Black Caucus criticizes news media coverage of African-Americans Boycott of The Sun considered in wake of article on Riddick

March 25, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Members of Maryland's Legislative Black Caucus said yesterday that they are considering a boycott against The Baltimore Sun, charging that it and other news media have targeted African-American public officials for harassment.

Sen. Larry Young, chairman of the caucus, also said the caucus would appoint a media review committee to monitor state media for "abusive" or "racist" coverage of black officials.

Young, a Baltimore Democrat, cited an article in The Sun on Friday about Major F. Riddick Jr., chief of staff to Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Riddick is African-American.

The article detailed how a black professional organization that Riddick is slated to lead has been seeking donations of up to $2,500 from corporate lobbyists in Maryland while invoking the chief of staff's name and using his office phone number as a point of contact.

The corporations for which the lobbyists work have interest in legislation that the governor may have to sign or veto. In the article, ethics experts questioned the propriety of the solicitation. One called it "nothing less than a shakedown."

Riddick denied any intention to put pressure on potential donors but said that, in retrospect, the solicitation should have been handled differently.

About a dozen present and former members of the caucus called a news conference yesterday at the State House to denounce the article and defend Riddick.

"I cannot conceive of how a newspaper could have printed an article that was so devastating, so negative about a person who has given so much to public service," said Del. Joanne C. Benson, a Prince George's County Democrat.

Sen. Clarence W. Blount, a veteran Baltimore Democrat, said Riddick was doing no more than what everybody else does. He said the chief of staff was singled out for derogatory coverage although "business does it every day."

Young, who said Riddick "epitomizes the best that we have," said the chief of staff was doing no less than he should have done in lending his support to the National Forum for Black Public Administrators.

In addition to setting up the review panel, Young said he would ask the caucus to consider establishing a Maryland chapter of the Center for the Study of the Harassment of African Americans. He said the caucus also would ask the Baltimore Urban League to convene a conference on fairness in the media.

Members of the caucus said the problem of unfair treatment goes far beyond one newspaper or one article, but it was clear that The Sun was the focus of their anger. The Riddick article was just "the straw that broke the camel's back," Young said.

Clarence M. Mitchell III, a former Baltimore senator, threatened to boycott the newspaper and put pressure on advertisers to drop their ads.

"The way to make them fair is to hurt them in the pocketbook," he said.

Raymond C. Feldmann, a spokesman for the governor, said neither Glendening nor Riddick had any comment on the boycott threat.

Pub Date: 3/25/97

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