that their names not be used.
Something surely happened that day because the number of responses to the Tolliver question -- 1,408 calls -- was one of the largest ever received since the "It's Your Call" feature began appearing in The Evening Sun two years ago.
And of that total, a whopping 84 percent said they supported the Tolliver appointment. Moreover, about 1,000 of those calls came on exchanges from the Annapolis area.t's Your Call" features, said Karen Stabley, director of new electronic media for The Sun.
"That's more than heavy -- it is extraordinary," she said.
She said the newspaper does not have the capability of detecting whether poll respondents are repeat callers, conceding it is possible for one group of callers to stack the results.
Mr. Traynor acknowledged he asked his wife to help with the poll results but maintained he did not "direct" any state employees to call the newspaper.
When asked if he asked any to do so, he replied: "Anyone who responded to that, chose to do it on their own."
"I think you give me far, far too much credit that I would be able to solicit that kind of army to respond to that poll," he said.
But, he added, "I was happy with the outcome. That's for darned sure."