Schaefer's Gag

July 09, 1992

Gov. William Donald Schaefer's gag order on state agencies is silly and self-defeating. The spectacle of a governor having to read every press announcement from a government with 70,000 workers -- even with the help of a public relations staff -- is ludicrous.

This is not the first time Mr. Schaefer has tried to put a lid on the flow of information to the public. One of his minions gave a similar order in 1987. It didn't last then and it won't last now.

For democracy to work effectively, the people have to know what their servants are doing. Without the free flow of information, representative government is a sham. What's more, government works best in public view, because the quick flow of information through the media from one agency to another often helps them function more efficiently. For the governor to orchestrate every announcement of consequence may be great for his ego but it is bad for the welfare of the state.

There already is a lot of centralized control over information from state agencies. Insecure administrators in many agencies fear to have their subordinates share the limelight. One journalist recently sought information on a social problem in Washington, only to be told twice there was an expert on the subject right here in Baltimore. Calls to that official brought responses from the department's "information" officer, who didn't have much of that commodity to dispense.

That's what's harmful about Mr. Schaefer's muzzle. Those who can best explain what government is doing -- and it does a lot of laudable things -- are usually those who are actually doing it. Not some p.r. whiz. Not the agency's chief, who may have only third-hand familiarity with the activity. And not a governor who wants to put a particular spin on the ball or gloss on the achievement.


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