Schaefer issues gag order on contacts with media Cabinet secretaries warned by governor

July 08, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer, once again demonstrating his long-held belief that "no news is good news," has slapped a gag order on state government.

An angry Mr. Schaefer warned his Cabinet secretaries last Thursday that no one in state goverment is to talk to the media without first clearing it with him personally.

Since delivering that edict, Mr. Schaefer has been spending part of his days reviewing press releases before they are issued by agencies, or giving his personal OK before public information officers are allowed to answer all but the most basic inquiries, the governor's press office confirmed yesterday.

Mr. Schaefer apparently cautioned his Cabinet of dire consequences if the protocol is violated.

One Cabinet secretary summoned members of his department to an auditorium in the state office building on West Preston Street last Thursday and warned them they would be fired if they were caught talking to the press. Several immediately called The Sun to complain but said they were so frightened that they did not want their agency identified.

Mr. Schaefer's assistant press secretary, Page Boinest, said: "The governor's desire was to make sure we kept a coordinated dissemination of information and that in dealing with the press, we went through a central system."

Asked if Mr. Schaefer condoned the firing of employees who exercised their right to free speech, Ms. Boinest replied: "That's a little harsh."

Some aides said he was angry that his administration had missed opportunities to cash in on positive public policy announcements. Others said his ego was damaged by being upstaged by Human Resources Secretary Carolyn W. Colvin and other Cabinet members.

He apparently disagreed with the timing of an announcement Wednesday by Ms. Colvin about welfare-system revision and thought it should have made a bigger splash.

Others said the governor was frustrated that agencies were not coordinating their announcements to show they are working as a team. One aide said that his outburst may have "come off like a snit" but that there was a more important policy reason behind it: He wanted state officials to take a more global look at what government was -- or was not -- doing.

Under the directive, PIOs must fill out forms everytime they are contacted by the media and send them to the governor's press office.

Some embarrassed PIOs, who declined to be quoted by name or identified by agency, said the cumbersome procedure had slowed the "turnaround time" of getting answers for reporters, sometimes causing reporters to miss deadlines. Some called it a nightmare of paperwork and delay.

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