Steele accuses The Sun of racism in coverage

Lieutenant governor makes accusation in radio interview

September 04, 2004|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who has been harshly critical of the The Sun, renewed his criticism this week by accusing the paper of a "racist, ignorant attitude about African-American males."

Steele, who made the remark Thursday in an interview with a Washington radio station, was responding to an editorial in that day's paper that was critical of his speech before the Republican National Convention. The editorial also rejected the accusation he and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. made that the Democratic Party is "racist" in its message to blacks.

"I only have one thing to say to the Baltimore Sun. I apologize so heartily and sincerely that I left the plantation and I refused to come back. Sorry," Steele said in an interview on the Kojo Nnamdi show on WAMU 88.5 FM.

"Our editorial speaks for itself," said Dianne Donovan, The Sun's editorial page editor. "How Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Steele choose to characterize that opinion is their prerogative."

Steele is far from the only politician at odds with the press.

On Monday, former President George H.W. Bush told CNN that he has "given up" on reading The New York Times and added that his son, President Bush, might have as well. Last month, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley accused the Chicago Tribune of favoritism, double standards and revenge.

"No politician ever thinks the press does an adequate job of representing his or her sterling attributes," said Bryce Nelson, professor of journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication.

Nelson noted that President John F. Kennedy canceled his subscription to the now-defunct New York Herald Tribune after being angered by its coverage of his administration.

Experts say it's also not unheard of for African-Americans and other minority politicians to lash out and accuse a media outlet of racism.

"Sometimes it's true and sometimes it's just a convenient way to rally support," said Robert C. Smith, professor of political science at San Francisco State University and author of the Encyclopedia of African-American Politics.

Smith pointed out that former Washington Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. often criticized The Washington Post during his trial for cocaine possession.

"It resonates with people because there is a history with racism," said Smith.

The accusation of racism by the lieutenant governor this week is the latest salvo between the Ehrlich administration and media outlets such as The Sun. Ehrlich has made no secret of his dislike of many of the newspapers that cover his administration.

This summer, officials informed the Maryland press corps that it would have to vacate its long-held offices in the basement of the State House because of planned renovations. The move has since been delayed.

State House staffers also removed newspaper boxes from the building's corridors, citing concerns about terrorism.

Ehrlich and Steele have been harshly critical of The Sun's editorial page, in particular since an editorial announcing the paper's endorsement of Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for governor in 2002 referred to the selection of Steele as a "calculated move."

"Mr. Ehrlich's running mate, state GOP chairman Michael S. Steele, brings little to the team but the color of his skin," the editorial said.

Steele said he has never met with the editorial board of The Sun and doesn't want to.

"You would think the first initial response would be when we were running, instead of saying the only thing I have of value is the color of my skin, they would sit down and find out about the man," Steele said.

"Georgetown law grad, Johns Hopkins grad. Former seminarian. Father of two. Entrepreneur. I have nothing to bring to the table?"

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